Robert C. Baker, Inventor of the Chicken Nugget, Dies

Robert C. Baker, who founded Cornell University's Institute of Food Science and Marketing, died Monday. Baker was responsible for many innovations including chicken nuggets, chicken hot dogs and chicken steak. Joseph Hotchkiss, chairman of Cornell's food-science department, remembers Baker.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Chicken nuggets, some can't remember what children ate before chigen nuggets came on the market.

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They even inspired characters in McDonald's cartoons.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Well, the man responsible for the popularity of chicken nuggets has died. He was Robert C. Baker, a longtime professor of poultry science and food science at Cornell University. In addition to developing chicken nuggets, he is also responsible for ground poultry, turkey ham, poultry hot dogs and many other poultry innovations.

NORRIS: Mr. Baker always had a stand at the New York State Fair, Baker's Chicken Coop, and his chicken barbecue, with its famous Cornell sauce, was specifically asked for by President Clinton when he visited the fair in 1999. Joseph Hotchkiss is Chairman of the Food Science Department at Cornell.

Mr. JOSEPH HOTCHKISS (Food Science Department, Cornell University): At the time that Bob Baker started in this, there were almost no other poultry products outside of the whole broiler chicken that you might find in the grocery store, and there's hardly a poultry product out there that doesn't somewhere have a little Bob Baker in its history.

SIEGEL: Hotchkiss says Robert Baker saw problems in poultry products, problems like getting the breading to stick to the chicken, and he tried to fix them.

Mr. HOTCHKISS: That seems trivial to us, but in a large part, that happened because Bob Baker studied in a scientific way. How do you make a breading attach to a piece of chicken so that you can fry it and cook it, and people can eat it and it'll all be the same without the breading falling off?

NORRIS: Among Robert Baker's many poultry related accomplishments, he was inducted into the American Poultry Hall of Fame in 2004. He also had his failures, says Hotchkiss.

Mr. HOTCHKISS: Oh, yeah, there were a number of failures. When he got very good at the poultry thing, people said, gee, we would like to have you do this for fish, and he made some fish products that were tested in some of the public schools and stuff that, I think, he thought were pretty good, but young people just didn't like at all, and so he did have a number of failures as well. That never deterred him. He always went back and tried again.

SIEGEL: That's Joseph Hotchkiss, Chairman of the Food Science Department at Cornell University, remembering his former colleague Robert C. Baker's unique contributions to the food industry, above all, the creation of chicken nuggets. Robert Baker died on Monday. He was 84 years old.

NORRIS: And this Sunday at Lansing Methodist, there will be a barbecue, and it will feature Mr. Baker's famous Cornell sauce. You can find the recipe for that sauce at our web site, NPR.org.

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Cornell Barbecue Sauce

Makes enough for 10 chicken halves

1 cup cooking oil

1 pint cider vinegar

3 tablespoons salt*

1 tablespoon poultry seasoning

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1 egg

Beat the egg, then add the oil and beat again.

Add other ingredients and stir.

Brush sauce on the broiler halves every few minutes during cooking.

Leftover sauce can be stored in a glass jar in the refrigerator for several weeks.

*The recipe can be varied to suit individual tastes. Adjust quantity of or eliminate salt to meet individual health needs and taste. BBQ chicken basted frequently during cooking will be saltier than chicken that has been lightly basted.

Recipe courtesy Cornell University

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