|The 350 seat lecture hall in the Harvard Science Center was filled to capacity. Unfortunately,|
a large number of people were turned away at the door.
By the time that I arrived at the Harvard Science Center at 6:25 p.m., the line for the "Science and Cooking" lecture had already snaked its way around the entire ground floor of the building. Wondering if there would be enough room in the hall for everyone, a woman mentioned overhearing that the people at the front of the line had been waiting since 5:00 p.m. for Grant Achatz, one of the world's great chefs to deliver his lecture, "Food Texture and Mouth Feel". With a coveted three-star Michelin ranking, Alinea restaurant in Chicago offers "exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey." The residents of New England seem to agree because I met a chef who had traveled from Rhode Island to hear Achatz's lecture and to ask him to sign his copy of Alinea, the cookbook showcasing Achatz's cuisine.
Renowned for his relentless pursuit of innovation and for playing with flavor and scents, Grant Achatz was invited to speak at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) as part of the general education course, “Science and Cooking: From Haute Cuisine to the Science of Soft Matter,” that is offered to Harvard undergraduates. Using food and cooking to explain fundamental principles in applied physics and engineering, the lectures by Harvard researchers and world-class chefs are open to the public on a first come, first seated basis.
|Professor David Weitz|
The evening started with a brief lecture by Professor David Weitz, who explained that "mouthfeel" is the combination of elasticity, viscosity, yielding and plasticity. Using spaghetti and ramen noodles, Weitz illustrated that viscosity is related to elasticity by a time-scale and presented the equation of the week, which was met by an enthusiastic round of applause!
|Equation of the Week - thank goodness that there wasn't a test at the end of the presentation!|
After a brief introduction, Grant Achatz presented Craig Schoettler, who presides over the kitchen of the recently opened Aviary, a cocktail lounge where the two chefs are using what they have learned in gastronomy to change the way that we think about cocktails. Schoettler challenged the audience to think outside of the box by asking if cocktails have to be served in a glass and if they have to be liquid.
|Members of the audience sampling an edible cocktail, |
pineapple compressed with green Chartreuse.
Achatz and Schoettler's enthusiasm for their futuristic cocktails was so contagious that I found myself wanting to jump on a plane bound for Chicago so that I could try some of their avant-garde creations, like an Old Fashioned that is served in an ice balloon that must be shattered before the contents can spill out into the glass. Schoettler's goal is to create an experience where customers have a vested interest in their cocktails because they're required to "do something" with them.
When one of the Harvard undergraduates inquired if there are any problems that they're still trying to solve, Achatz revealed that they would like to figure out how to layer cocktail ingredients vertically rather than horizontally, how to make snow and how to create ice that sinks rather than floats. Since all of Professor Weitz's students have to submit a project at the end of the semester, there's a good chance that you'll be sipping a vertically layered cocktail at Aviary in the near future!
As I had a bit of time to talk with Grant Achatz while he was signing books, I asked him about his favorite restaurants in Paris. Without any hesitation, he recommended Yam'Tcha and chez l'Ami Jean.
Click on the following for additional information:
Science and Cooking Public Lectures at Harvard
Aviary Opening YouTube video
Alinea restaurant in Chicago
A blog post about the lecture by Awesome Eats with some photos of the innovative drinks
My introduction to Alinea, a blog post by Joseph
Many thanks to Sara and Rene for telling me about the chef lectures at Harvard. Rene, I'm sorry that you weren't able to attend Grant Achatz's lecture because it was amazing!
|Chefs Craig Schoettler and Grant Achatz|