Science and Cooking at Harvard SEAS, 2015!

It’s been a long while, so I decided it was high time to hang out in lecture hall C of Harvard’s Science Center for the opening lecture featuring Harold McGee and Dave Arnold last night.  Overall reaction?  I still have a nerd crush on Dave Arnold.  He’s like a puppy when it comes to food science and related interests.  How can anyone not like him?

Before the lecture started, the audience was handed plastic packets filled with sugar-related items.

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What the?

I don’t eat a lot of sugar anymore!

Confusion ensued.

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Food science lecture

FYI, I found this today:

The Science of Salami and Cheese

Cambridge, MA, United States

Join Rachel Dutton and Benjamin Wolfe, food microbiologists at Harvard University’s FAS Center for Systems Biology, for a tasting of artisan cheeses and salami as they share exciting new discoveries in the science of fermentation.

The New York Times called fermentation one of the top 10 food trends in 2013. But what is fermentation and how does it transform raw materials like grains, grapes and milk into delicious foods like miso, wine, and cheese? What are microbes and how do they ferment foods? Where do the unique flavors of cheese and salami come from? Why do flavors vary across different producers and how does this relate to ‘microbial terroir’? In this special event, we’ll explore the science of fermentation through the lens of cheese and salami.

*Due the the limited availability participants may only register one additional guest.*
Alumni and Friends of the Harvard Community: $20

Rachel Dutton received her PhD in Microbiology from Harvard Medical School and is currently a Bauer fellow at the Harvard FAS Center for Systems Biology in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Her lab studies the microbial communities that make up the rind of cheese, with the goal of understanding the biodiversity of cheese communities, the interactions between cheese microbes, and on developing experimental model ecosystems. Research from the Dutton lab has been featured in Culture Magazine, the Boston Globe, and the New York Times.

Benjamin Wolfe is a microbiologist/mycologist at Harvard University, specializing in the microbiology of fermented foods. He has a B.Sc. from Cornell University and a M.Sc. from the University of Guelph. He earned his Ph.D. from Harvard University studying the ecology and evolutionary origins of mushroom-forming fungi. He is currently a post-doctoral fellow with Rachel Dutton at Harvard’s FAS Center for Systems Biology where he is working on several projects exploring the ecology and genomics of cheese microbial communities. He’s also working on a project to characterize the microbial diversity of American artisan salami. Ben has taught food microbiology courses at The San Francisco Cheese School, the Harvard Summer School and is a regular contributor to Lucky Peach magazine.

I would go if I could, but I’m busy Wednesday nights without enough notice. Registration is required, but anyone can sign up. If you’re local and available Wednesday evening, I recommend going! (And then, please let me know how it went!) (^_^)

Reference link and registration link

is it for the scientist or for the cook in me?

I’m being bad and looking at upcoming cookbooks on

More cookbooks aren’t exactly what I need right now. Shoes and boots are more important than cookbooks. I’m not nearly as bad as Stealth-eater, and I try really hard to be very discerning, but every once in a while, there will be a cookbook that I just want to read out of curiosity.

Right now, I’m eyeing two books that I had no idea were being published until this afternoon, and I think the former science student in me is thrilled. (fyi, I have my bachelor degree in Chemistry from a college which was known for their science programs above all else… not that I remember any of it.)

The first book is Under Pressure: Cooking Sous Vide by Thomas Keller. It is being published by Artisan and set for release on November 3, 2008. Sous vide? What is that? I have never heard of the term before.

Googling came up with a very helpful and interesting article from the NYTimes. ( I was immediately hooked. To take from the article:

For decades, food was poached in sturdy plastic bags at traditional temperatures, simmering or boiling. Goussault discovered that keeping the temperature as low as possible and later cooling the food in several stages yielded a wildly different — and tastier — result. A piece of fish, for instance, can be cooked at about 130 degrees — a hot bath, essentially — for 30 minutes, then cooled, successively, at room temperature, in cold water, then in ice water, before being reheated and served. Cooking in bags at such low temperatures was long considered a recipe for botulism, but Goussault has debunked this fear, proving that the long cooking times followed by proper cooling kill bacteria with the same effectiveness as higher temperatures, also stabilizing the food so it can be stored longer before serving.

Doesn’t that catch your attention? I wonder how the process is still food safe. I’m sure more googling could demystify the whole process of sous vide, but I’m on my lunch hour right now. Sous vide seems to be a very exact process. Times and temperatures are key. So, I’m oh-so-curious about what Keller has come up with and written. And I wonder how well this book would work for home use. The Amazon description leaves too much to the imagination. I want to know what recipes are in it, dammit.

The other book I want to read is A Day at elBulli by Ferran Adrià, set to be published by Phaidon Press Inc and released on October 1, 2008. Anyone one who has any interest in molecular gastronomy should immediately recognize the title. For those who aren’t familiar with el Bulli, I give you the spiel as listed on the Amazon page.

Situated on a remote beach on the northeast coast of Spain, elBulli is famous for being the ultimate pilgrimage site for foodies, and a reservation that is nearly impossible to obtain. Each year elBulli is open for just six months, and receives more than 2 million requests for only 8,000 seats. Renowned for his spectacular ever-changing 30-course tasting menu, Adria ‘s pioneering culinary techniques have been applauded – and imitated – by top chefs around the globe for the past decade, and he was named one of Time magazine s 100 most influential people of our time.

If I had the money and time, I’d want to jet off to Spain immediately for an affair with a restaurant. Alas, I lack the money. I can only read about the experience through people who are wonderful enough to post descriptions and pictures on their blogs. A book with professional photos and words from the chef himself seems like it’d be an even better option.

Sure, I could be crazy enough to do things like spherification at home. Other people have. But, really, I can’t be bothered to go about buying some sodiam alginate and calcium lactate gluconate. At least with sous vide, I can get away with using Foodsaver bags (which I don’t currently have but would like to one day). I think I would just need invest in some sort of thermal circulator (which is probably not cheap but definitely the oddest thing for my mouth to say today).

Of course, I would also like to read The Heirloom Tomato: From Garden to Table: Recipes, Portraits, and History of the World’s Most Beautiful Fruit by Amy Goldman, but there’s nothing about it that screams “mad scientist”. XD

~ Mikan

(aside, I’m in the middle of writing up a review of Tremont 647. Hopefully, I’ll finish it today but no promises.)