Catherine Goffinet grew up surrounded by chemistry. Her father was a chemist, and her hometown of Gif sur Yvette outside Paris was dense with scientific institutions. “Chemistry for me really builds everything,” Goffinet says. At age 10, she visited a perfume museum. She found the idea that individual molecules would smell different “amazing.”
It seemed natural that Goffinet would major in chemistry at Paris-Sud University. While there, she came across the work of Hervé This. She was interested in how he used physical chemistry “to push the limits of cooking.” The group would invite chefs and scientists to scientifically test the tricks that chefs use in the kitchen. One such experiment involved chefs using a rotary evaporator to concentrate the taste of foods. Goffinet ended up working in This’s lab at the National Institute for Agricultural Research as a molecular gastronomy intern from 2010 to 2011 after completing her master’s degree in flavorings at the University of Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, the school that housed the perfume museum she visited as a child.
Goffinet’s first job was working as a product developer for teas and infusions in Unilever’s Lipton line. Her work in teas led her to Turkey, where she stayed for 6 months. “What I really loved in this was understanding how one single ingredient can be used in so many ways,” she says, “and also understanding how this links to so many people’s cultures.”
After her time in teas and in Turkey, Goffinet moved into working in product development for ice cream. She worked briefly on Unilever’s Solero, Fruttare, and Magnum brands before making the move to Ben & Jerry’s, where she took on the role of flavor guru. Ice cream “brought me a lot closer to the science part of things,” she says. Creating vegan flavors of ice cream had her examining nondairy fat and protein substiutes, including ways to make the ice-cream emulsion stable without traditional ingredients. She also helps craft the technical process behind pint slices. Goffinet is proud of her most recent work on the Moo-phoria line, in which she proved that low-calorie ice cream can be delicious. “I go to the supermarket and I’m like, ‘Ooh, I’m the one who made that.’ ”