Grant Achatz’ Harvard lecture

Out of nowhere, the world’s second most prestigious university decided to create an undergraduate course on science and cooking, but this was no ordinary course. Titled “Science and Cooking: From Haute Cuisine to Soft Matter Science,” the innovative new course brought together the minds of world famous chefs and professors. Masters of the food world such as Ferran Àdria, Grant Achatz, and Wylie Dufresne presented lectures elucidating avant-garde cooking techniques and revealing three-Michelin star recipes while professors led classes in which students investigated the science behind these techniques. The students then utilized knowledge gained from both teachers to conjure up brand new ideas and perfect replications of ones they were given.

Harvard limits enrollment for the course to 300 of its undergraduate students, so out of a select group of students who get into Harvard, an even more selective handful get to experience the course. Luckily, Harvard hosted a series of public lectures to complement the course which was then posted online as videos. In the public lectures, a feature chef presents for the majority of the time after being introduced by a Harvard professor who also happens to give a brief rundown on the science behind the lecture’s topic. Personally, I wish the professors were given a fair amount of time, but even so, the videos contain a lot of great material.

One problem with the videos, though, is that they’re long and not very usable if you’re trying to cook in the kitchen. Thus, I’ve decided to transcribe the ideas in the videos and post them on Toastable.

The first video I transcribed happens to be one of my favorites of the series, Grant Achatz’ presentation on “Reinventing Food Texture & Flavor.” I’ve written the approximate time in the video that each idea was presented and a quick note about the video. Hope you enjoy!(02:00) Topic of the week is protein denaturation and coagulation. Students made a chocolate house.

(03:10) Proteins can be “cooked” in high pH liquids, high saline solutions, heat, etc. An example of eggs cooked without heat would be the “100 years-old egg,” which is cooked in a saline solution. Eggs and meats have different types of proteins that denature under different conditions. Fish “cooks” in pH below around 2.

(05:00) Proteins unfold/denature and intertwine with each other, which is cooking at the molecular level.

(06:00) Poached eggs: vinegar in water increase acidity, allowing eggs to cook more quickly

(07:00) 100 year-old egg: boil hot water, pour in a lot of salt, put eggs in a jar, allow water to cool, then pour water into the jar and seal. The eggs will cook. Variations in cooking in solution allows people to manipulate the appearance of cooked egg.

(09:00) Equation of the week presented.

(10:18) Achatz enters.

(11:13) Queues video introduction of Alinea. Beautiful video, really.

(15:00) Discussion about tastes and smells. Humans can only taste 4-5 flavors but can smell over 900 different aromas.

Aromatic candle technique: vanilla bean used as skewer, flavoring the food with smell.

Smoking cinnamon on a dish. Rosemary sprig on a plate.

(18:00) Smoking oak leaves invokes memories of fall, invigorating a fall dish.

(20:00) Video: smoking oak leaves dish construction. Pheasant breast poached sous vide. Apple cider gel. Roasted shallot, tempura fried. Carbonated water, flour, corn starch, baking soda batter.

(22:00) Capturing the aroma of grass to invoke memories of the summer. Such aromas should theoretically improve a diner’s reception to the taste of a summer dish. Fresh cut grass goes in a vaporizer, and the aroma goes into a bag. Bag gets punctured with small holes, gets put in a linen cloth, and serves as a base for plate. Weight of plate pushes out aroma from bag. The plate contains a tomato recipe.

(23:50) Video: making of summer tomato dish with grass aromas

(26:00) Chamomile tea, honey, lemon, and striped bass—ingredients that one would not usually suspect served together but work great together. Achatz simply views the tea as an herb.

(28:00) Olive oil, green olives, almond, and orange dessert. Though traditionally a savory dish, adjusting the sugar levels results in a dessert. Olive oil becomes an ice cream. Oranges become a sorbet. Almonds turn into a cookie. Olive brine pudding that’s salty balance the overwhelmingly sweet components of the dish.

(29:00) Watermelon and fish, work well when the fish used is a very specific type of fish that tastes like and smells like watermelon.

(30:00) Alinea flavors brainstorming process detailed here.

(32:00) Recipe for a white bean with assortment of flavors found here.

(35:20) Black truffle explosion: Truffle stock with animal gelatin, goes into ravioli shell and is garnished with ingredients.

(36:20) Hot and cold on the same plate, temperature contrast: Potato balls cooked in clarified butter, left hot. Hot potato soup made from cream, potatoes, black truffle which is then cooled. Dynamic temperature dish created by combining the hot potato balls with cold potato soup. A custom-made paraffin wax dish is used to separate the hot and cold until the dish reaches the diner at which point the diner can combine the two components together and immediately eat them. Parmesan cheese, chives, and black truffle (I think) garnish the dish.

(39:10) Ball of shot recipe: Celery juice, micreo (not sure how to spell this ingredient) encased apple juice, and celery leaves on top. Apple juice, salt, sugar, malic acid ball frozen then surrounded by white chocolate micreo mix. Micreo, white chocolate, horse radish, sugar, salt, distilled vinegar used to make the micreo solution that coats apple juice. Micreo allowed to solidify in freezer. Transferred to fridge to allow apple juice to melt inside while keeping the shell solid. Very thin wall, less than 1 mm.

(41:20) Dried caramel recipe: Caramel (burnt sugar and heavy cream) and tapioca maltodextrin.

(44:00) Salad cleansing juice recipe: Salad juiced, then frozen, then scraped for icy bits. Paired with vinaigrette prepared the same way. Achatz believes that true palate cleansing requires the cleanser to simply dissolve in the mouth.

(46:00) Liquid nitrogen chilled milk chocolate mousse landscape. Honey, cream, iota carageenan for honey custard. Silicon base causes creams to form into square and circle shapes. Incredibly, fascinating dish! Prepared on the diner’s table.

(51:00) Glass raspberry shards recipe: Raspberries cooked down with sugar. NH pectin added. Dripped onto sheet of acetate. Cut into shapes. Put into dehydrator until crunchy.

(54:00) Video of pineapple and bacon recipe: Bacon fat dried with tapioca maltodextrin. Pineapple prepped as sheet by using pure coat, modified tapioca starch. The sheet wraps the dried fat.

Soft, dry bacon taste combined with crunchy pineapple taste results in texture reversal which appease diners and creates a “unique eating experience.”

(57:00) Frozen and chewy. Ultra-tex 3 additive used to thicken liquid. Thickened liquid undergoes freezing to various degrees, resulting in differing textures.

Huckleberry gum recipe. Candy cane recipe. Cranberry recipe.

These foods feel like gum but dissolve after prolonged chewing. According Achatz, these are the “best type of bubble gum.”

(59:00) Flavors of inedible materials can be incorporated into a dish by extracting its aromas. For example, pine trees can be used to create a pine-flavored liquid.

(1:00:00) Pine needle liquid recipe: Pine needles pureed with water. Distilled in rotary evaporator. Distilled liquid can then be manipulated for use in dishes.

Pine sorbet created. Fish smoked in pine. Mushrooms that only grow under pine trees utilized.

(1:02:00) Hay custard recipe: Hay custard made by toasting hay then cooking it in cream. Strained to leave only liquid. Smells and tastes nutty. Results in “hay brulée.”

(1:03:00) Tobacco cream custard, peppercorn, blackberry, flower mint recipe.

(1:04:50) Applewood recipe: Tree sapling branches boiled in water to make a wood stock. Used to make ice cream. Also used in encapsulation.

(1:07:00) Cocktails turned solid via supercooled liquid. Turns into slush when poured at table.

(1:10:00) Gin and tonic cocktail with spheres of cucumber juice recipe: Flavors encapsulated and added to liquid. “Drinks within a drink.” Interesting take on bubble tea.

(1:12:00) Dried alcohol via starch dehydration recipe: Lime oil, citric acid, ground cinchona (quinine powder), powdered sugar, baking soda added. When put in mouth, the powder fizzes.

(1:14:00) Drink that slushes when served by addition of liquid to dehydrated powder.

(1:16:00) Discussion about color and its effect on food. Color of atmosphere, plates, and packaging affect perception of food.

(1:21:00) Achatz recommends these three ingredients for people who are interested in using molecular gastronomy ingredients: Xanthan gum, iota carageenan for dairy, and agar.

(1:26:00)Agar gels can be fried.

(1:27:00) Cider foam for pheasant dish
1000g apple cider (base)
12g soy lecithin

(1:29:00) IFT, International Food Technologists, produce a trade show in Chicago

About Earl

Hi, my name is Earl. I am a student who loves to analyze food and eat healthy. My careful eye for food has caused me to become interested in the science behind food and cooking, and I write about my explorations into food on my website While I believe in sticking to whole, natural foods, I'm not afraid to work with avant-garde ingredients and equipment such as constant temperature water baths and sodium alginate. I also love photography, technology, and journalism.

29. June 2011 von Earl
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