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Cultivating the Future: Ella Hildebrand

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From chocolate to treat to consumer

The mouth-watering smell of rich chocolate and warm caramel floats through the kitchens in DeBrand Fine Chocolates as Ella Hildebrand begins her shift. After setting aside a “faux pas” to snack on later, Hildebrand dons her white lab coat and washes her hands, preparing for a day of creating confectionaries. To Hildebrand, who previously worked behind the chocolate counter at DeBrand, the kitchens’ enticing smells and chocolates’ delicious tastes are nothing new, but her intern duties and responsibilities are.

As a food science major, Hildebrand has a keen interest in food safety and production. Looking for an internship where she could explore those interests, Hildebrand thought DeBrand in Fort Wayne, Indiana might be a good fit.

Hildebrand explained, “After my first year at Purdue was coming to an end, I knew that I wanted to intern somewhere to get some experience. I reached out to DeBrand’s kitchen manager over email and asked if he'd be able to add some intern responsibilities to my previous job, and DeBrand was willing to do that for me.”

Hildebrand’s responsibilities include a lot of behind-the-scenes work. “My day depends on what product we're running in the kitchen,” Hildebrand said. “Some days might involve packaging our chocolate race cars, like we're doing today. Or we could be running the enrober and taking pieces off to decorate them. Or I could be doing something not as glamorous, like washing the dishes or organizing boxes in the back room—whatever needs to be done.”

Through these experiences, Hildebrand has increased her knowledge of food safety and its processes.

“The most interesting thing that I've done is sit in on a food safety meeting between our head kitchen manager and our food safety staff member,” Hildebrand said. “That meeting opened a lot of topics to me that I hadn't really thought about before, like coming up with the sell-by and enjoy-by date for every chocolate. Or measuring chocolates for weeks on shelves in the back to see when the quality starts to change. Or finding ingredient suppliers and understanding paperwork that they need for food safety. There are a lot of steps in safety that I hadn't thought about.”

Hildebrand also has been able to learn more about the process of food production. For example, she has learned about the production of certain chocolates, like the mocha truffle. To make the dark splatters on top of the chocolates, employees use clean toothbrushes to flick almost-black chocolate into the empty molds. “You're filling hundreds of molds just by flicking this toothbrush,” Hildebrand said. “There are lots of chocolate pieces like that where you'll see the top that has all been hand done."

The internship has also opened Hildebrand’s eyes to the bigger picture of food production. “It’s been exciting to see all the moving pieces that go into production,” Hildebrand said. “It's easy to think about, ‘Okay, yes, chocolate factory,’ and I kind of got what was going on in there. But there have to be people who understand how to make the fillings, people who understand how to use the machinery that makes the chocolate and people who can transport that chocolate and take care of it. It’s understanding all those things as well as knowing everyone has their own role in food safety. It’s been cool to see that process.”

Hildebrand plans to graduate from Purdue in Spring 2026, and she is excited to take her new knowledge of food safety and production with her into the food industry.

“Hopefully I'll be working in the food industry by helping consumers or companies understand the product that I'll be working with. Food science doesn't only mean using test tubes and looking at food elements. It can also mean understanding the science and communicating that to others.”

- Ella Hildebrand

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