Monday September 27, 2010
Olive Oil & Viscosity
Speaker: Carles Tejedor (Via Veneto)
I made it last night to the Harvard SEAS cooking lecture. I almost didn’t get into the lecture room at all. I was one of the lucky few who chanced a spot after all the tickets were gone. The popularity of this lecture series is utterly insane (but dammit! I refuse to be part of the overlow into Room E for a live video feed). When I finally stepped into Science Center D, I was given a plastic shot glass with a little bit of olive oil and mysterious olive oil colored cube speared on a toothpick. My instructions were not to eat it yet.
Like the other lecture I attended, the first ten minutes or so was a “lesson of the week” presentation by one of the professors. The topic was viscosity and elasticity. Students and professors found the elasticity constant of uncooked steak (E=8000 Pa), of ice (E=2×10^8 Pa), and of solid gel (E=1000 Pa). They found the constant for a cooked steak but I didn’t bother jotting it down.
We were also treated to a youtube video of some guys running across a pool of water mixed with corn starch. We didn’t get to watch the whole clip during the lecture, but I’ve looked it up for you.
And the lab recipe for the week was “fruit gelées.”
Ah, but it turned out that what was in our cups were olive oil gelées! When the “stage” was turned over to Carles, we were instructed to smell and touch our gelées before eating them. It was as soft as a sponge, despite the sugar coating, and not oily at all. But upon eating, the flavor of extra virgin olive oil filled your mouth. It was strangely delicious.
Carles conducted the whole lecture on his own in English. His English is far from perfect, but I thought he was perfectly easy to understand. There was a young man there on the side to help translate tough questions and words (and I have the impression that this translator was more capable than last time), but overall Carles did just fine on his own.
Carles showed a video presentation of Via Veneto, his way to give nod to his staff, but there was a technical problem with the audio during this particular clip. So Carles gave short explanations to the images. At one point, there was an image of the Via Veneto staff cutting into a large piece of ham. The audience gave out a loud “wow!” to which Carles said with a cheecky grin “Sorry, I didn’t bring any ham.”
My overall impression of Carles was that he has a cute sense of humor and I think the audience really appreciated it. It made the lecture fun. I jotted down random things that Carles said that everyone laughed at:
:: It’s real! It’s not plastic! (regarding the olive tree leaf in the cards that the audience received)
:: I want it. I don’t know what I’ll do with it but I want it. (regarding some shiny R&D equipment he was checking out)
:: Thanks to the olive tree, I’ve come to Harvard.
:: Vincent, I have a problem. (regarding chefs. Chefs aren’t scientists – if something doesn’t work out and they need to figure out what went wrong chemically, they can call a scientist)
We saw another video clip just to show various ways of using olive oil: saute like for a sofregit (traditional Catalan sauce base), deep frying (not extra virgin olive oil though), raw…
And before he launched into video clips of recipes, Carles demostrated live how to make the olive oil gelée. He heated a sugar mixture of glucose and water to 80C (I think) and then used a stick blender to emulsify extra virgin olive oil into the sugar mixture. Then he slowly added a couple of sheets of gelatin (Carles said gelatin and not agar-agar) while mixing constantly with a whisk. Finally he poured it into a 9×13 glass dish and let it cool.
Then he launched into the recipe clips (with formulas/recipes). We watched:
steak tartare prepared over a bowl of ice,
soft creamy jelly,
an olive oil bechamel sauce,
olive oil mayo (served with cod),
pil-pil olive oil (I think this was xanthum gum taken to the olive oil and served with olive oil mayo and tomato “innards”),
dumpling (dough made in the tradition Asian method with starches and filled with prawns/onions/chives and served with olive oil),
the olive oil jelly (again! yum!),
and probably one or two other clips.
At one point during all this, audience members received a thank-you card to Harvard from Carles. This was the card with a little olive leaf glued inside (mentioned above). Apparently, a select handful of cards had a smiley face on the back drawn on. Those lucky enough to receive those cards received some sort of book at the end of the lecture. I didn’t see the book so I have no idea what was in it, and I was not one of the lucky few.
So, did I have fun? You bet I did. And I want to try to make the olive oil bechamel (his original tip on this was “patience” – cheeky monkey indeed). Eventually, he said that the flour and olive oil were a 1 to 1 ratio. I think he said 50g flour, 50g olive oil, and 1 liter of milk but that’s way to much milk. So maybe he said half a liter and I misheard him? He seasoned his with nutmeg, salt and pepper in the video. I think I can do that.
** all lectures are being video-taped, and SEAS claims that videos will be posted at the end of the series. I really hope so as I would love to rewatch this particular lecture.