Q & A With Professor Amy Rowat: Food and Science at UCLA, Danish Gastro-physical Societies + Experimental Cakes
|courtesy Amy Rowat|
|Professor Amy Rowat|
SI: Yeah, I was going to ask if you've gotten an Anti-Griddle or something.
AR: No, no. I experimented with some different gels and spherification, but only because I had to develop the labs for the class.
SI: You're not going home and making tomato spheres?
AR: No, and I don't think I'd even serve them at a dinner party because, quite honestly, I'm not a big fan of their texture. So yes, it definitely changes the way I think about things, but not so much how I cook. But I have other science friends who are completely nerdy about, you know, weighing things out to the nth degree and measuring the temperature inside a cake and having it hooked up to a computer so it can be controlled from afar.
SI: Wow. Do you guys have a centrifuge?
AR: I do in my lab.
AR: You can order them from eBay. But you have to be careful because sometimes the equipment isn't in a working state.
SI: You need AppleCare. So do you have any plans for future people to have come lecture next year?
AR: I do, but I have to work that out. The interest has been huge. It's a question of balance, of topics, of having people who have come before, or other people who might be fun to have come. Definitely Sean Brock is pretty keen to come.
SI: So where to you like to eat in L.A.? I hear Jonathan Gold took Rene Redzepi to Night + Market after the last lecture. Did you go?
AR: Yes. It worked out really well. I end up at the Napa Valley Grille a lot because I really like their kale salad. I love to go to the Santa Monica farmers market and cook with their fresh produce. Gjelina I adore.
SI: So after Canada -- where you're from -- Denmark and Cambridge, Mass., it must be kind of nice to have California produce.
AR: It's so refreshing -- all the avocados, the citrus, the local nuts. I really like the Beverly Hills Juice Bar. But I haven't really been out much yet.
SI: What do you think is one thing that average people don't know about the science of food that would really be helpful?
AR: I've been trying to focus in the public lectures on little encapsulated messages. One thing, which I emphasized in the last lecture, was the molecules of food and how there are all these misconceptions -- and fear -- around molecules. These are parts of our bodies; these are parts of us.
SI: People can get really intimidated by scientific terminology.
AR: That's one thing that I tried to highlight. I don't completely understand ingredient labels myself all the time, and there are definitely certain chemicals that you do want to avoid. With the upcoming Chang lecture: They're really into fermentation now, which Rene and Lars discussed as well. We'll be focusing more on that. There's also general fear of microbes, and an important thing to realize as well is that microbes are beneficial in cooking. Obviously in beer and bread, but also in a lot of other things as well. Xanthum gum, for example, is produced by a bacteria; that's just something that the bacteria naturally secretes. There's obviously bacteria that can make you sick, but bacteria helps in how we grow our food, how we prepare our food, and how we digest our food.
SI: Also because "molecular gastronomy" has gotten so popular so quickly, I think it's also pretty misunderstood. And mislabeled. But it's just chefs playing with their food; they're not exactly changing it. Your series seems to demystify this.
AR: That's true. I didn't initially think about it from that perspective -- look at the beautiful science of a pizza -- but it does have that effect. Demystifying what a pizza is, where tomato sauce comes from. It's shocking how removed people are from the origins. I think students appreciate learning about lecithin, for example.
SI: Once you say it's in chocolate...
AR: Exactly. And the use of fresh fruit in marinades because they contain enzymes that naturally break down protein and things like that. The concept of freezing point depression. We had Barbara Spencer from Windrose Farm, Cynthia Sandberg [of Love Apple Farms] and David Kinch [from Manresa] and they talked about the importance of sugars in fruits and vegetables and how that's really important in temperature fluctuations. It's important in developing the flavors in apples, for example.
In class the kids made rock salt ice cream, which is a very simple elementary school kid's experiment. But when you couple that with measuring the temperature, and calculating the freezing point given the amount of salt they added -- and suddenly it clicked. And that was a really beautiful thing to see. And how they can relate that now to why an Antarctic fish might produce more salt because it has to survive at very low temperatures. So all those things are helping to demystify science -- and our food at the same time.
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