It’s no secret: cooking is science. I studied physics, organic chemistry, and biochem to learn food science at Iowa State University in the bright ages before the internet, cell phone apps, and a latte in every hand. The degree was Home Economics Journalism.
Flash forward to 2012: The august Harvard University and its College of Engineering and Applied Science showcases the wonders of this same science in the wildly popular course, simply named, “Science and Cooking.” Little more than half of the 700 students wanting to take the first course were given a place in the class and lab.
On February 9, Harvard physicist David Weitz brought his wonders of applied physics to the University of Minnesota (UM). The audience crowded into first a very large lecture hall and then, into another, slightly smaller. Weitz (who repeatedly reminded us, “I am not a cook. I know nothing about cooking.”) proceeded to write equations on the board and talk about phase transition while he cooked an egg; described gels while he encased a dollop of yogurt in a alginate (gel) casing, and explain emulsification while churning oil and milk into a solid and later, blending the more familiar emulsion of eggs, oil, and a bit of Dijon mustard into mayonnaise.
Granted, unlike the Harvard students, we didn’t get to hear from the El Bulli’s Ferran Adria or Blue Hill’s Dan Barber, or even Harold McGee who wrote On Food and Cooking in 1984 and rewrote and expanded it for a 2004 printing. No matter. This crowd, skewed to the marketing-desirable demographic of 20 to 40, watched with admiring attention for an hour and 45 minutes.
Could the science of cooking be the next home-cooking trend?