Oct 8, 2013

Science and Cooking at Harvard

I saw this link multiple times on my Facebook feed, and even had two people send it to me directly.  My reaction when I saw it was something akin to "aw crap".  I've been going to the lectures throughout the series.  They are after work, and the lines have been getting long enough for me to really not want anyone else to show up, lest I not get in.  I'd heard about the first one from a friend of mine, and when I heard that Harold McGee was going to be speaking, I jumped at the chance. You may not know who he is.  My friend, who invited me to the first lecture, didn't know who he was. He is, essentially, the father of modern food science.

Ever wonder why toast turns brown? Why milk will curdle when mixed with lemon juice? What's the deal with water and chocolate?  Why are beans, in fact, the musical fruit?  Harold McGee knows. His first book "On Food and Cooking" is not a cookbook.  It's much more of a textbook, but about the science of food.  On his blog, Curious Cook, he recently did an article on the required heat for making caramels.  He has also been inspiration for people like Shirley Corriher and Alton Brown. Yes, I may be a little excited about the fact that I now have a signed copy of "On Food and Cooking".

The evening that he spoke, he split the time with Dave Arnold from Cooking Issues. He had some really neat demonstrations with regards to the heat transference of oil vs. water, the effect of liquid nitrogen on marshmallows, and the process of infusing substances with flavor (during which I made the mental connection with why drip coffee is more bitter than espresso, and why the proper steeping time for black tea is only 2-3 minutes). He also brought in a new toy he had for making popcorn. I think the point with this (other than being able to paly with his new toy) was to further demonstrate the ideal gas law in respect to cooking (PV=nRT). But back to popcorn.  If you watch Mythbusters, you may have seen this work before.  If not, here's a clip of how it should work.  Got it? Now let's take a look at what should NOT happen.

It doesn't matter who you are, you can still clear a building with burnt popcorn
This would be what happens when you don't pay close attention to how your valves are sealed, and just keep adding heat to try to get your pressure up.  This photograph, taken by Nate Holstein, captured the moment just after the fire alarm went off. Yes, this professional chef, highly successful restaurateur, and one of the founders of the Museum of Food and Drink set off the fire alarm and evacuated the entire science building at Harvard.

Jose Andres at Harvard University
The best combination of science and entertainment thus far has been the lecture by Jose Andres. Yes, the picture on the screen is of Jello, he was talking about diffusion and  spherification. If you search for images of his food, he composes these absolutely beautiful plates, where he has concentrated flavors, and encapsulated them into a liquid ball with a gelatin skin. Or you can watch even better videos.  The video of him building a Chihuli salad to the right is kind of amazing.

The "Reverse" Cappuccino
This is done by a professional chef.  But, like virtually any form of cooking, with a little science, and the right ingredients, you can do versions at home.  This encouraged a friend of mine and I to do a "sphere" dinner.  For a starter we had olives, then we made spheres of a roasted vegetable soup, had 4 types of meatballs (Italian, Asian, middle eastern and Mexican flavors), and spheres of yogurt served with fresh raspberries and macerated strawberries for dessert.  To top it off, we did a "reverse cappuccino".  This entailed spheres of a yogurt/milk mixture combined with some honey, and some espresso balsamic vinegar caviar on top.  Everything was exceptionally tasty, but nowhere even remotely near as pretty as a world famous chef can do.  Even without having any catastrophic failures, only the reverse cappuccino was pretty enough to even try to photograph.  So now that you've seen the best, here is the layman's attempt.  It was very tasty, but I think that I could use some more practice...

Why am I telling you all this today?  Today is the first day of the Massively Open Online Course (MOOC).  Registration is still open, and it promises to be a lot of fun.  I'll be taking it, and I recommend that anyone else does as well.

You can find the course at: https://www.edx.org/course/harvard-university/spu27x/science-cooking-haute-cuisine/639

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