“I was the child who was reading ingredient statements and nutrition panels. It was bad!”
Hunter Clayton’s love of food science began at a young age, and she knew that she wanted to pursue it in college. But she also knew she didn’t want to stick around California, having grown up in the San Francisco Bay area.
“Growing up in very fast-paced California wasn’t really my style,” she says.
Clayton found her way to Clemson through a college counselor at her high school. When she visited campus, her tour guide took her by ’55 Exchange, and the thought of getting to help create the array of delicious ice creams tucked behind the counter piqued her interest.
The food science and human nutrition major started off in production at ’55 Exchange during her sophomore year, spending a few hours a week churning out signature Clemson Ice Cream flavors. But it was through Creative Inquiry classes working with Professor Johnny McGregor that she really got to experiment: “That was definitely my first taste of formulating a product. I loved it.”
Clayton got not only her start making ice cream at Clemson but also her first taste of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, an artisan ice cream company based in Ohio. On a fall break trip to Nashville, Tennessee, she was introduced to the ice cream by a classmate. “I was kind of blown away,” Clayton says. “I remember when Publix started carrying Jeni’s — I was like the first one to buy it.”
After graduation, while Clayton was interning at a product development consulting company in California, a fellow food science major sent her a job posting: research and development chef at Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams. Clayton thought it was a long shot, but she applied anyway. She got the job.
“All of a sudden, I was moving to Ohio,” Clayton laughs.
In her new role, she began working directly with company founder Jeni Britton Bauer to bring new ice cream flavors to life.
According to Clayton, developing a flavor starts with Jeni’s proprietary ice cream mix — “your milk, your cream, your sugar.” From there, each flavor is treated individually in order to understand exactly what ingredients will make it taste just right. “It’s all very by feel,” Clayton says, “which I think is very unusual for the food industry. You just have to guess and check.”
One thing that required more guess and check than anything else was gluten. Clayton is gluten intolerant, which proved challenging, especially if one is trying to create Jeni’s Raspberry Rose Jelly Donut flavor.
Clayton’s solution to tricking her non-donut-eating tastebuds was to buy “a really cheap donut,” smell it over and over, and add ingredients to try and recreate it in the ice cream. The secret ingredient? Nutmeg oil, “which is like the secret spice of donut shops.”
After over two years at Jeni’s, Clayton recently took a research and development position at Coconut Bliss, a dairy-free ice cream company based in Eugene, Oregon, to be closer to her family.
“I’m jazzed about staying within the frozen dessert world,” Clayton says, “which, arguably, is the best world in the food world.”