Spring Lecture Series Recap: Molecularizing Taste at the Intersection of Biochemistry and French Cuisine

Roosthlecture2by Marleena Eyre

Molecular gastronomy, a hot trend in the food world in recent years, tends to evoke either quizzical or enthusiastic looks from food nerds—including many of us who are in the BU Gastronomy program. Chefs Ferran Adrià of El Bulli, Heston Blumenthal of The Fat Duck, and Pierre Gagnaire of Restaurant Pierre Gagnaire come to mind as ringleaders who helped to popularize this movement of manipulating the molecular structure of food. Their restaurants often have long waitlists, with some reaching up to four years.

roosthThose curious to learn more, along with my Food and the Senses class (ML 715), attended Molecularizing Taste at the Intersection of Biochemistry and French Cuisine on April 22,2014. Presented by Sofia Roosth, Ph.D., Assistant Professor at Harvard University, the lecture spotlighted taste and its relationship to science and culinary heritage.

Roosth, an anthropologist of science, spoke about the ethnographic research she performed in Paris, France on molecular gastronomy. She studied the work of Hervé This, a physical chemist and one of the founding fathers of food science, alongside his research assistants in his AgroParisTech lab, part of Institut National de la Recherche Agrnomique (INRA).

Originally known as molecular and physical gastronomy, molecular gastronomy debunks the how and why behind cooking. It is used in conjunction with technoscience, a term that Roosth defines as the combination of technology and science. Methods used to study the chemical compositions of foods include nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy and thin-layer chromatography. 

RoosthLecture1Delving deeper into discovering the science behind food, This set out to improve the cooking and dining experience. He built off the works of Marie-Antoine Carême and Auguste Escoffier, who codified old wives’ tales in recipes to prove why they worked (or why they didn’t).

However, when brought into a restaurant, molecular gastronomy extends beyond the field of science and enters the realm of performance art. Typically, diners are presented with a multi-course menu where each dish builds off the previous to defy culinary conventions. The beauty behind the scientific approach to food is that each step of the cooking process can be analyzed, deconstructed to its elements, and applied to creating everything from foams made with lecithin or instant ice cream made with liquid nitrogen. Chefs manipulate diners’ senses, leaving them with a new perspective on the culinary arts.

 Manipulating food in the culinary world isn’t the only application of molecular gastronomy. Roosth mentioned that it could potentially be used to tackle food insecurity in developing countries as well. Many research centers around the world are using technoscience to create food products aimed at helping reverse this chronic issue.

 While ending world hunger is a huge feat in itself, molecular gastronomy can be used in a multitude of ways and will be here for some time.

Marleena Eyre is a second year Gastronomy student, an editorial intern at NoshOn.It, and blogs at The Flex Foodie. When she’s not studying or writing about food, she can be found paging through cookbooks at her local bookstores or sculling on the Charles River with her rowing team. She can be reached at marleenaeyre@gmail.com.

Garden Time: Getting your hands dirty

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by Kimi Ceridon

Soil, not to be confused with dirt, is the life blood of a garden.  Dirt is dead and lifeless, but within soil, it is a complex, living ecosystem that keeps plants healthy.  Nutrition for vegetables comes from the soil.  Having healthy soil is important to an edible garden, but, if you are container gardening, it is difficult to maintain a healthy, thriving ecosystem from year to year.

The roots of plants absorb food, water, nutrients and minerals from soil.  They spread into the soil in search of nutrition, forming a plant’s communication web and supply network.  The plant above ground tells the root system what it needs and the roots below ground absorb it from the soil.  All of the details of soil composition are far too complex to detail here, but there are important elements gardeners should understand.  

IMG_20140420_105539Organic matter is the most important component in soil. Unfortunately, plants cannot digest organic material like food scraps and leaves without help from bacterial and fungal microorganisms.  These organisms decompose or compost simple organic matter into readily available plant nutrition.  They also aerate the soil, allowing roots to expand and water and oxygen to penetrate down to the roots.  Together, organic matter and microorganisms are the heart of the nutrition in soil, providing not only the nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium critical to plant health, but also other trace elements such as magnesium, calcium and iron.  

Fertilizers are useful during the growing season and provide basic nutritional needs to a plant, but are not a complete replacement for healthy soil.  Soluble nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium (the numbers on fertilizer bags indicating the percentage available for plant absorption) are only the foundation of plant nutrition.  Vitamins and minerals are an important component of soil composition and contribute to the nutrition of fruits and vegetables. 

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A container garden has little access to the outside world.  As such, it is impossible to maintain container garden soil health indefinitely without adding nutrition.  During the growing season, side dressings of compost and fertilizers help supplement plant nutrition.  However, when starting fresh plants and seedlings in the spring, it is a great opportunity to replenish soil.

With new containers, it is easy to get plants off to a good start.  Potting soil is available by the bag at garden stores, but rather than simply using a potting soil alone, mix one part compost to every four parts soil.  Soil and compost are less expensive in bulk and indoor gardeners can save money by sharing the cost with neighbors and friends.  It may also be less expensive to make a soil mix from scratch, such as the one recommended in All New Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew.  For best results, an edible plant garden should get organic soil. Annually refresh containers full of soil from previous years by removing the old soil and blending it with compost.  For containers with living plants, top off with a compost-soil mix or gently remove the plant from the container, loosen the roots and add a compost-soil mix to the bottom.

IMG_20140420_115025Once the soil is ready to go into containers, it can provide plants with a healthy base of nutrition that smells fresh and earthy. Do not overfill containers or pack the soil as roots need space to expand and support larger, bushier plants.  Seedlings should have their first two real leaves before transplanting.  Place filled containers in a sunny spot and keep the soil slightly moist.

As a complex ecosystem, understanding the many benefits of healthy, thriving soils is not only for gardeners and farmers. Soil nutrition is relevant for all types of food professionals.  To learn about the wonderful ecosystem of soil, I recommend the following two books by Jeff Lowenfels:

  • Teaming with Microbes: The Organic Gardener’s Guide to the Soil Food Web
  • Teaming with Nutrients: The Organic Gardener’s Guide to Optimizing Nutrition

IMG_20140420_111212After 15 years in sustainable product design, Kimi Ceridon shifted focus from consumer products to food systems. She is active with NOFA/Mass Boston Ferments, Waltham Fields Community Farms and has led workshops on chicken keeping, backyard homesteading, fermentation, and brewing.  Follow her at noreturnticket.kceridon.com.

Spring Lecture Series Recap: Leading Between the Vines

By Ariel Knoebel

On April 17th, the Gastronomy Program was graced with the effervescent presence of Terry Theise, a renowned wine importer and German wine specialist. Theise is known for his holistic approach to wine and his advocacy for small-scale production. As he describes it, “small scale wine stirs the soul in a way organization wine cannot.” 

Fans of Theise’s notoriously colorful tasting notes, which forego traditional descriptors of fruit and oak to instead compare vintages to overeager dogs, seductive temptresses, and bolts of lightning, would have been pleased with the content of the evening. Theise casually spun stories throughout the presentation, conversing with the audience as if we were all old friends (probably because many in the front rows actually were), and speaking candidly and authoritatively on small-scale wine production without abandoning his signature flare for language. Of course, the poetics did not stop with the main event: a screening of his impressionistic film, Leading Between the Vines.  

Theise introduced his film as a “love letter to the German Riesling culture,” a fitting description for this careful portrait of small growers along the Rhine River and the wines they so painstakingly produce. The film runs just under an hour, and introduces viewers to a series of family owned wineries and the people that keep them alive. It explores identity, authenticity, and heritage through the lens of terroir to portray how authentic wines connect flavor to soil, people to land, generations to each other, and each family to a larger culture. Like a good glass of wine, the film united its consumers to the vineyard in a way beyond the superficial, and allowed the audience a look into the realities—good and bad—of the beautiful world of wine production.

When asked about his objective for the film, Theise explained that he was hoping people would walk away thinking, “I don’t know much about wine, but that sure seems like a meaningful way to live a life.” Certainly, the stories shared by the film’s winemakers and the passion they clearly held for their work, set against the breathtaking backdrop of centuries old vineyards and a carefully selected soundtrack, left viewers with a new appreciation for the love inside each bottle. As the film says, “the love you give to the vines, they give you back.” 

Ariel Knoebel is a first year student of the Gastronomy program. When she isn’t planning her next meal, Ariel can be found perfecting her handstand, reading at her favorite coffee shop, or seeking out dogs to pet on the Esplanade.  

Garden Time: It’s Spring!

IMG_81143551818378by Kimi Ceridon

Just when it seemed winter wasn’t going to give up without a fight, the thermometer finally bounced above the freezing mark.  After a few false starts, it looks like it is going to finally stay there too.  The days are getting longer and the sun is reaching higher in the sky.  As if I needed another sign that spring has arrived, my yard is finally littered with white, purple and yellow crocuses. That means it is time to start thinking about the garden.  Actually, I started thinking about starting my garden since ordering my seeds back in January, but it’s time to put those seeds to use.

I used to wait until the May rush and buy all my seedlings from the garden store. However, I’ve been seduced by the January seed catalogs into starting my own plants from seeds.  They offer not only an irresistible tug of springtime hope in the middle of winter, but also so many more varieties of plants.  Just try to find 71 varieties of tomatoes or 22 varieties of pumpkins or multiple varieties of most crops in your local garden store or home improvement mega box.  You can’t, it isn’t cost effective to carry more than a few ‘favorite’ varieties.  IMG_81260204578379

I start my garden from seeds in soil blocks using full spectrum lightbulbs in my basement.  To take advantage of the short growing season here in New England, now is the time to get started.  Don’t let my set up intimidate you, it has evolved over several years of trial and error.  All you need is a sunny window, a few small pots, some soilless seed starting mix and a few choice seeds.  All of which can be had at your neighborhood hardware and garden store.  Some grocery stores even care basic supplies.  

904229_10200868736497540_324741037_oStarting plants from seed can seem kind of intimidating.  Admittedly, it doesn’t always go well.  Sometimes you forget to water them and they dry out.  Sometimes they don’t get a good start and end up spindly and weak.  Yet, sometimes they work wonderfully and produce beautiful robust plants.  This is part of the fun of planting a garden.  It is also why so many gardeners exhibit calmness and patience; two traits I am personally trying to cultivate from my garden.  For many years, I would start a few of the more interesting crops from seed with plans to purchase some plants from the garden store.  This way, if things didn’t work out with my seeds, I had a backup plan.  Besides, if you start early enough, you will know what is going well and what is not before the garden stores start stocking vegetable plants.  

IMG_81156379977378As I know many of you don’t have a lot of space, I also want to dispel the myth that you need a big backyard to get started.  A sunny balcony, stoop, windowsill or countertop is enough for growing a few container plants to bring a few fresh vegetables or herbs into your kitchen.  It is also a great opportunity to learn without a big investment.  For example, loose leaf salad greens are easy to grow from seed, easy to care for and will make it to a dinner plate in just a few weeks.  Fresh potted herbs are also the gift that keeps on giving.  If you keep a few shallow pots of salad greens in rotation, you can keep yourself in weekly greens throughout the year.

IMG_81104059567378There is such an amazing world of flavor hidden in a seed catalog, I suggest trying something new, something you won’t find in the grocery store or even in your farmer’s market. Without starting from seeds, I would have never tasted the meaty and creamy Good Mother Stallard dried beans or the sweet and tangy Lemon Cucumber or the sweetly tart Black Krim Tomato.  Sure, it may not feel like spring quite outside yet, but you can start getting into a springtime mood by getting your hands into some dirt.  My seeds have just started breaking ground.  

After 15 years in sustainable product design, Kimi Ceridon shifted focus from consumer products to food systems. Food is the most tangible, accessible way for individuals to reduce their impact on the planet and make a statement against an unsustainable industrial food system. She is active with NOFA/Mass Boston Ferments, Waltham Fields Community Farms and has led workshops on chicken keeping, backyard homesteading, fermentation, and brewing.  Follow her at noreturnticket.kceridon.com.

Exploring The Culinary Arts Certificate Program – And Why You Should Take It

Jacques Pepin instructs students how to

Jacques Pepin instructs students how to debone a chicken.

by Audrey Reid

The Culinary Arts Certificate Program at Boston University is one of a kind. It was founded by Julia Child and Jacques Pepin in 1989 when Pepin suggested turning their highly successful cooking seminars into a full semester course. The program was designed around French cuisine and technique but also highlights other ethnic dishes and cooking styles. The intent was not necessarily to produce chefs – although graduates have certainly pursued that goal – but to teach those interested in food how to cook. 

A class of 8-12 students has been held every semester since its beginning, and Pepin still makes guest appearances to teach. There are a few core instructors but the majority of classes are taught by a rotation of Boston’s best chefs (think diversity but also networking). The program also takes field trips to stage in local kitchens, visit producers, and work with other food professionals like writers and photographers. Additionally, students are exposed to cooking in volume by hosting large events for the Seminars in Food, Wine & the Arts. Upon graduation, students are very well rounded in cuisines, techniques, methodology, and Boston food culture.

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Culinary students preparing birthday cakes for Julia Child’s 100th birthday celebration.

Whether students want to go into the kitchen, use their knowledge to support other academic work, or just want to make dinner for friends and family, the Culinary Arts Certificate Program is worth every minute. 

If you aren’t convinced that you need to take this class, perhaps Katherine Shae and Tianyu (Cici) Ji can persuade you. Katherine and Cici are MLA Gastronomy students currently taking the Culinary Arts Program and were interviewed about their experience (and love for!) the class.

Interview with Katherine Shea, expected graduation in May 2014

  • Tell us a little bit about yourself.
  • I’m from West Hartford, CT. Most of my jobs previous to working in the food industry were related to teaching (both of my parents were teachers). I did a sustainable agriculture program in Italy for the last semester of my bachelors at UCONN and that is what prompted me to apply for the gastronomy program. Since the switch to gastronomy/food industry I’ve worked at a restaurant (Front of House) in Cape Cod, Whole Foods (Specialty), Allandale Farm and a couple other farms in Maine for the summer.
  • How far along in the program are you and what do you plan to do after graduation?
  • This is my last semester in the program and I am not entirely sure what I want to do with the degree but I would love to be in the field of Agriculture (perhaps policy).
  • Why did you chose to take the culinary arts certificate class? 
  • It is definitely the best class I’ve taken in the program. I chose to take it because I went to a Jacques Pepin lecture last year with my class and a fellow Gastronomy student asked Jacques what advice he has for people going into the field. His response was to start with learning how to cook. He explained how anything related to food: food writing, policy, business, all stems from the basics of cooking. Recently, our class had the pleasure of having Sheryl Julian visit and she reiterated that same notion. She explained that her training in Culinary allows her to understand exactly what it takes to make a dish that she is critiquing.
  • What do you hope to do with your culinary training?
  • I know that I won’t work in a professional kitchen after the program, but I am sure that the skills I’ve learned will be useful in my life and future career.
  • Would you recommend the class and why?
  • Until the Culinary program, I had no idea how much was behind just cooking. The technique and skill involved is amazing, and learning from the best chefs in Boston is an incredible experience. I think everyone in the Gastronomy program could benefit from trying the culinary program. I strongly urge Gastronomy students to take the culinary class, you will learn a ton, have fun, and make great connections in Boston!
Katherine and Cici hard at work.

Katherine and Cici hard at work.

Interview with Tianyu (Cici) Ji, expected graduation in December 2014

  • Where are you from? 
  • Beijing, China
  • Why did you choose the Gastronomy Program?
  • The Gastronomy program is a good combination of academic and hands-on experience.
  • What do you plan to do after graduation?
  • I would like to have a restaurant after studying in major food countries.
  • Why did you chose to take the culinary arts certificate class?
  • The culinary arts program is a one-of-a-kind experience in the world. Our instructors are from the business in Boston, and what they do are not only about techniques, but also good attitudes of persons in the industry. I learned a great deal from each and every one of them.
  • What do you enjoy about the culinary arts program?
  • The intensive program is well designed. There is one field trip almost every week plus special events in the semester. The chefs/instructors are helpful in the kitchen. I got the chance to stage in some of the best kitchens in Boston. This experience is so unique.
  • What has been your favorite dish to learn to cook?
  • I can’t really name a favorite dish, because they are all so fantastic. Cooking is not difficult, but it takes practice to make the good food right.
  • What has been the hardest part about the class?
  • Remembering the dishes in a short time. Learn to cook efficiently with recipes. Take notes.
      • Would you recommend the class, and why?
      • There is no better way to learn about food except for cooking it and tasting it. The culinary arts program allows me to think of food in a classic perspective and that is always important before going deeper about the gastronomic aspects. After all, food is for people to enjoy. I would be a great loss were I not in the culinary arts program.

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        Foie gras with figs and port.

For more information about the Culinary Arts Certificate Program, you can visit their webpage at http://www.bu.edu/foodandwine/culinary-arts/, email cularts@bu.edu, or call 617-353-9852.

Audrey Reid is president of the Gastronomy Students Association, manager of the Gastronomy at BU blog, and in her final semester of the Gastronomy Program. She has a BS in Chemistry, is a graduate of the Culinary Arts Program, and is earning her MLA with a concentration in Food Policy.