The Science of Cooking

Learning the structure and mechanism behind everyday life is one of the things that drew me to science. And there are few better examples of that than cooking, an activity which is pretty necessary and central to life! The way that cooking is taught actually shares a lot with the way that science is taught. Initially you memorize recipes, formulae, and techniques without necessarily having a clear idea of the motivations. But as you gain skill you learn more about the fundamentals and the why of what is happening! In science the fundamentals can be things like the basic forces, atomic interactions, or the use of math to unify behavior at many different size scales. And in cooking, as you search for motivation you begin delving into chemical reactions, mechanical processes that modify ingredients, and the biology of the things being eaten as well as the person doing the eating.

There are a lot of excellent books on this out there, notably On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee. But there’s also a nice online resource, lectures from a popular Harvard course on science and cooking. Each week they invited a guest chef to give a public talk, and do a course lecture and demonstration. Then they had a lecture from the course organizers to go into a specific scientific concept in the guest chef’s demo. And finally, they went into a lab to recreate the dish shown or another dish that built on the same scientific concept. The full list of lectures, covering things like phase changes, browning, emulsions, viscosity, and heat, is available here, and here is the first lecture:

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