Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Cooking with Science

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Cooking with Science

Article excerpt


The basics of a culinary education are getting a little less basic at the Culinary Institute of America.

Recognizing that for the chefs of tomorrow well-honed knife skills and a mastery of the mother sauces won't be enough, the culinary school is pumping up its curriculum with a host of science lab-worthy tools and techniques.

"Today's chef compared to a chef 30 years ago needs to know so much more," CIA president Tim Ryan said recently. "The industry, the profession, is so much more complicated."

Basic cooking lectures at times sound more like a chemistry lesson, covering the culinary uses of xanthan gum, or the physics of why oil and water won't mix. And just this month, the school was approved to offer a new major in culinary science, a field encompassing food science and culinary arts.

A recent class covered dessert making via liquid nitrogen. Chef Francisco Migoya carefully dunked strawberries into a smoking container of the super-cold liquid, then shattered them with a mallet and ground the shards into a fine berry dust for use in an ice cream dish. Frozen borage petals were added for garnish.

It's true: the famous French chef Auguste Escoffier never studied ion-dipole attraction and James Beard never had to consider the complex and sometimes outlandish creations of molecular gastronomy. But science has crept into cooking in so many ways, from cooks using lab centrifuges to separate ingredients to high-end restaurants that serve aerated foie gras. The trend, sometimes referred to as modernist cuisine, is loosely defined as the movement to incorporate scientific principles into the cooking and presentation of food.

And the movement has stars, like Chicago's Grant Achatz and Spain's Ferran Adria, who made gorgonzola balloons and vanishing ravioli for a select few at his former restaurant, elBulli. Practitioners even have a manifesto: "Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking," a 2,438-page text published last year by Nathan Myhrvold, the first chief technology officer at Microsoft, which includes tips for preserving truffles in carbon dioxide.

Mr. …

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