“Cornell Barbeque Sauce?” I asked the cafeteria staff across the counter. “Yes. It was invented here by a Cornell professor.”
Cornell Barbeque Sauce wasn’t the first formulation made by the late Dr. Robert C. Baker that I had tried.
Baker is most famously accredited with the development of the chicken nugget. He is also behind the development of other poultry products, such as chicken and turkey hot dogs, and turkey ham. Prior to 1980, chicken was packed on ice and shipped to grossers and restaurants. Baker developed improved modified atmosphere and vacuumed sealed packaging for transporting poultry meat. These same packaging techniques are used to this day.
According to previous Alpha Zeta chronicler Brian Crandall, Baker perfected the chicken nugget by developing a method to get the bread to stay attached to the chicken during the frying process. In the late ’70s, McDonalds utilized the methods developed by Baker as they were not patented yet.
As a consequence, “although he gained notoriety for his work, he earned very little money off his creation,” stated Crandall.
Baker received his undergraduate degree at Cornell in 1943. He worked in Cornell extension education before completing his masters at Pennsylvania State and his doctorate at Purdue University. While working at Penn State, Baker developed the BBQ sauce. His efforts were not appreciated however until he joined the faculty of Cornell with a mandate to promote New York’s poultry industry.
His obituary documents the story of how, in 1999, President Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton and Chelsea Clinton toured the New York state fair specifically to get a taste of Cornell barbeque chicken. When at the Baker's Chicken Coop eatery, Baker’s daughter Reenie presented the first family with a basket of New York apples - the President asked, "Those apples look good, but where's the chicken?”
In his faculty years, Baker founded the Institute of Food Science and Marketing in 1970, and was the institute’s first director from 1970 to 1975. He also chaired the department of Poultry and Avian Sciences from 1980 to its disbandment in 1990. He retired in 1989 as a Professor Emeritus. In January of 2004, Baker was inducted into the American Poultry Hall of Fame.
In addition to his work in academia, Baker was elected to the corporation board of the Cornell chapter of Alpha Zeta fraternity in 1980. There, he served as president for 20 years. According to current corp board president Richard Church, Baker was instrumental in organizing funding for a large renovation project. In 1992, 1.5 million dollars was donated to the house by over 600 Alpha Zeta alumni of the then 1200 living alumni of the fraternity. In 1993, when the house was re-dedicated, the chapter’s living room was named in Dr. Baker’s honor.
After his death in March of ’06, a pop music group, Paul and Storm, composed and sang a song memorializing Baker’s contributions.