Category Archives: Gastronomy

Welcome to the Program, Shall We Start in the Kitchen?

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Photo by Chris Maggiolo

By Sarah McKeen

Maybe it was the wine or the fact that Boston decided to bless us with a rare evening above freezing. Regardless, the warmth was felt all around on the evening of January 13. Orientation for all incoming Gastronomy students began at 5 pm with an introduction by Professor Rachel Black who promised to keep the “boring” information to a minimum. She spoke for about an hour on BU basics and housekeeping matters, as well as provided a brief overview of some of the offerings of the Gastronomy program, which included classes, outside lectures, social gatherings, and volunteer opportunities. Needless to say, no one was “bored” with the forthcoming excitement of being a part of this quest for food knowledge. We were, however, all eager to get into the kitchen to make a delicious meal.

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Photos by Chris Maggiolo

Led by a team of current students, us newbies were divided into groups to prepare various components of the meal. The three groups consisted of a kale pesto and sausage pasta team; an arugula, blood orange, and avocado salad team; and a chocolate-dipped coconut macaroon team. We all donned our aprons, rolled up our sleeves, and dug our hands into fresh ingredients to prepare the feast. The various aromas coming from each corner of the kitchen mingled in the air above as the new students got to know each other. About one hour later, the salad was piled high atop a fanning bed of avocado, the pasta was steaming in a bowl fit for an army, and the macaroons were perfectly coated with shiny chocolate.

Photo by Chris Maggiolo

Photo by Chris Maggiolo

We all came together at a long table in the kitchen classroom, set with wine and sparkling water. Plates were filled with the scrumptious offerings as students continued to share their stories of how they came to join the Gastronomy program. Joined by not only Rachel Black, but also Netta Davis, Barbara Rotger, and many current students, the new students delighted in hearing about classes, research projects, and personal stories. As conversations shifted from hometown to current jobs, the wine slowly depleted and belts grew a little tighter. Professor Black led us in a toast to the successful meal and the excitement of our future successes in and outside of the classroom. The evening meandered to a close and the students parted ways with both their minds and stomachs excited for what the next two years have to offer.

Sarah McKeen is a Boston native who has studied Gastronomy at BU since 2014. Her focus is on entrepreneurship, technology, and culinary tourism.

Photo by Chris Maggiolo

Photo by Chris Maggiolo

 

A New Season of Gastronomy Graduate Students

It’s that time of year again, time for new Gastronomy students! Joining the program this coming January, each new student is asked to submit a picture of themselves, a short bio, and what they love most about food. Keep reading to see the newest group of Gastronomy grads.


Mary ChapmanMary Chapman: Mary grew up on the coast of Maine surrounded by Whoopie Pies, Italian sandwiches, and lots of lobster. Always an enthusiastic eater, she discovered a passion for wine while waitressing her way through her B.A. in History at Drew University. Upon graduation, she leapt at the opportunity of a marketing internship with a small organic winery and vineyard in Sonoma County’s Alexander Valley. She quickly realized that just selling wine wouldn’t be enough, she needed to make it. In a whirlwind 2 years, Mary worked as a harvest intern for 3 of California’s most prestigious wine producers.

When a more stable lifestyle beckoned, she took a sales position working for a high end cheese distributor and got to spend 8 hours a day chatting cheese with America’s foremost chefs and cheese professionals. In the fall of 2012, Mary returned to the East Coast to be closer to family and while searching for a way to continue her food career, discovered the Gastronomy program. She is looking forward to building an academic backbone for her experience to stand on and one day achieve her goal of running her own small food business.


Photo on 8-29-12 at 5.54 AMJohn Fladd: My name is John Fladd. I am 49 years old. I am a father, husband, teacher and writer.My original degree was in Medieval History, so in consequence, my life has been otherwise almost completely disconnected from Medieval History in every way. I have a background in restaurant work, writing (I was the New Hampshire Press Association’s Columnist of the Year, two years running) and teaching. I have been beaten up by an angry, machete-wielding mob of Kikuyu in Kenya and am the inventor of the world’s best breakfast sandwich. My recent mid-life crisis purchase was a liquid nitrogen dewar for making experimental ice creams.


photoByron Kidd: Byron was born in the Hartford, Connecticut area a while ago. He graduated from the University of Connecticut with a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology in 2006, because it allowed him to think about the world, how it worked, and all from a broader view. Although he had no idea where this would take him next, it wasn’t about where he ended, but the experiences and people he took along the way. There was always one constant in life: food definitely made the experience better.

He spent a couple of years making a living behind a bar, sending him into social work soon thereafter. He currently works for the town of South Windsor, Connecticut in Adult and Elderly Services. The department runs a food bank, cares for the welfare of the town’s seniors, and implements government assistance programs for those in need.

Byron enjoys every aspect of food, anything distilled, and the belief that everyone deserves a decent meal on their plate at the end of the day. He is ready to combine all of the experiences he’s gained along the way, with a passion for the culinary world, in Boston University’s Gastronomy program.


bunnyHannah Reff: Hannah grew up in the sunny suburbs of Los Angeles, where her father is a professional foodie, her mother is a vegan, and Hannah has always been a “good eater”, according to grandma. Sometime around high school, Hannah realized that her family was in the minority by composting and buying local, and maybe that is what set her down the path of gastronomical scholarship. She rode her bike everywhere and rolled burritos while attending UC Davis for undergrad, a school known for its agricultural and “green” programs.

Transplanted to Boston for day job reasons, Hannah now keeps bees, brews beer, and coos over other people’s dogs. She’s learning to grow houseplants and where to get the best seafood, and she’s looking forward to learning even more about agriculture and foodscapes in the Gastronomy program.


Jane & HimaniJane Sayers: Born in New Zealand, Jane was raised on a diet of lamb and dairy products, but time spent living in Asia, Europe and now the US has widened her food experience. These days she commutes from Providence where she lives with her husband Pradeep and four year old daughter Himani.
Becoming a vegetarian (her husband is a Hindu whose family has been vegetarian for generations) and having a child have moved food from an enthusiasm to an obsession, and she is increasingly interested in why we eat what we eat, and how to eat wisely and well.
Moving to the US in 2012 without a work visa has given her the perfect opportunity to abandon a career in professional services marketing and instead focus on cooking, eating, thinking about food, reading about food and writing about food.


1175267_759811375500_772045684_nLucy R. Valena: Lucy became fascinated with food studies as a teenager in New Hampshire.  She is pretty sure she had the same copy of “Edible Nuts of the World” checked out from the library for the better part of three years, and she still boasts about the time she got her mom to drive her to the Schlesinger Library for a Culinary Historians of Boston meeting when she was sixteen.

She graduated from Hampshire College in 2007 with a degree in studio art.  After a brief but very important summer in Seattle, she moved to Boston inspired to open a coffeehouse like the ones she had seen out West.  In 2010 she founded Voltage Coffee & Art, a coffeehouse and gallery in Kendall Square, which she still owns and runs with her amazing and talented staff.

When she’s not brewing coffee or doing paperwork, Valena enjoys cooking delicious meals, sewing, shaking cocktails, and poring over botanical illustrations.  She is thrilled to become a part of the Gastronomy program and hopes to gain a deeper and more holistic understanding of the food system at large.


Come back soon to see the rest of our new Gastronomy graduate students!

‘Tis the Season for Gastronomic Gift-Giving

Whether you are heading home for the holidays or hosting here in Boston, be sure to share a bit of New England and your Gastronomic know-how with your friends and family. We’ve gathered up our favorite food-filled reads and games as well as the best local (and easily transportable) edibles from across the area. Grab a few to give as gifts or maybe reward yourself for that 25-page Food and Senses research paper with a little New England nosh. 


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1. From Absinthe to Zest by Alexandre Dumas. An old book with a clever new cover stuffed with food related notes from around the great culinary world.

2. Foodie Flashcards are grade-school style flashcards with all the terms you should have learned in Food and Anthropology or Theory and Methodology. 

3. Get your DIY on this holiday break with one of America’s Test Kitchen’s (located in Brookline, Mass) newest publications, DIY Cookbook. Recipes include homemade preserves, marshmallows, sauces, cured meats and more.

4. Foodie Fight,  created by Gastronomy grad Joyce Locke (MLA 2002), is a food themed Trivial Pursuit style board game fit for Gastronomy students and their less-gastronomically inclined family members.

5. Cook like the colonials did with the newest version of the Old Sturbridge Village Cookbook

6. Another game for food-lovers, Menu Mash-Up combines Diner Dash with Apples to Apples. Fun for the whole family!

7. Relax over the holidays with a bit of lighter reading with this year’s collection of Best Food Writing

newenglandfoodcollage1. Boston based Effie’s Homemade, founded by Gastronomy grad Irene Costello (MLA 2006), makes a range of biscuit-like products like these nutcakes, corncakes, and traditional Nova Scotia style oatcakes. Perfect for snacking with tea or hot cocoa.

2. This Vermont cheesemaker is located in the historic village of Grafton. Started in 1892, Grafton Village Cheese is now part of the Windham Foundation, whose mission is to promote local rural communities throughout the state. They have a range of cheesy products, but their Vermont aged cheddar is a local tradition.

3. The Boston Honey Company produces honey from bees in eastern Mass in unique flavors like local New England wildflowers, Japanese Knotweed, Black Locust, and Basswood.

4. While you can find these old-timey candies just about anywhere these days, Necco Wafers actually originated in Cambridge in 1847. The candy’s name comes from the original company name New England Confectionery Company (NECCo). An easy stocking stuffer for friends and family with a unique New England history.

5.  Created in 1867, a local Boston cook crafted a unique combination of herbs to create the Bell’s Seasoning. This salt-free seasoning tastes good on almost anything and is an easy and lightweight local edible to pack or ship to distant loved ones.

6. While a freshly baked version is always better, this traditional canned Indian Pudding from Bar Harbor is a New England tradition reaching back to colonial foodways.

7. Various companies harvest sea salt from Maine’s chilly coast including the Maine Sea Salt Company and Stonewall KitchenYou can also try local Cape Cod sea salt from the Wellfleet Sea Salt Company.

8. Another local tradition, Marshmallow Fluff originated in Lynn, Massachusetts just after the first World War. This is the perfect holiday treat and works wonders in a hot cup of cocoa. 

9. Produced since 1882, Wood’s Boiled Cider is made from local Vermont apples and concentrated to a sweet-tart ratio of 7 to 1.

10. These old-fashioned Brown Family Farm Maple Candies are shaped into iconic maple leaves and made from pure maple syrup sourced from real Vermont maple trees. Can’t get much more maple than that!

11. With over two dozen products to choose from, Taza Chocolate (located in Somerville, Mass) combines traditional Mexican chocolate making traditions with seasonal and unique flavors. Try this holiday chocolate bar infused with seasonal gingerbread spices.

12. Lugging home a 5-lb bag of locally milled King Arthur Flour might not sound like fun, but this Vermont-based historic mill and bakery have you covered: they sell teensy versions on their site along with other traditional New England baking ingredients.


Happy Holidays from the Gastronomy Program!

Gastronomy Orientation 2013: A New Student’s Perspective

Throughout the year the BU Gastronomy blog will feature occasional posts from special guest writers including current students, recent alumni, professors, and more. The following Guest Post is brought to you by Gastronomy student Abby Clement who is in her first semester with the Gastronomy Program. This year’s BU Gastronomy Orientation included our first ever Instagram Scavenger Hunt throughout the historic Boston area. The pictures below are sourced from various students and Gastronomy faculty who participated in food themed scavenger hunt.


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Being in a new place is quite overwhelming. And if that new place is a city? Forgetaboutit! Not only is the amount of people a bit shocking…but the options!! So many restaurants, stores, bars, communities…the list goes on. Not only is there so much exploring to be done, but there are so many people to meet. Lucky for us, we already know where to find those with the same passions and dedication…our fellow Gatromites! But when, between reading and work (or lets be honest just reading and reading), is there time to explore an exciting new city and meet fascinating people? Fortunately for us newbies, Rachel Black and Barbra Rotger provided us with an answer- Orientation. By putting together a great day, they enabled us to learn about our fellow students and bond on the streets on Boston.

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After a brief introduction to the program itself and program expectations, we split up into groups to be lead on a whirlwind adventure through different sections of the city. From Red Socks paraphernalia to someone eating noodles, we hunted and scavenged for the subjects and objects on our predetermined list of ‘things’. We gallivanted about, taking pictures with unsuspecting Bostonians and wondering where on EARTH we were going to find a sandwich made with donuts. Slowly we became less awkward, less of an outsider. Milling about La Verdad Taqueria at the end of the day, with margaritas in hand and our sights locked on the guac, we weren’t ‘others’ anymore. We had braved different sections of the city and interacted with, our now fellow, Bostonians. The awkward and unsure haze was gone. Conversation was easy, and common threads were being found. That’s the thing about cities. Yes they’re big and intimidating, but they’re full of people just like us. People to explore with, discuss passions with, and just plain have fun with. And once those common threads are found, the city doesn’t seem quite so overwhelming after all.

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Thank you so much to Barbara, Rachel and all of the group leaders for putting on such a wonderful day and enabling us to meet our new classmates and explore the city!

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See all the Instagrams from the BU Gastronomy Scavenger Hunt at Statigram.


Are you a current student or a recent alum with a food-filled story to share? Pitch your idea to gastronomyatbu@gmail.com and get published on the BU Gastronomy blog!

BU Gastronomy Joins Instagram

Well, we’ve gone and done it. First it was Facebook, then Twitter, and now we’ve joined the ranks of millions and signed up for an Instagram account to share all the food related photos we take throughout the year. We hope to include visuals from things like Gastronomy events, guest speaker seminars, get togethers, field trips, and, of course, all the wonderful snacks our students share in class. Follow along and be sure to share your own BU food adventures with us by tagging our instagram handle bugastronomy or using the hashtag #bugastronomy.

Here’s our first instagram!:

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While we work on uploading all the deets and eats that go on in the program, check out a few of the following instagrammers and their own food-filled feeds:
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handle: alxgrossmn
aka: Alex Grossman, Creative Director at Bon Appetit

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handle: kingarthurflour
aka: King Arthur Flour, Vermont Flour Mill

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handle: julieskitchen
aka: Julie Lee, Food Photographer in LA

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handle: idafrosk
aka: Ida Skivenes, food artist and photographer in Oslo, Norway

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handle: thefauxmartha
aka: Melissa Coleman, blogger and baker

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handle: testkitchen
aka: America’s Test Kitchen, Brookline, Mass.

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handle: talkingfood
aka: Talking Food, food with personality

And, of course, this list just wouldn’t be complete without a few local BU Instagrammers:

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handle: hungry_terrier
aka: The Hungry Terrier, Boston University’s Food Channel

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handle: bufoodandwine
aka: BU Food and Wine, our building neighbors and culinary cohorts

We hope to see you all on instagram and be sure to let us know if you have an account we should follow!

Guest Post: Gastronomy Student Chaperones BU’s “Cooking Up Culture” Program

Throughout the summer the BU Gastronomy blog will feature occasional posts from special guest writers including current students, recent alumni, professors, and more. The following Guest Post and photographs are brought to you by Gastronomy student Elizabeth Mindreau.


My two worlds collided in a most delicious way recently when I was a chaperone on my son’s field trip to Boston University, where I am enrolled in the Master of Liberal Arts in Gastronomy. Thirty-six students from Brookline’s W.H. Lincoln School made the journey to the Fuller Building where the enthusiastic seven and eight year-olds participated in Cooking Up Culture, Boston University’s culinary arts program for kids. The field trip was the culmination of the students’ month-long exploration of the Hopi culture.

My enthusiastic son (far left) and classmates waiting to enter the Fuller Building.

My enthusiastic son (far left) and classmates waiting to enter the Fuller Building.


Cooking Up Culture programs are offered to students in grades one through twelve as a way to teach about different cultures through their cuisine. Local chefs and culinary professionals teach the courses under the coordination of Lisa Falso, Supervisor of Culinary Programs. For this generation of kids, raised watching cooking programs on TV, participating in the two-hour course held in the Culinary Arts Department classroom kitchen is an interactive thrill. Chef Dwayne Minier, impressive in a dark grey chef shirt and white apron, was our instructor with the assistance of Lisa Falso, dressed in white chef attire.
Chef Dwayne making nopalitos and chicken stew.

Chef Dwayne making nopalitos and chicken stew.


Minier and Falso are both graduates of BU’s Culinary Arts Program. They demonstrate the program’s strong foundation of educational and professional excellence through their knowledgeable and flawless execution of the Hopi lesson. The challenges of maintaining order and keeping the attention of a room full of hungry and excited apron-clad kids was apparent, but Minier’s no-nonsense approach and Falso’s gentle demeanor were successful in engaging the children and keeping them focused.
Lisa Falso shows students how to shape dough for sweet fry-bread.

Lisa Falso shows students how to shape dough for sweet fry-bread.


Minier introduced students to cooking terms: steeping, sautéing, and sear; ingredients of the southwest: cactus pads, wild herbs, and chili powder; and geographic, agricultural, and culinary details of the Hopi people. The students were eager to ask questions and offer comments. They demonstrated their knowledge of the Hopi culture and an impressive cooking savvy. Cooking Up Culture requires that students have some knowledge of a culture prior to attending the program. A theme that connected the students’ studies at their school with the field trip was the three sisters garden, a technique favored by Native Americans farming communities. The “three sisters” refers to corn, beans, and squash, which are planted together in a mound and form “the perfect protein” according to Minier.
Students planting a three sisters garden at their school in Brookline.

Students planting a three sisters garden at their school in Brookline.


Teachers and chaperones were impressed at how receptive the children were to eating food that was new to them. One student said, “This is the best food I ever ate,” and, “The Hopis have good taste.” The peppermint tea, succotash (made with the three sisters), and nopalitos (cactus pads) and chicken stew are not typical children’s fare. Not surprising is that cheers broke out when Minier entered the room carrying a tray piled high with sweet fry-bread the children had shaped into rings earlier. The students then applauded when Minier sprinkled the golden, misshapen rings with powdered sugar.
Succotash made by Chef Dwayne highlights the three sisters: corn, beans, and squash.

Succotash made by Chef Dwayne highlights the three sisters: corn, beans, and squash.


Minier, Falso, and the culinary students helping behind the scenes deserve a standing ovation for a job well done. The Cooking Up Culture program provides an excellent model for culinary education for children.
Lisa Falso, Chef Dwayne and the fry-cakes.

Lisa Falso, Chef Dwayne and the fry-cakes.


Elizabeth Mindreau discovered that it is possible to simultaneously go to graduate school (after not studying for 20 years) and keep two active and demanding sons alive and fed. She is looking forward to late nights, bleary-eyed mornings, and seeing her Gastro-friends again in the fall.

March Gastronomy Events

We have a busy second half of the semester planned! Please mark your calendars for the following, post-spring-break events: 

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THURSDAY, MARCH 21, 4:30 – 5:30PM

photo by GSZ

photo by GSZ

Milk and Cookies with Rachel Black                                                                              Come say hello,  meet other Gastronomy students, and discuss the semester – and have some milk and cookies.

Boston University Fuller Building (FLR) Room 109, 808 Commonwealth Avenue. This event is for current Gastronomy students only.
 
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SPRING 2012 Gastronomy at BU Lecture Series:

THURSDAY, MARCH 21, 6PM

garvin_poster(1)A Fine Linea: How Italian Food Advertisements Reflected and Affected Gender Division Diana Garvin, PhD candidate, Italian Studies, Cornell University

Boston University College of Arts and Sciences Building (CAS), Room 211, 725 Commonwealth Avenue.

Lectures are free and open to the public. For more information contact gastrmla@bu.edu or see  www.gastronomyatbu.com

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SATURDAY, MARCH 23, 2012

BU’s American and New England Studies Program (AMNESP) Conference                          Beyond Production and Consumption: Refining American Material Culture Studies

For more information, see the official conference poster and registration form.

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TUESDAY, MARCH 26, 4:00 – 5:45 PM

photo by Chris A.J. Brown

photo by Chris A.J. Brown

Life After Gastronomy: Part I            “Pursuing The PhD”                                       

Interested in continuing your educational journey beyond the MLA in Gastronomy? Join us for an information session and workshop to help you prepare a PhD application. BU Anthropology and History faculty will be on hand to answer questions and offer guidance. Fellow Gastronomy student Emily Contois will provide an applicants point-of-view. All students considering a PhD program are encouraged to attend. Please RSVP to Gastronomy Program Coordinator Barbara Rotger.

Boston University Fuller Building (FLR), Room 109, 808 Commonwealth Ave. For more information contact gastrmla@bu.edu or see  www.gastronomyatbu.com. This is event is open to Gastronomy students only.

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SPRING 2012 Gastronomy at BU Lecture Series:

TUESDAY, APRIL 2, 6PM

Universal Free School Meals: An Ideas Whose Time Has Come                                          Janet Poppendieck, Professor of Sociology, Emerita, Hunter College, City University of New York and the author of Free for All: Fixing School Food in America and Sweet Charity? Emergency Food and the End of Entitlement

Boston University College of Arts and Sciences Building (CAS), Room 211, 725 Commonwealth Avenue

Lectures are free and open to the public. For more information contact gastrmla@bu.edu or see  www.gastronomyatbu.com

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Please submit events to gastrmla@bu.edu.

Guy Crosby on Understanding and Enhancing the Flavor of Food

by Noel Bielaczyc

The term “molecular gastronomy” generally conjures images of chefs utilizing science-based techniques and high-tech lab gadgetry like immersion circulators, vacuum sealers, dehydrators, and rotovaps to create visually arresting, palate dazzling, and expensive cuisine. While edible gels, foams and powders have become a somewhat trite symbol of the movement, the central principals remain important to the way chefs (and increasingly home-cooks) understand and create flavor. The first installment of the Gastronomy at BU Spring 2013 Lecture Series tapped professor Guy Crosby to bring his perspective as a chemist in the kitchen (rather than a chef in the lab) to illuminate some of the food science driving current cooking methodology. His talk, aptly titled Understanding and Enhancing the Flavor of Food, addressed the senses and human physiology behind tasting, the neural processes involved in perception, the basic sources of flavor in foods, and how to improve them.

It may seem obvious that foods’ edibility is based mostly on flavor (followed by appearance, texture, and nutritional value) but many people never realize that flavor is actually the combination of taste and smell. In fact, Crosby reckoned that by some estimates, smell contributes nearly 80% of the experience! Using the case of “super tasters” to segue, Crosby addressed the various ways in which we are biologically equipped to sense flavor and why sensitivity varies from person to person and flavor to flavor. Perhaps most interesting was his analysis of food cravings and how eating stimulates the brain regions associated with emotion, memory and reward. Is it a surprise that the same regions respond to sex, drugs and music? Indeed there is good science behind the irresistibility kettle chips.

© 2012 Guy Crosby

© 2012 Guy Crosby

The meat of Crosby’s talk addressed the sources of flavor in food and how intervention through cooking can alter and improve various aspects of taste. Crosby’s background in organic chemistry became apparent as he described how flavor could be naturally formed or physically initiated. For example crushing garlic gloves to release taste and aroma compounds or salt foods to activate certain flavor molecules. Similarly, umami can be amplified by combining specific ingredients with interacting compounds, like anchovies and mushrooms. Other foods derive their flavor from reactions, such as caramelization and the related, but distinct Maillard- Hodge reaction (the delicious browning on roasted meats and crusty breads). Crosby concluded with a note on the controversial idea of flavor pairing based on shared compounds. Anyone for strawberry and coriander gelato? These few examples represent a fraction of the existing food research, but offered an approachable & applicable introduction to the field.

The ideas and techniques of molecular gastronomy have shaped the cuisine of high-end restaurants for years, driving innovation of concept and flavor. Now, the same science and technology are increasingly being found in the home: sous-vide machines are available from William Sonoma, and the science behind better burgers appears in an article in the latest Popular Mechanics. While the take away may remind us of the “better living through chemistry” jingle, there is certainly value to anyone who cooks in understanding the science behind flavor.

For more information on Guy Crosby and why butter-poached lobster melts in your mouth, visit www.cookingscienceguy.com

Noel Bielaczyc is a first year Gastronomy MLA student and the spring 2013 editor of the Gastronomy at BU blog. He is also a fishmonger and scientific illustrator. 

The Snack That Binds Us

by Annu Ross

I have taken night classes before the Gastronomy program– four-hour night classes – and I had always just brought a protein bar or a large cup of coffee. But oh how that sad Luna Bar pales in comparison to real food – delicious, thoughtful, real food. Remembering myself sitting in the dark during a film class squirreling away a snack of pure function, makes snack times in my Gastronomy classes a glittery, magical, happy place.

For those of you who don’t know, many Gastronomy classes run from 6-9 p.m. on weekdays and feature a communally-shared snack during the mid-class break. Students and professors share the responsibility for providing the snack throughout the semester, so that at each class meeting one to three people will bring food for everyone else. In a program focused on food, this seems especially pertinent and necessary as the students spend three hours a night discussing food and all its attendant social, cultural, economic and political implications.

photo by Annu Ross

photo by Annu Ross

It was for these reasons I decided to explore the meanings and functions of snack time for students and professors in the Gastronomy program. I focused my study on the snack times in the two courses I took in Fall 2012: Anthropology of Food, taught by Visiting Professor Carole M. Counihan, Ph.D., and Experiencing Food Through the Senses, taught by Assistant Professor and Coordinator of Gastronomy at MET College Rachel E. Black, Ph.D. The study resulted in my final paper for Anthropology.

Snack time is a unique food event, sort of like a potluck, only a potluck that happens in increments of 10-15 minutes per week over a period of several months. Beyond sustenance (an essential function of the snack and the ultimate reason for its existence), sharing food and the social bonds it creates are at the center of snack time. Giving and receiving food is a form of gift exchange. Sociologist Marcel Mauss conjectured that the practice of gift exchange morally and spiritually binds participants together and implicates them in a cycle of reciprocal generosity; meaning to receive a gift is to be required to return the generosity at a later time. The exchange of food gifts through snack time forms a community within the classroom that depends on reciprocal generosity.

This being a food studies program, food is a regular object of intellectual as well as physical consumption. Hot topics of discussion in Gastronomy courses include: authenticity and cuisine; food policy, history and justice; the state of food and health in the U.S.; how food is tied to identity, memory and meaning; food systems (production, distribution, consumption and waste); and how food plays into class, race and gender hierarchies. As the students and professors contemplate the many meanings and functions of food in society and culture, the classroom snack time is a microcosm of what is being studied in the coursework (which, in all honesty, made it challenging for me to hone my findings down to a surmountable paper).

Photo by Annu Ross

Photo by Annu Ross

With all these weighty topics swimming around in students’ heads, it’s no wonder many students expressed some anxiety around sharing food with “a room full of foodies.” It seems this anxiety was centered mostly on acceptance. Reception by one’s peers was important to the participants and it was not just for fear of the discriminating “foodie.” There is a sense of vulnerability in the people who bring snack – that they are putting themselves out there to be judged and they hope to be accepted and given the stamp of approval.

Despite some anxious awareness around distinction and acceptance, the environment of snack time is affable, social and informal. All of the aforementioned social, cultural, economic and political factors are at play within snack time and there is no doubt that most participants are (anxiously or otherwise) aware of these factors in deciding what to bring for snack, monitoring their behavior during the experience, and observing their peers’ behavior. But it is my view, in particular in the two classes which I studied this semester, that the participants in snack time are focused, above all else, on creating and maintaining an agreeable, informal and egalitarian environment during snack and in the class.

Breaking bread with one’s peers corporeally binds us together and serves as a catalyst for interaction and the development of relationships, creating a rare space that melds the intellectual, physical and emotional.

Annu Ross’s favorite snack is cheese, honey and crusty bread. She just completed the Gastronomy program and relocated to Columbia, South Carolina. You can reach her at annu.ross@gmail.com.