Making Memorable Recipes

by | Jun 30, 2023 | Alumni Profiles

When Kathy Westphal ’82 graduated UC Davis, she was part of a new movement of women into the food technology sector. Now, she is nearing the end of her 41-year career in food science and product development, and popularity of one of her most notable creations, Dole Whip, marks her impressive legacy.  

As a freshman at UC Davis, Westphal was initially interested in dietetics and nutrition science. After joining food tech club and exploring her love of cooking as a campsite chef at High Sierra, she decided to switch her major to food science. Westphal enjoyed chemistry, and food science she said was the “perfect merge between cooking and chemistry.” She took viticulture and brewing courses and got hands-on experience working with food. UC Davis was also one of the only universities offering her major at the time, and all her classes were taught by professors specializing in different areas, as the field was newly emerging. “There weren’t a whole lot of us,” Westphal said. 

Westphal ended up earning a scholarship from Dole during her undergraduate years, and after networking with the right people at a food technology club event, she was hired out of college by Dole. Westphal’s very first project was creating Dole Whip, just one year after she left college. The goal was to make a mix that didn’t need refrigeration, as the soft serve was created specifically for Disney World kiosks. At the Dole Technical Center, Westphal helped create a dry mix out of pineapple juice crystals. After many tweaks and mistakes, the iconic Dole Whip was created for mass distribution and awarded Best New Food Service Product by Prepared Foods magazine. Westphal worked for Dole for five more years, before deciding to branch out beyond frozen desserts. 

Kathy Westphal ’79 created the Dole Whip with just three ingredients. (Courtesy)

After a brief job at Venezia Italian Foods, Westphal joined Mattson, a food and beverage consulting company, where she has remained for over three decades. She worked directly with the founder of the company, Pete Mattson, as a frozen food, frying and pasta expert. “He would have ideas, and I would make them happen,” Westphal said. 

As a food technologist, Westphal takes a concept from a recipe and communicates with various ingredient suppliers. Then, she works with a team in the laboratory to assemble the product for distribution. Westphal frequently works with novel ingredients and is able to create brand-new food items. “It’s very creative,” Westphal said. She said she loves experimenting with ingredients and the ability to see her creations in stores. “The coolest thing is to go down the aisle and say, ‘Oh, I worked on that,’” Westphal said.

Westphal has been featured in “Fries! The Movie,” on the History Channel, and on the Revisionist History podcast. She is now a fellow at Mattson and semi-retired, helping mentor teams of emerging food technologists. Westphal has patents out and has worked on everything from upcycled grains to frozen entrees, leaving an undeniable impact on the food production industry. “Everything bought in the grocery store has someone like me behind it,” Westphal said. Her favorite creation remains the Dole Whip, and she is glad the popularity and availability of the frozen dessert has extended beyond Disney World. “It’s having its day in the sun,” Westphal said.