A med & grad student who used to work the line in LA, NYC, SF and Napa talking about the science of cooking and cooking with science. Harold McGee's On Food And Cooking - The Science and Lore of the Kitchen never satisfied my kitchen curiosity and more than one Chef grew exasperated with my asking "Why?" I'll try to stay on topic, but you may see a kvetch or two about the school & hospital.
My posts are presented as opinion and commentary and do not represent the views of LabSpaces Productions, LLC, my employer, or my educational institution.
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Science is facts; just as houses are made of stones, so is science made of facts; but a pile of stones is not a house and a collection of facts is not necessarily science.
~~ Henri Poincare
Science is organized knowledge. Wisdom is organized life.
~~ Immanuel Kant
The sciences are not like Minerva, who sprang fully armed from the brain of Jupiter; they are the daughters of time, and take shape very gradually, at first by the assembling of methods developed through experience, and then later by the discovery of principles which have been deduced from the combining of these methods.
Julia Child was my babysitter. Ok, not really. But after school, I’d turn on the TV and do homework with GI Joe and Transformers on. And then the news would start, so I’d change the channel - straight to channel 9 where Julia was. Sometimes it was reruns of her classic “The French Chef,” sometimes it was her and some chef I had not heard of until he’d popped up on the television with her. I’ll be honest; I didn’t watch the show for the cooking. Not at first. I thought her voice was just incredibly amusing. I didn’t find it funny. I thought it was just this incredibly warm and refined way of speaking – voice, tone, annunciation. It is a manner of speaking you rarely find today. All nuanced elocution and determined word choice. Confident and comforting.
After a while I really started to pay attention. And I started trying. As best I could. I wasn’t allowed to touch the stove or knives, so I concentrated on anything I saw that was a cold preparation with minimal chopping – vinaigrettes, mayonnaise, microwaved eggs. The latter had me freaking out and trying to clean up the mess in the microwave as quickly as possible before anyone got home. Mayonnaise became a pain for my friends later on. Not because it tasted bad, but because they complained I was giving them gout or high blood pressure. That may be so, but I’ll bet the mullets, fish not the haircut, would not have tasted the same without the mayonnaise aux fines herbes (Child 89). What I couldn’t make, I’d ask my mom to make. This led to some interesting interpretations. Let me tell you right now, you do not ever ask a Filipino woman to cook French food. Ever. At least not one that has never cooked French food before. Cassoulet (Child 401) is one of my favorite dishes. And I love my mom’s cooking. She can make lasagna like it’s nobody’s business. But I will never ever ask her to make cassoulet again. And if she ever does, I will never eat it. My brother may be too young to remember, but that was not a dish that came out very good. It would be nearly a decade before I ate cassoulet again, and then it was just exquisite.
The cooking probably wasn’t the worst part for my long suffering mother. The worst part had to be the questions I’d ask because of what I watched. And it was not just confined to Julia’s show. There was also a series that went into working kitchens of restaurants around the country and Jacques Pepin. And each show left me asking, “But why?” Why did you have to sear meat? Why did they stick the meat in the oven? When my uncle makes steak, it’s on a grill, why did they do it on the stove and oven? Why? Why? Why? I wanted to know the answers to these questions, unfortunately my mom and the rest of my family had no answers. So I was left with questions without answers for a very, very long time.
It truly surprised me in My Life In France, when Julia also stated she had questions. I knew she cooked. And I knew in an esoteric way that she had to constantly test and retest recipes as they went into her cookbooks, but it wasn’t until the book came out after her death that I realized that she was as exacting in her recipe making as many scientists are with their lab work. She wanted results that could be replicated and she asked question. She asked chefs and bakers, fishermen and scientists. Everyone who dealt with food she talked to for answers. If the old way of doing something didn’t work, and a new way was better, it was replaced. Even over Simone Beck’s cries of “Ce n’est pas française!”(Child 178). The answers were not just for her book, but for herself as well.
It might have been Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking: The science and lore of the kitchen that got me started on asking “why” in the kitchen, but it was Julia Child who got me interested in the kitchen in the first place. One of the greatest things Julia Child ever did in the kitchen was to get as many people as possible to divorce themselves from recipes and instead learn techniques. Who cares what the recipe is? If you know the technique you can riff a hundred variations and make something truly wonderful and remarkable for family and friends without stressing about having the right ingredients.
Happy Birthday, Julia Child. You were truly remarkable. You were one of the original Gastrophysicists. And I thank you very much.
Child, Julia, Louisette Bertholle, Simone Beck. Mastering the art of French cooking. New York: Knopf, 1961.
Child, Julia, Alex Prud’homme. My life in France. New York: Knopf, 2006.
1 4-5lb chicken cleaned.
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
Salt and pepper.
Various herbs and spices as you see fit.
Citrus as you see fit, sliced
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Your posts always make me so hungry and its 9am! I saw that amazon now has reruns of "The French Chef" available for streaming. It made me want to go back and check some of them out. I remember watching her show when I was a kid for the same reason you started to: because her accent was so hilarious.
If it makes you feel any better, it could be worse. My roommates complain about expanding waistlines.
I'd gladly take on that burden if you were my roomie ;)