Harvard SEAS lecture, Oct 4, 2010 – full post

Monday October 4, 2010
Heat, Temperature, & Chocolate
Speaker: Enric Rovira (of Enric Rovira chocolate shop in Barcelona)


I swear: trying to get into these lectures is a weird art in itself. I showed up 10 minutes, at least, earlier than I did last week and ended up nearly in the same place in line as last week. (This time, though, I had a lovely time talking to the person in line behind me. So the wait was not so terrible. Plus, I think they let us in a few minutes earlier than last time.) The difference is that I was one of the last people to be issued a ticket. At this point, I’d like to point out that SEAS either has trouble with event planning or with simple math… because there were more tickets than seats this time. Yeah.

I started out sitting on the aisle steps but later took advantage of a reserved seat that said “Sofras” when it became obvious that this person from Sofras was not showing up at all. So, not all was lost.

Mike started up the lecture (last time it was Dave – Mike introduced Joan Roca the night I was there) and the subject for the week was “Heating and Cooling.” Mike proceeded to tell us about cooking a cheesecake with a thermal coupler (I think it was) in it to measure time versus temperature. An equation emerges, and with the same equation you can figure out how long to cook a turkey based on its size or how long to cook a steak.
It’s become tradition now to clap when the equation of the week is revealed. It’s cute and amusing, but I still think that it’s unfair that these students get to bake molten chocolate cake and call it their lab assignment of the week. ūüėČ

Finally, Mike introduced Enric Rovira. My only real issue was that the translator for Enric was the one I’m less fond of. She’s not enough of a food nerd to properly translate certain bits of the lecture. I know that I’m being mean and picky but it just distracts from my enjoyment.

Unlike our previous guest lecturers, Enric’s presentation was more on the artistry and creativity that goes into his chocolate creations. It’s why this son of a pastry chef decided to become a chocolatier.

The first images we saw were pictures of the Barcelona collection. This collection is inspired by the architecture of Barcelona. The tile art frequently found all over the city is recreated in chocolate.

Then came the Gastronomic collection which is inspired by flavor combinations. For example, hazelnuts covered in chocolate, or violets which are caramelized first and then dipped in chocolate.

The audience was tantalized by images of chocolate a la taza (hot chocolate) and crema de chocolate which is a chocolate paste (“Like Nutella… but it’s NOT Nutella” as translated from Enric). Seriously? I wanted that crema de chocolate like it was nobody’s business. It looks that yummy. I’ve already told my jet-setting co-worker that he needs to pick me up some the next time he’s n Barcelona.

The next collection was the Concept collection. In this collection, you can find delights that are inspired by the world. Or are The World. There is a set of chocolates that represent the continents and a set that represent the ocean. If you purchase the whole shebang, the product is labeled as the world. The continents are items found in those continents and covered with chocolate, like chocolate covered almonds or something similar. The oceans was more of conceptual art. The Arctic ocean was represented with white chocolate and sea salt. The Atlantic, which touches three different continents, was (I think) peanut/almond/brazil nuts covered in chocolate. The Indian ocean was pistachio and earl grey while the Antarctic was made with baking soda somehow so that it would fizzle in your mouth. The Pacific ocean was the largest chocolate of all in the collection, and it sounded like it was corn from Mexico, covered in chocolate, and then dusted with aonori (a type of Japanese seaweed).

Also in the Concept collection is the Planetarium, 12 pieces of chocolates of different flavors and colors.
There is Imagine, a white box of chocolates inspired by John Lennon. White box for the white piano. Mixed chocolates for diversity.

There is Prohibition, a box of chocolate bon bons with alcohol in them.

This brought the slideshow to the fourth collection which was the Essential Collection. If I understood correctly, this is Enric’s single-point-of-origin chocolates. All chocolates are from the plantation of Claudio Corallo. This was one of the parts that the translator was having trouble conveying well. I could hear Enric say something in Spanish that still sounded like single-point-of-origin but I suppose that this is a term that would be lost on anyone that hasn’t taken a chocolate tasting class… which is probably most people in the audience.

(Single point of origin chocolate is chocolate made from one plantation only. Most commercial chocolates are made from ingredients procured through several plantations. I know someone who does not appreciate single point of origin chocolates – he is convinced that mixed is best tasting. I can understand that to a degree but I think there should be an appreciation for single point of origin as well.)

A fun collection was the Virtual collection. Enric joked that this was his least popular collection and that no one gets the concept for this. In this collection, there is no actual chocolate. Instead, you have something of a metal egg have carries the aroma of Enric’s chocolates for about a year. Behind this was the idea that a smell can be nostalgic. Certain smells can take you back to a certain time and place in your life. He wanted to bottle that so that you could take the happy memory of Barcelona and his chocolates with you to different parts of the world.

The last collection was my favorite I think, the Artist Collection. For this collection, Enric collaborates with an artist (jewelry maker, fashion designer, etc.) to come up with a concept. For example, there was a chocolate that looked like a giant square with mathematical lines etched into it to draw a pattern of triangles. In reality, this chocolate was not a square – it really was several triangles laid carefully to make a square. And each of the triangles were of equal weight despite the size/angle of the triangle.

Enric did throw a scientific spin to his lecture toward the end. He said that there were 10 problems with chocolate which all stemmed from the properties of cocoa butter. Not all ten were part of the slide show, but he talked about temperature (ie. how can a chocolate egg melt nicely under the sun at a certain time, a certain temperature, and under other various environmental factors but not melt at other times, and sometimes you cannot recreate it). Enric showed a clip of chocolate burning into ashes into a pan, and yes he showed us some sun-melted chocolate eggs.

Friction was another issue. For his chocolate bon bons to get a beautiful shine, the chocolates are placed into a machine not unlike a cement mixer that just turns and turns. The natural heat that is created from the friction/drag creates the shiny coat on the chocolates without any other ingredients.

Another issue was the velvet effect. If a chocolate core at room temperature is sprayed-painted with chocolate, there is no change in the color or texture of the chocolate. However, if a chocolate core at cold temperatures is spray-painted with chocolate, the color is lighted and the coat becomes textured a bit like velvet.

Actual students of the class will get to see the rest of the slide show but that was pretty much the end of the lecture. At that point, Enric announced that if anyone had a sticker on the first page of the Enric Rovira catalog (handed out upon entering the lecture room) that the holder won a box of chocolates. I’d say about 1 in 4 people had a stickered catalog… including me.

It’s night-time now and, as evidenced in pictures in previous entries, the lighting in my apartment is too crappy for taking good photos. I’m hoping to put up photos of my little box of chocolates from Barcelona this weekend. *cough*andeatthemtoo*cough*


Harvard SEAS cooking lecture, 9/27/10, full post

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 gel√©es.”

Ah, but it turned out that what was in our cups were olive oil gel√©es! When the “stage” was turned over to Carles, we were instructed to smell and touch our gel√©es 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 gel√©e. 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.

~ Mikan

** 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.

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, ‚ÄúScience 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 Adri√†.¬† 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?!