bioephemera

A couple of days ago, the New York Times reported on an undergraduate class at Harvard that teaches the science of cooking. It’s called “Science & Cooking: From Haute Cuisine to Soft Matter Science,” and it’s popular: if you’re a Harvard undergrad, you have about a 43% chance of winning a seat at the lab bench (still, as one of the instructors points out, better odds than most people have of getting reservations at one of the participating guest chefs’ exclusive restaurants).

The class also seems to be changing the way some students think about science:

For Mr. Jean-Baptiste, a junior majoring in economics, it’s been an introduction to two worlds. “I think I will start to cook,” he said. “I actually think I will take more science classes.”

His gelée experiment was part of a lesson on elasticity (how easily a solid, like gelatin, can be squeezed or pulled) and viscosity (whether a liquid flows fast or slow).

Dr. Weitz also used a steak to demonstrate elasticity, measuring its thickness, applying some weight to it and seeing how much it was squeezed.

“A steak is a spring,” he said enthusiastically. “We’re going to understand the difference between a raw, rare and well-done steak. Tofu has exactly the same behavior. It’s all the same.”

Sounds delicious, right? (Well, maybe not the rubbery steak part, but the rest of it.)

In Cambridge, lines for the class’ weekly Science and Cooking lectures by various culinary luminaries have been, to put it mildly, frustrating. Apparently the lectures are some of the most popular events at Harvard this year. Fortunately, Harvard says it will stream subsequent lectures live, and is posting past lectures to its YouTube channel. As a devoted DC foodie, I’m looking forward to catching renowned DC chef Jose Andres (of minibar, Cafe Atlantico, Jaleo, etc.) talk about gelation next Tuesday.

To quote Evelyn Hammonds, Dean of Harvard College, at the opening night of the Science and Cooking series, “I want to come out as a foodie, and I’m also a scientist, so this is like heaven for me.” Oh, yeah.

PS: you should be able to download the course syllabus as a pdf here; if the link stops working, try the lecture series website I linked to above. Unfortunately, it doesn’t include recipes. Sorry. 🙂