Meet Ali Manning of Umami Food Consulting

Ali Manning is a food scientist whose career has spanned food chemistry, food entrepreneurship, and, now, book publishing. At her business, Umami Food Consulting, she works with aspiring and thriving food entrepreneurs, particularly in the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) space. She helps bring their businesses to life, sharing food industry experience that merges both creativity and science.

When she’s not working or inspiring children through her passion project, Food Science 4 Kids, she’s pursuing other philanthropic passions. Some of her impressive credits include Program Manager for Project Green Fork and Levitt Shell professionals board Chair of Equity and Inclusion. Plus, she recently released her first book, Can I Play with my Food?

We chatted with Ali to learn how she juggles so many pursuits, how she landed on such a unique path, and her advice for budding female entrepreneurs. Please welcome this week’s FACE of Memphis, Ali Manning.

Ali Manning of Umami Food Consulting

Meet this week’s FACE of Memphis, Ali Manning.

Tell us about studying Food Science and Technology in college. What was your original plan upon graduating?

I received my degree in Food Science and Technology from Alabama A&M University in my hometown of Huntsville, AL. After graduation, I moved to Memphis, TN, and began working in the food industry as a food chemist. Ultimately, I became a food scientist, and for nearly a decade, I worked on products for national brands such as McDonald’s, Dunkin’ Donuts, and Chipotle. I fell in love with the city of Memphis and the people. When I met my husband, I decided that this was the place to establish roots within the food industry and the community.

What inspired you to go into food consulting?

After being “set free” (read: fired) from my job in August 2019, I created Umami Food Consulting to support food entrepreneurs. I recognized and wanted to fill the need for support in the food space, especially for BIPOC and minority-owned businesses. I assist clients with product development, nutritional analysis, regulatory standards, food cost evaluations, and more. Many of my clients are local and throughout the US, such as Slim & Husky’s, Good Citizen Coffee, City Tasting Box, Thistle and Bee, Zio Matto Gelato, etc.

Food consulting is only one of the many hats you wear. What else are you involved in, and how do you prevent burnout while balancing so much?

Umami Food Consulting is my full-time job. As the program consultant for Project Green Fork, I’m able to support the hospitality industry’s food sustainability efforts. Food Science 4 Kids provides children with food education and helps them understand food science as a career path.

I prevent burnout by maintaining my social and professional boundaries and making time for self-care. I enjoy meditation, journaling, time in nature, time with friends, skating with the Memphis Skater Hotties (MSH) crew, or simply being at home with my husband and dog.

Tell us about one project you’re currently consulting on that you’re excited about.

I am excited about the work I’m doing with all of my clients, but especially the work we are doing at Project Green Fork, a program of Clean Memphis. Our work provides resources to businesses in the local hospitality industry that are interested in implementing more sustainable practices (ie, composting, recycling, food waste reduction). There is national concern regarding food waste, food insecurity, education, and access, and the work we do is imperative.

Ali sitting at kitchen counter wearing white lab coat

With a degree in Food Science and Technology and over 11 years in the food industry, Ali has honed her skills. Now she’s sharing them through her book, Can I Play with My Food?

Food Science 4 Kids is such an awesome concept! How did you come up with it?

FS4Kids was birthed in April 2020, during the height of the pandemic, to fill a gap in virtual activities for children. During that time, I taught food science education and activities to over 100-grade school children across the nation. Over the last two years, the program has grown tremendously with partnerships with Girls Scouts, Botanic Gardens, Freedom Prep, Knowledge Quest, the Delta School, and STAR Academy.

What’s your go-to project to introduce children to food science?

The classic handmade ice cream activity — the children (and parents) can understand ice science and produce handmade ice cream with a few ingredients and a lot of muscle.

You just published a book! Tell us about Can I Play With My Food?. How has the public reaction been?

The book began as a passion project and a way to reconnect to some of the artistic things I’ve loved to do since childhood. I used to tell people I “played with food for a living,” so I thought the title was perfect. What better way to learn than through play? This book is one of few that has a Black child with Down’s Syndrome represented as the main character and a high-functioning individual. It has been really well received and supported. I am because encouraged now is the time for a greater conversation around the representation of special needs characters in children’s books.

Ali Manning of Umami Food Consulting holding her book

What started as a passion project is now inspiring important conversations around the representation of special needs characters in children’s books.

You’re a consultant, food scientist, and children’s book author. What’s next?!

There is always more in store! The plan right now is to expand the program Food Science 4 Kids through curriculum development, training, and teaching so children across the nation and the globe can enjoy FS4Kids.

How has Memphis’s creative and food community shaped your business and supported you?

I’m incredibly grateful for the support I’ve received from the food community since opening my business. Epicenter and Edible Memphis were integral in helping me establish my business. The pandemic caused me to shift, and now I have an awesome program, book, and wonderful clients that continue the vision for my work. My role as an author, scientist, and creative combines all of my artistic and analytical passions and allows me to live a meaningful, multi-hyphenate-driven life.

What are you reading right now?

I’m reading Memphis by Tara Stringfellow. A great story!

Who do you consider the most exciting Southern entrepreneurs right now?

The most exciting Southern entrepreneurs right now are Chassidy Jade, David Quarles, and others like Pinky Cole of Slutty Vegan and Illustrator Mia Saine.

What’s your number one piece of advice for aspiring female entrepreneurs?

Do things with good intentions, and everything will work out how it’s supposed to.

Beyond faith, family, or friends, what are three things you can’t live without?

I can’t live without my favorite denim jacket, my wedding ring, and fruit.

Thank you, Ali! All photography courtesy of Be Manning.

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