Harvard SEAS and their cooking lectures – part 1 of ?

Warning:  I have no photos of the event.

So, the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) has a new General Education science course, “Science and Cooking: From Haute Cuisine to the Science of Soft Matter,” which debuted this semester.  In addition to the undergraduate course, SEAS is holding public lectures with special guests.  Their first guests were Harold McGee and Ferran Adrià.  Needless to say, I am kicking myself for missing this lecture last week and I have nothing to present on this blog.

On the brighter side, I made it to last night’s lecture: Sous-vide Cooking: a State of Matter, with speaker Joan Roca of El Celler de Can Roca.

The presentation wasn’t exactly about sous-vide.  Technically, the topic of the course this week is “phases of matter” which was a much more apt description of the lecture.  (sous-vide, for those who aren’t as food obsessed as I am, is a type of pressure cooking where something is vacuumed sealed into a bag and cooked at a constant temperature way below boiling.)

The idea of Roca’s presentation was really to take something familiar and change the texture to create a new landscape.

I should have taken notes so that I knew what to blog about, but I didn’t think of that until most of the lecture was over.  Lesson learned.

Anyway, there were a few things that stuck out in my mind.

The lecture was done with lots of badly lit videos on the overhead screens while Roca spoke in Spanish and was being translated by someone live to a completely packed room.  Honestly, I could deal with the badly lit videos.  The color were off and a lot of the footage was dark, but you could still see what was being made.  I did, however, wish we had a translator more accustomed to translating on the spot.  At first it was hard to hear her mic, but when you could finally hear her better, she seemed to pause and “um” a lot.

What was on the videos?  Lots and lots of demonstrations.  So, at least that was cool.  I don’t remember them all.  One was footage of Jordie Roca, the younger brother and the pastry chef, making a fake apricot.  He took caramel and added either citric acid or ascorbic acid to make it very malleable.  After cutting the caramel into smaller pieces, he took a piece to a glass-blowing instrument, created a glass-like sphere, and then altered it to make it look like the shape of an apricot.  The sphere was sprayed with raspberry coulis for color and dusted with sugar.  I don’t remember what the filling was, but I think it was set upon some ice cream.  The likeness to a real apricot was quite a hoot.

In another video, Jordie made a dessert cigar.  For the outside, he melted chocolate and rolled it into a cylinder.  While that set, he made ice cream.  Not just any ice cream, but ice cream infused with the aroma of a high quality cigar.  How?  Apparently ice cream picks up surrounding aromas very easily.  So, Jordie rigged a pipe and a pump to smoke a cigar.  The smoke came out of the pipe and was pointed at the mixing bowl of an ice cream machine (it might have been a KitchenAid with the ice cream bowl in the demo), while ice cream was made.  Jordie then piped the ice cream into the chocolate cylinder and topped one end of the dessert cigar with black salt to give the image of ash.  (err, maybe it was black sugar?  Google is not helping me right now.)

All in all, it was a fascinating lecture although not quite what I expected.  I might not have learned anything that I can use for practical application but it was still fun.  Currently, I am hoping to attend all of the lectures.

Final thought?  I am jealous that these students had to make a 4 minute custard via pressure cooking as their lab assignment this week.  Why couldn’t my lab classes have been so awesome back in the day?!


2 thoughts on “Harvard SEAS and their cooking lectures – part 1 of ?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s