Sarah Brekke, a 2011 Iowa State graduate in culinary food science, founded the ISU Culinary Science Club and led the group as its first president. Photo by Ryan Riley.
Sarah Brekke, a 2011 Iowa State graduate in culinary food science, founded the ISU Culinary Science Club and led the group as its first president. Photo by Ryan Riley.

Culinary Science Club founder blazes trail

Sarah Brekke did more than choose her adventure at Iowa State — she blazed a new trail. While taking part in the Food Science Club, she decided that students in the culinary food science major needed a club, too.

“Erica Beirman said she would serve as adviser if I wanted to put in the work of forming the club,” said Brekke, a 2011 Iowa State graduate in culinary food science who serves as a culinary specialist and food stylist at Meredith Corp. “We had a meeting, got together in a little conference room in MacKay Hall, and the group chose me as the first club president.”

Today, the Culinary Science Club has expanded its reach many times over.

Student members cook once a month for Food At First, an Ames-based free meal program and perishable food pantry. They partner with ISU Dining to cater events like the Order of the Knoll gala and the Alumni Association’s Distinguished Awards Celebration. They also support culinary teams each year who compete in the Iowa Pork Producers Association’s Student Taste of Elegance contest.

“Sarah has had a huge impact on the development and direction the club has taken,” said Beirman, a senior lecturer in food science and human nutrition who coordinates the culinary food science program. “Without the great leadership Sarah provided to the club, I do not think it would be as successful as it is today.”

Brekke learned the art and science of culinary food science by working with the club and serving as a lab assistant to complement her undergraduate coursework.

“The main thing that Iowa State helped me with was learning how to view food, and understand food quality,” she said.

Brekke’s learning and leadership was bolstered by accessible, engaged faculty like Lester Wilson, a University Professor in food science and human nutrition. For the transfer student who set foot on campus mid-year, Wilson’s welcome made Brekke feel at home.

“I went to the Food Science Club meeting, walked in, and right away, Dr. Wilson spotted me,” Brekke said. “He saw me. He said, ‘Welcome to Iowa State. Welcome to the department. Let me know if you ever need anything.’ I felt so welcomed.”

For Wilson, creating an inviting atmosphere is simply a part of the Iowa State experience.

“We need to be welcoming,” he said. “We’re a friendly campus. It’s just something you do.”

Brekke’s supportive Cyclone family led her to her first job at Meredith Corp. While she was still on campus, Beirman told her Meredith was converting its recipe database from one system to another. The company needed a person with food knowledge to make corrections on items that didn’t import into the new system correctly.

Now, as Brekke works with her Meredith teammates to prepare video shoots for brands like Parents or Better Homes and Gardens, she’s bringing her knowledge to bear — and leading with a collaborative spirit.

“It’s definitely a team effort,” Brekke said. “The work is very much in the moment, and we need to be able to go with the flow. We need to tackle whatever’s thrown at us.”

KEY CONTACTS:

Sarah Brekke, culinary specialist and food stylist, Meredith Corp., sarah.brekke@meredith.com

Erica Beirman, senior lecturer, Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, Iowa State University, 515-294-4361, ebeirman@iastate.edu

Lester Wilson, University Professor, Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, Iowa State University, 515-294-3889, lawilson@iastate.edu

Kent Davis, communications specialist, College of Human Sciences, Iowa State University, 515-294-1326, davisk@iastate.edu

  • Quick Look

    Sarah Brekke, a 2011 Iowa State graduate in culinary food science, founded the ISU Culinary Science Club and led the group as its first president.

  • “Sarah has had a huge impact on the development and direction the [Culinary Science Club] has taken. Without the great leadership Sarah provided to the club, I do not think it would be as successful as it is today.”

    -Erica Beirman

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