Harvard Brings the Spice to Science Class

Harvard University's Science and Cooking lecture series kicked off its third semester last week. The semester-long event hosts some of the most notable faces in innovative cooking—each talking about a topic of their choosing. As the lectures are open to the public, anyone with easy access to the university's Cambridge campus are welcome into the lecture hall, free of charge.

The series seeks to break down some of the walls standing between the American public, inventive culinary ideas, and academia. In past years, speakers have discussed such ideas as natural gelatin, avant-garde cocktails, and "meat glue". The idea is for chefs to explain these seemingly unconventional techniques—and maybe make them more familiar to the average diner in the process.

On the other end of dining accessibility, Harvard's School of Public Health unveiled its "Healthy Eating Plate" last year. As a replacement for the now defunct "food pyramid",  the brightly colored graphic seeks to teach kids and parents how to construct a balanced meal. The program is also notable as being a groundbreaking healthy eatinginitiative devoid of lobbyists and government infuence.

This year's lineup of lecturers includes José Andres, Dan Barber, David Chang, and Wylie Dufresne. Also speaking this semester are Joan and Jordi Roca (of the #2 ranked El Cellar de Can Roca in Girona, Spain) and Modernist Cuisine author Nathan Myhrvold. For the big finale (and the only non-free event all semester), culinary legend Ferran Adria will return to the podium. (Adria was also the first-ever Food and Science speaker back in 2010.)

This year's roster also features some notable Boston faces like Jack Bishop and Dale Souza of the Boston-based Cook's Illustrated magazine, and Joanne Chang of Flour bakery in Cambridge. However, anyone outside the Bay State can join in on the lectures too, as they are put up on Harvard's YouTube channel.

Good Luck, Charlie

Chef Charlie Trotter raised the bar on American cuisine. A video thanks to the man who continues to inspire me.



Here are five things Chef Charlie Trotter gave me:

1. An introduction to the ingenious chef, and Trotter’s fellow game-changer, Ferran Adria.

2. Arun’s – an amazing Thai restaurant in Chicago.

3. Chef Trotter introduced me to so many ingredients, Buddha’s Hand and Yuzu, to name two essentials.

4. Mattias Merges, the former Chef de Cuisine at Charlie Trotter’s, is one of the best cooks I’ve ever cooked with.

5. Reggie Watkins, the sous chef at Charlie Trotter’s, whips everyone into shape. He was the first employee and is a formidable and impressive character.

Traditional Vs Modern Cooking: Distinctly Different or Two Peas in a Pod?

The International Culinary Center recently hosted a 6 panel discussion regarding food, technology and art. With the likes of chefs, such as Ferran Adria of El Bulli and Rene Redzepi of NOMA, molecular gastronomy has been getting a lot of ink and opinions are divided. Some consider this the food of hocus pocus, while others view it in light of a culinary evolution and a necessary development.

The panel participants were industry notables, such as, Dave Arnold, the director of culinary technology at the culinary center; Andre Soltner, Dean of the ICC, Johnny Iuzzini, executive pastry chef at Jean Georges, Marion Nestle, professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health at New York University, Nathan Myhrvold, the author of "Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking," and Wylie Dufresne, the chef and owner of WD-50.

Much of the discussion stemmed from the book 'Modernist Cuisine'. The objective of the book goes well beyond buzz words of foams, gels and nitrogen canisters, but rather highlights who we are as a society and what we have access to and according to Dufresne, "The value is that we are learning at a more accelerated rate than ever before. Information is trickling down, and we're getting smarter."

One may wonder what the relevance a book like this has to the layperson. According to Iuzzini "all techniques were new techniques at one point...So one day these new techniques, like sous vide, will be more accessible to the home cook. In the end, all we're trying to do is create great food." However, food traditionalist, Andre Soltner, was not easy to convince and even though he commits to reading it "I won't say I'll finish it", he said.

If there is one certainty, it is that, this discussion evokes a reaction. While some consider this as a possibly dangerous method of cooking, others like Dufresne share the view that you are 'unlikely to freeze your customers to death [by using liquid nitrogen], and hot soup in the dining room is more of a danger'.

Whatever your take, there is often a debate as to why it is necessary to even make the distinction and why the two philosophies can't co-exist whether you as a chef are drawn by the modern techniques or traditional. Many argue that what should be the priority is to put out good food using whatever safe techniques are available to you and chefs and people should be less concerned with labeling and ostracizing techniques.

What are your favorite modern cooking techniques?

For more food news, follow me on Twitter (@MarcusCooks)

Chefs Save the World, One Summit at a Time

By: Melaina Gasbarrino

The world of cooking is no longer just based on dining out and experiencing top chef's masterpieces. Today, top chefs are developing a plan to focus on the future of the world's well being.

This past weekend, nine of the world's top chefs met in Lima, Peru at a "G9" summit to discuss the future of gastronomy. Chefs at the summit included Ferran Adria (Spain), Rene Redzepi (Denmark), Yukio Hattori (Japan), Massimo Bottura (Italy), Michel Bras (France), Dan Barber (United States), Alex Atala (Brazil) and Heston Bluementhal (United Kingdom). The meeting, the "2nd Summit of the International Advisory Board of the Basque Culinary Center" aimed to create future chefs that are "socially engaged, conscious of, and responsible for his or her contribution to a fair and sustainable society." Noted in Luciana Bianchi's "Lima Declaration: Open Letter to The Chefs of Tomorrow", all nine chefs signed an agreement that they would focus on a better world for all. The agreement can be found in Binachi's report and is successfully laid out in terms of a chef's relation with nature, society, knowledge and values. Each section focuses on how chefs continue to build on developing a better world through their impeccable cooking talents.

As noted in Giles Tremlett's "Chefs Aim to Save the World", the chefs have found they can play larger roles in their communities by developing this agreement. The chefs showcase their want to guide others on a positive way of life, "through our cooking, our ethics and our aesthetics, we can contribute to the culture and identity of a people, a region, a country. We can teach members of the public to acquire good cooking habits, and to learn to make healthy choices about the foods they eat." The summit was a perfectly laid-out initiative to showcase how chefs around the world are ready for change, and not just in their kitchens.

Photo: derekGavey

Molecular Gastronomy: Shhhh!... Don't Say That Out Loud!

What is "molecular gastronomy"?  First off, careful who you say that to, and never call anyone of the food community a molecular gastronomist.  They might brand your chest with a giant, scarlet "MG" letting everyone know your mistake. But what kind of witch craft could cause such a reaction?

Well, it should be easy enough to figure out, right?  Gastro deals with the digestive system.  Astronomy is the study of the stars.  At one point in time astronomy was connected with astrology where the stars divulge the meaning in our lives. Molecular Gastronomy is then the study of our gastro-intestinal make-up that provides a map to our true selves. I'm guessing that a molecular gastronomist then must be a skilled, clairvoyant shaman that can read your future through your gastro-molecular constellations. "Just right of your bellybutton, you'll notice your Gastric Taurus is rising."

In fact, molecular gastronomy is nothing of the sort. It literally means cooking, or the chemical changing of food through temperature shifts causing differences in flavor and texture. But more recently, it refers to amazing technological innovations in the food world.

Ferran Adria, the master chef of the restaurant El Bulli, created a martini roughly the size, shape, and consistency of an olive. It is a spherical "gel-capsule filled with olive juice and vodka or gin that bursts in your mouth. Other creations include banana jelly with nutella powder, mango ravioli, shrimp noodles, and chili-cheese nachos that taste like dessert.

The fact is that chefs detest the term molecular gastronomy. It connotes a scientific coldness and distance to something that they passionately love and are intimately involved in. It is like calling an art two-dimensional ocular- subterfuge (all the romance right out the window).

Though I will attempt to remove "The MG Word" from my vocabulary, I cannot help but discretely move to the edge of my seat in anticipation of the next invention. I am hoping for a steak that tastes like chocolate pudding and gummy bears or a cappuccino that tastes like a meat and bean burrito. I'll keep my fingers crossed.