Exploring the “Why” of Food in Culinary Science
When I decided to do the bachelor’s program at the CIA, I really did not know what the Culinary Science degree was all about. I knew it was challenging, but I didn’t know anyone in the program; I didn’t even really know what culinary science was. I did know that you had to apply for the program and it was selective. This detail gave the program a distinctive quality, and I wanted to be a participant.
Now I am nearing the end of my time at the CIA, and I can somewhat reflect on the degree as a whole. I look at the world entirely differently after taking this program. It has taught me much more than the science of food. I now have a basic understanding of what it takes to learn about science, design an experiment, how food actually cooks, and much more. Most important, I have learned how to go about finding the answer to why.
In our industry, it can be both encouraged and discouraged to ask “why?” In progressive kitchens, finding out what we can about food is encouraged, but in many kitchens the candid question “why?” would never be asked. Asking why might even result in chef telling you to pack your knives and go home…for good.
In Culinary Science, Question Everything
In the Culinary Science program, we’re encouraged to question things. The team of chefs, professors, and scientists fully support curiosity and the development of skills in finding the answer. They may not give the answer all the time, but I know that if I have a question about why and how food works I now have the basic knowledge and understanding to be able to find out. This is what the Culinary Science instructors seek to do—develop problem solvers, strong liaisons to teams, and people who understand how cooking works better than anyone else. And they succeed!
They do this in very specific classes such as Dynamics of Heat transfer, Ingredient Functionality, and Flavor Science and Perception, which all lead up to the rigorous senior thesis. The senior thesis wraps together everything we have learned with a semester-long experiment that is developed, designed, and executed by you the student. It seems like a mammoth task, but you’re prepared by the time you reach this point.
My senior thesis topic revolves around that one small question: “why?” Making stock is one of the first things we learn at CIA, it’s generally done by the commis. Chef always says it is crucial to skim the stock to have a good stock. It is something practiced all over the world, going back to Escoffier in Le Guide Culinaire, possibly even further. I question this necessity. Is skimming a stock necessary to create the most desirable tasting stock?
I’ll begin to explore that question in my next blog post. See you then!
By Alex Telinde