June 05, 2004
The American Culinary Institute (ACI) based in San Francisco has developed what it describes as a chef developed judging process to rate everyday foods.
They propose that most grocery shoppers are presented with an overwhelming array of products and simply don't have the time and talent to decide which tastes best. The ACI Best Taste award is like the Good Housekeeping Seal for food. It seems straightforward; just look for the seal and you know you are getting the tastiest product.
But the ACI has received some boos from food critics, disdain by competitors and a lawsuit from the similarly named Culinary Institute of America.
The award process is comprised of five steps. Food products are first grouped into specific categories. Wesson oil goes into the "favorite foods" category while salsa goes into a "gourmet" category that includes regional or ethnic foods. Organic foods have their own category. Within each category, mass-market products are not judged against boutique products.
In the next step, product is bought retail just as the consumer would. Step three, the products are blinded and prepared for judging in a typical type of presentation. Step four, carefully chosen chefs sit at a judging station and rate the food. The points are tallied in step five and the winner is announced.
The business concept is clever; ACI doesn't charge for judging product. It makes money by charging royalties if a winner wants to display the seal on their product.
The ACI started out as Awards of America which then became Quality Institute International which is the parent of American Tasting Institute which has been recently renamed the American Culinary Institute. If the American Culinary Institute sounds like a well respected and mature organization, then maybe you are confusing them with the Culinary Institute of America (CIA). Google can't seem to tell the difference. Type American Culinary Institute into their search engine and you get the CIA website.
The Culinary Institute of America, founded in 1946, is a not-for-profit college offering bachelor's degrees, associate degrees and certificate programs in the food industry at its main campus in New York and its branch campus in St. Helena, CA. The CIA has more than 35,000 alumni. It has filed suit against the ACI in federal court alleging trademark infringement, specifically brought on by the medal program. It does not give food awards.
If this is not confusing enough, there is another group of chefs giving awards. The American Culinary Federation offers an ACF Seal of Approval. Labels such as Cargill, Crisco and the Smucker Co. bear the ACF's seal.
And of course Good Housekeeping also gives its seal to food products; Jimmy Dean sausage and Karo Syrup among others. (American Culinary Institute has invaded Good Housekeeping's turf by awarding seals to toasters and coffee makers).
Some food producers have taken the safe route of peppering their packages with multiple seals. Ritz sports the Good Housekeeping and the ACI medallion. Time will tell which seal or medal the consumer ends up trusting.