07 March 2012

Have Your Say - The New Food Science Course at Harvard

Friend of Drink Factory and all round great guy Naveen Sinha, would like you to offer your input in "designing the course of the future". This will invariably appeal to our American readers slightly more, however how do we move forward without open forums and the sharing of information? So with that in mind we encourage everyone and anyone to get involved.

Naveen played an important role in the Science and Food Course last year, which produced some incredible lectures from some of the world leading chefs and food scientists. The team at Harvard are currently tweaking the syllabus for the new iteration of the course, which starts later this autumn and would like your input. This is what Naveen see's this new class involving.

"I wanted to use the seminar to develop my dream class that combines the scientific and culinary worlds. I was inspired by Science Fare and similar blogs, and how the process of writing about experiments in the kitchen could be an engaging way to teach physics and chemistry.....I would be thrilled if some of the ideas could be implemented in an actual course."

"One of the first things we learned in the seminar was backwards design: start with what we want the students to be able to do at the end of the course, then construct lessons and assignments to make that possible. For my hypothetical course, I would tell prospective students how they could become active participants of a rapidly growing network of culinary experimentalists. Specifically, this includes the following stages:"

•Read and understand recipes from a full range of sources, including home cooks, professional bakers, and modernist chefs. You will become proficient in using ratios, calculating concentrations, working with significant figures, and making order-of-magnitude estimates. These are all the mathematical equivalent of knife skills, and lay the foundation for any quantitative work.

•See the underlying physical similarities between different types of materials, both edible and not. For instance, how is whipped cream like shaving cream? How are they produced? How are they stabilized? How does this relate to whipped cream from aerosal dispensers or an iSi Whip?

•Read the current science-themed food blogs and journals, such as Cooking Issues, The Food Lab, Ideas in Food, and Khymos. Since this is an emerging field, much of the exciting research is described in a variety of on-line sources. This course will help you understand the underlying scientific insights or technological advances that enabled the current work.

•Conduct well-designed culinary experiments, using a thorough documentation format. The range of options to explore is vast, so how do chefs select the relevant variables? In most science labs, the dependent and independent variables are clearly defined, but there is far more flexibility in the culinary realm to decide what to vary and what to measure. Through the weekly assignments, you will become skilled in finding systematic ways to explore culinary techniques.

•Share your results in an on-line format, so that your results can be replicated by people around the world. The best authors explain their motivation for doing the work, use clear photographs to demonstrate their procedure, and elegantly present their results in a visually-compelling format. This course will develop each of these skills.

•Propose solutions to culinary problems, based on your knowledge of the physical structure of the food. In addition to presenting your own results, by the end you will be able to post insightful suggestions on other blogs. You may not have the culinary experience of the authors, but your unique viewpoint of starting from the microstructure could lead to useful ideas.

For more information head over to Science Fare or get involved immediately by tweeting @nisinha or @harvardscicook with any ideas or thoughts you might have.

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