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 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.

~ 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, “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?!