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Chocolate sauce is poured into canola oil to create 'pearls' to be used to garnish a dessert. The Culinary Institute of America is pumping up science instruction, saying chefs will need it in the age of molecular gastronomy.
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BY MICHAEL HILL
HYDE PARK, N.Y.--The basics of a culinary education are getting a little less basic at the Culinary Institute of America.
Recognizing that, for the chefs of tomorrow, well-honed knife skills and a mastery of the mother sauces won't be enough, the culinary school is pumping up its curriculum with a host of science lab-worthy tools and techniques.
"Today's chef compared to a chef 30 years ago needs to know so much more," CIA president Tim Ryan said recently. "The industry, the profession, is so much more complicated."
Basic cooking lectures at times sound more like a chemistry lesson, covering the culinary uses of xanthan gum, or the physics of why oil and water won't mix. And just this month, the school was approved to offer a new major in culinary science, a field encompassing food science and culinary arts.
A recent class covered making desserts via liquid nitrogen. Chef Francisco Migoya carefully dunked strawberries into a smoking container of the super-cold liquid, then shattered them with a mallet and ground the shards into a berry dust. It's true: French chef Auguste Escoffier never studied ion-dipole attraction and James Beard never had to consider the creations of molecular gastronomy. But science has crept into cooking and now incorporates scientific principles into the making and presentation of the food.
Practitioners even have a manifesto: "Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking," a 2,438-page text published last year by Nathan Myhrvold, the first chief technology officer at Microsoft.
Ryan stresses that scientific skills are increasingly necessary not only in multi-star restaurants, but in the corporate kitchens and research labs many of his school's graduates will work in.
Freshmen being put through their paces preparing fish and carrots on a recent weekday morning in a kitchen classroom already were getting the message. While any line cook knows to finish off a sauce with butter, chef Elizabeth Briggs wants her students to know why. They have to have a detailed understanding of what's going on inside the pot.
"It's emphasized in this class it's the difference between a chef and a cook," said Janelle Turcios of Pittsburgh, working a range as she made a vin blanc sauce.