A’ysha Callahan’s love for cooking led her to become a food scientist at 24 years old.

Growing up, Callahan was enveloped by hearty Southern cuisine influenced by her Mississippi and Louisiana heritage. This inspired her to spend more time in the kitchen and prepare the meals she grew up loving, including seafood gumbos, boudin, and salmon croquettes.

“Growing up, I was always in the kitchen, messing with stuff, creating random things. I was also really passionate about the functionality of food,” Callahan told AFROTECH™ in an interview.

It was later in high school that she saw her interest in cooking as a viable career path. There she received mentorship from a community coordinator at a nonprofit organization that she connected with through a science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) program.

With guidance, Callahan discovered she could become a food scientist, which was her mentor’s position before her current role.

“When she told me she was a food scientist, she said, ‘I share all those other interests you named, and I think this could be something that you would really like. Maybe you should look into it?'” Callahan said. “So she told me some of the past projects she worked on, and it really resonated with me. I was like, ‘Wow, I can create something where everybody across the world can consume it and make it a part of their day-to-day life or their routine, and it brings joy to them.'” 

Feeling strong in her conviction to pursue a career with food, Callahan would attend the same school as her mentor. She obtained a Bachelor of Science degree in food science from the Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University in Huntsville, AL, in December 2022, her LinkedIn mentions.

She expressed appreciation for the professional network she built with those having academic and corporate backgrounds, as they shared valuable insights into diverse career paths in food science.

After higher learning, Callahan took on a role as a quality assurance technician; however, she did not feel fulfilled creatively. In search of a new opportunity, she stumbled upon a job posting for a food innovation technologist position at the American fast-food restaurant chain Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC). Callahan felt this role would allow her to be in familiar territory, not solely because of her qualifications but because her family had been a loyal customer of the brand.

“KFC was just always an existing thing in my family,” Callahan expressed. “We always went there. It’s a nostalgic memory for me and my family. Growing up, I would go and get the little laptop meals. So, when I saw the posting and saw my opportunity to get in the door, it just immediately brought me back to all those memories.”

Once Callahan applied to the KFC role, she received friendly greetings from team members. Her experience further strengthened her interest and confidence in joining their team. She was officially onboarded to the company in April 2023 and started making her mark.

According to information provided to AFROTECH™, she played a part in updating KFC’s menu in the United States, facilitating the addition of the Chizza, which had already existed in international markets.

Per a news release, the food item is best described as “two 100% white meat Extra Crispy™ fried chicken filets topped with zesty marinara sauce, melty mozzarella cheese, and crispy pepperoni.”


Chizza… Just like nonna used to make… right? 👵🏼

♬ original sound – KFC

“The Chizza was a really great opportunity, actually, and that’s such a fan-favorite mashup. It was really great to be a part of bringing that stateside,” Callahan mentioned. “Chizza’s the first menu item I’ve worked on. So, it’s been an existing item internationally through different KFC markets. A lot of times, people here in the States say, ‘Man, things that they’re doing internationally look so fun and look so good. Why don’t we have that here?’ So it was so satisfying and fun to be able to nurture the idea of bringing something that was initially internationally created and adopted here in the United States… Hopefully, I can get my hands on a few more things. I’m really excited.”

Looking ahead, Callahan plans to be a key player in meeting consumers’ needs by researching market trends and data to find new ways to innovate KFC’s menu offerings.

“Some current trends I’ve been seeing is ‘swicy,’ which is actually sweet and spicy combined. A lot of people have been liking to combine different flavor profiles together. But, there are other flavors that I hope to innovate with in the future, such as fruity and floral flavors. Fruity-wise, maybe strawberry, passionfruit, guava, and dried fruit. People are starting to try those different exotic flavors and becoming more open and familiar with it. Floral-wise, lavender and peach blossom, or any of those different notes, I would love to involve in our innovation pipeline, and I think that would really be exciting and lively to bring to KFC. I really think that’s the direction that we’re moving into,” she elaborated.

Besides her professional duties, Callahan highlights the importance of her identity as a 24-year-old Black food scientist. Her objective is to inspire future generations.

“It’s important to emphasize the importance of everyone’s palate showing up in innovation because, at the end of the day, we all connect through food. And the only way for us to all connect through food is for everyone’s interest to be represented at that table,” Callahan shared.

She concluded, “As a young Black female food scientist, I do feel like what’s so important about my role is to be able to provide that representation and to be able to increase the percentage of Black female or just Black food scientists in the QSR space in general. So we can all influence the conversation and influence innovation.”