I may or may not have mentioned that I signed up for an online class at Harvard. The course was titled ‘Science and Cooking: From Haute Cuisine to Soft Matter Science’. I used an awesome website called edX that has a ridiculous amount of classes you can sign up for. I started back in October and just wrapped up. The course is designed to last approximately 12 weeks, but a few glitches caused the class to take a little longer. I am grateful for the glitches as it allowed me to make up a week or two I missed.
The team of chefs that contributed to the course was astounding: Ferran Adria (Chef extraordinaire), Joan Roca (Chef and teacher), Carme Ruscalleda (female culinary powerhouse from Catalunya), Dan Barber (Chef and farmer), Carles Tejedor (Chef and Oil Motion Founder), Dan Souza (senior editor of Cook’s Illustrated), Dave Arnold (Director of Culinary Technology at The International Culinary Center.), David Chang (founder of Momofuku), Ryan Miller (product development chef for Momofuku), Enric Rovira (master Chocolatier), Joanne Chang (Pastry Chef), Jose Andres (Chef and owner of Think Food Group), Nandu Jubany (Catalan Chef), Bill Yosses (Executive Pastry Chef at the White House), Nathan Myhrvold (author of Modernist Cuisine), Ted Russin (director of CIA Consulting) and Wylie Dufresne (Chef of wd~50).
The idea was to learn more about the science of why things occur during cooking. Many knowledgeable chefs and scientists from around the world collaborated on the project. The set up involved an average of 2 hours of video lectures pertaining to the theme of the week, a weekly homework assignment and lab report to be completed. To be quite honest, when registering I figured, I am pretty smart, love math and already know how to cook, how hard can this be? After watching the first 3 videos, I was sure I was not going to complete the course. Having graduated from college almost a decade ago, I felt like a fish out of water. The class was a bit daunting at times, but well worth it.
I researched multiple websites for educational support, scoured the online forum the class offered for extra explanations and tips….some weeks were harder than others, but I made it! The topics ranged from phase transitions to viscosity and polymers. We studied heat diffusion, elasticity and fermentation. It is difficult to say what my favorite week was… each one offered so much new information; it was overwhelming at times.
Even so, I was excited. I loved completing the lab experiment on heat diffusion by creating an at-home sous vide. I actually did it in the commercial kitchen I have available at the culinary institute where I work. My colleagues all enjoyed the experiment as well! All in all I would say the course is not for the faint of heart and although there is an option to audit the class (check it out, learn but not commit to passing with a grade above 60%), if you are going to check it out, you might as well do it.
I broke it down into 4 hours a week on average, which is pretty reasonable. I will say I am proud of myself for sticking with it… There were many days I just wanted to give up on it. I even completed the final project, by making an Italian mostarda and attempting to scientifically analyze if any one cooking method, vinegar or mustard derivative provided a better end result. Although I turned in the project, it is one I will have to revisit, perhaps with the assistance of an Italian home cook.
Although I love to learn, this online Harvard class took me far outside my comfort zone and proved to be the largest challenge I have faced in a while. I learned a ton and would do it again. My new goal is to at some point meet and cook or collaborate with all of the chefs that were involved. It seems fitting to submit this experience to Our Growing Edge this month hosted by Medha from Mimi’s Mommy.
If any of you readers out there want to give the course a try, it is scheduled to reopen later this year. I am including a list of the online resources that helped me, just in case they can be of use to anyone else:
- Periodic Table
- Scientific Search Engine
- Scientific Conversion Generator
- Scientific Calculator
- Scientific Conversion Generator
So today I sign off as a Harvard Graduate and while that makes me proud, I am mostly excited about the fact that completing the course has made me a better chef.
Until next time…