Harvard’s Science and Cooking Seminar

Although I’m a scientist, I have to admit that I don’t know much beyond the basics of how science affects cooking, which is actually a bit embarrassing! So, I jumped at the chance to review Harold McGee’s new book, Keys to Good Cooking. The book doesn’t come out until October, but I’ve already been treated to a preview and each chapter gives a whole slew of tips about different ingredients from a scientific viewpoint. I’ll be posting my review next month, but I’m already impressed with the few pages I’ve read so far because all the information is just so incredibly useful.

For example, I didn’t know that some frozen veggies (green peas, lima beans, and sweet corn!) are always a smart buy because they lose flavor and tenderness so rapidly after harvest that the flash frozen version is often higher quality than the fresh one. Another of McGee’s tips in the book is that searing meat doesn’t seal in its juices. Instead, it’s the way that you cook the meat that determines moistness. He’s has been trying to convince the public about this for years – how do I know this? Well, I heard it from the man himself!

Harvard had a seminar this week entitled Science and Cooking: A Dialogue, that Shannon and I managed to score tickets to attend. I chatted with McGee briefly after the event while he was signing my mom’s copy of On Food and Cooking, and he was so nice and assured me that the book would be even better than the summary sections they sent!

McGee’s talk was just the tip of the iceberg though – look who else was there!

Yes, that’s Ferran Adria on the right, the chef behind El Bulli, a Michelin 3-star restaurant on Spain’s Catalonian coast, which is considered by many to be the best restaurant in the world! He is the creative genius that founded avant-garde cooking (he seemed to prefer this term over “molecular gastronomy”), a culinary style in which chefs use scientific techniques to create the most gorgeous and intricate dishes with surprising elements of flavor, temperature, and texture.

Adria’s Catalan translator and friend Jose Andres, on the left, stressed that beyond being the first person to create foams and invent spherification (which they demoed!), that Adria has pushed the culinary world in an entirely new direction because he has never hesitated to share his techniques.

In fact, Adria is closing El Bulli next summer to open a center where chefs from around the world can come and study and create dishes without the pressure of having to serve diners every night. And get this, they will be posting what they create each day on the internet every night – incredible! Adria is also spearheading a course at Harvard this semester on science and cooking, which is why he was on campus. His philosophy that cooking, and life in general, is about curiosity and a willingness to learn was so inspiring! I’m so glad I was able to attend!

41 Responses to Harvard’s Science and Cooking Seminar

  1. This sounds like such an awesome event to attend! I love talking food with just about anyone who’ll listen, but I’ll concede it’s even more fun when the other person actually knows what I’m talking about and isn’t looking at me like I have five heads.

    I might need to check out that book when it comes out. His tips sound super useful!

  2. Okay, I’m SO JEALOUS! What a powerhouse of an event! Your mom must have been stoked to have you get her book signed. Are you sure you’re going to give it to her? 😉

    I had no idea that searing doesn’t lock in the juices. Sounds like I’ll need to check out his book too. :)

  3. I totally wanted to go to this and then completely forgot about it. I’m a huge McGee fan and would have loved to see Adria in person! Looks like an awesome time!

  4. Wow. This sounds like such an amazing presentation. Jose Adres was on top chef or something like that as a judge, right? He looks crazy familiar :) Oh and I’ve been really wanted to understand the science behind cooking lately – this books sounds perfect!

  5. What a cool event to be a part of! Sounds like you learned a lot and had a good time.. The science of cooking and baking is sooo interesting to me! I watch Alton Brown and read his books all the time to get more info.. looks like I have another book to buy :)

  6. Kerstin,

    Thank you for getting my book signed. Dad gave it to me a few years ago so that I could share more of the science of cooking with my students. I am glad that you got to attend his talk!

    Love, MOM

  7. That’s so exciting that you were able to attend the seminar. I can’t wait to hear more food and science tips when you get through the whole book! I ahd heard that about frozen veggies before, but I still like eating the fresh ones better.

  8. This is so cool! I wish I could go to something like this! I don’t know much about food science either and I really should take the time to learn. Glad to hear about his new book!

  9. that’s a fairly awesome thing to experience, kerstin–thanks for sharing some tips and describing what it was like to see some famous-for-good-reason folks firsthand. :)

  10. I would have loved this event, how fortunate you are!

    And I agree, frozen peas are great! They are starchy purchased from the supermarket, unless you get them straight from the garden, frozen is better. Who knew? Go figure…

  11. I heard my brother say that el bulli was closing and I was so surprised; but the next episode of this genius-chef endeavors is even more exciting!
    What a thrill to be there and meet the people who are at the pinnacle of their profession! I will surely read McGee’s book, it sounds like a must for anyone spending any amount of time in the kitchen!

  12. This looks like alot of fun! I have had a food science class when I was doing my bachelors in nutrition but when you are forced to learn it, I feel like it’s not the same thing. I would have loved to go to this to refresh what I learned in my undergrad class. Hope you had a great time!

  13. What a great seminar, you and Shannon were lucky to attend! Science + food totally interests me as well. It’s funny, sometimes I totally just throw things together, and others, I truly cook like the engineer that I am.

  14. I couldn’t get tickets to the first seminar – but all the subsequent ones are FREE! I went last week to hear Joan Roca (of El Cellar de Can Roca) speak and he was amazing, minus the poor quality of the translation. The White House’s pastry chef is speaking tonight. Very excited!

  15. What a great event! I just discovered your blog via some other Boston bloggers. I, too, do health research. I went to HSPH and now work there – so it’s great to see another science person out there! Looking forward to reading more (and maybe even hearing about Harvard events that I should be attending!)

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