Spring Lecture Series Recap: Molecularizing Taste at the Intersection of Biochemistry and French Cuisine

Roosthlecture2by Marleena Eyre

Molecular gastronomy, a hot trend in the food world in recent years, tends to evoke either quizzical or enthusiastic looks from food nerds—including many of us who are in the BU Gastronomy program. Chefs Ferran Adrià of El Bulli, Heston Blumenthal of The Fat Duck, and Pierre Gagnaire of Restaurant Pierre Gagnaire come to mind as ringleaders who helped to popularize this movement of manipulating the molecular structure of food. Their restaurants often have long waitlists, with some reaching up to four years.

roosthThose curious to learn more, along with my Food and the Senses class (ML 715), attended Molecularizing Taste at the Intersection of Biochemistry and French Cuisine on April 22,2014. Presented by Sofia Roosth, Ph.D., Assistant Professor at Harvard University, the lecture spotlighted taste and its relationship to science and culinary heritage.

Roosth, an anthropologist of science, spoke about the ethnographic research she performed in Paris, France on molecular gastronomy. She studied the work of Hervé This, a physical chemist and one of the founding fathers of food science, alongside his research assistants in his AgroParisTech lab, part of Institut National de la Recherche Agrnomique (INRA).

Originally known as molecular and physical gastronomy, molecular gastronomy debunks the how and why behind cooking. It is used in conjunction with technoscience, a term that Roosth defines as the combination of technology and science. Methods used to study the chemical compositions of foods include nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy and thin-layer chromatography. 

RoosthLecture1Delving deeper into discovering the science behind food, This set out to improve the cooking and dining experience. He built off the works of Marie-Antoine Carême and Auguste Escoffier, who codified old wives’ tales in recipes to prove why they worked (or why they didn’t).

However, when brought into a restaurant, molecular gastronomy extends beyond the field of science and enters the realm of performance art. Typically, diners are presented with a multi-course menu where each dish builds off the previous to defy culinary conventions. The beauty behind the scientific approach to food is that each step of the cooking process can be analyzed, deconstructed to its elements, and applied to creating everything from foams made with lecithin or instant ice cream made with liquid nitrogen. Chefs manipulate diners’ senses, leaving them with a new perspective on the culinary arts.

 Manipulating food in the culinary world isn’t the only application of molecular gastronomy. Roosth mentioned that it could potentially be used to tackle food insecurity in developing countries as well. Many research centers around the world are using technoscience to create food products aimed at helping reverse this chronic issue.

 While ending world hunger is a huge feat in itself, molecular gastronomy can be used in a multitude of ways and will be here for some time.

Marleena Eyre is a second year Gastronomy student, an editorial intern at NoshOn.It, and blogs at The Flex Foodie. When she’s not studying or writing about food, she can be found paging through cookbooks at her local bookstores or sculling on the Charles River with her rowing team. She can be reached at marleenaeyre@gmail.com.

Spring Lecture Series Recap: Leading Between the Vines

By Ariel Knoebel

On April 17th, the Gastronomy Program was graced with the effervescent presence of Terry Theise, a renowned wine importer and German wine specialist. Theise is known for his holistic approach to wine and his advocacy for small-scale production. As he describes it, “small scale wine stirs the soul in a way organization wine cannot.” 

Fans of Theise’s notoriously colorful tasting notes, which forego traditional descriptors of fruit and oak to instead compare vintages to overeager dogs, seductive temptresses, and bolts of lightning, would have been pleased with the content of the evening. Theise casually spun stories throughout the presentation, conversing with the audience as if we were all old friends (probably because many in the front rows actually were), and speaking candidly and authoritatively on small-scale wine production without abandoning his signature flare for language. Of course, the poetics did not stop with the main event: a screening of his impressionistic film, Leading Between the Vines.  

Theise introduced his film as a “love letter to the German Riesling culture,” a fitting description for this careful portrait of small growers along the Rhine River and the wines they so painstakingly produce. The film runs just under an hour, and introduces viewers to a series of family owned wineries and the people that keep them alive. It explores identity, authenticity, and heritage through the lens of terroir to portray how authentic wines connect flavor to soil, people to land, generations to each other, and each family to a larger culture. Like a good glass of wine, the film united its consumers to the vineyard in a way beyond the superficial, and allowed the audience a look into the realities—good and bad—of the beautiful world of wine production.

When asked about his objective for the film, Theise explained that he was hoping people would walk away thinking, “I don’t know much about wine, but that sure seems like a meaningful way to live a life.” Certainly, the stories shared by the film’s winemakers and the passion they clearly held for their work, set against the breathtaking backdrop of centuries old vineyards and a carefully selected soundtrack, left viewers with a new appreciation for the love inside each bottle. As the film says, “the love you give to the vines, they give you back.” 

Ariel Knoebel is a first year student of the Gastronomy program. When she isn’t planning her next meal, Ariel can be found perfecting her handstand, reading at her favorite coffee shop, or seeking out dogs to pet on the Esplanade.  

Announcing: the Graduate Journal of Food Studies

“As a community of food-studies scholars, we show that food and drink can be valuable lenses through which interdisciplinary questions can fruitfully explored, while at the same time being mindful that in seeing through food we don’t continue to ignore the medium itself as a mere means to other ends. The specificity of food matters. The Graduate Journal of Food Studies hopes to be a forum that furthers the study of food by giving voice to a nascent cohort of interested scholars and encouraging dialogue that transcends disciplinary boundaries.”
– Brad Jones (’14), Founding Editor-in-Chief

by Chris Maggiolo

Spearheaded by BU Gastronomy alumnus Brad Jones (’14), the Graduate Journal of Food Studies engages masters and doctoral students from around the world in the field’s first student-run and peer-edited academic journal. Seeking to tie together a growing and diverse student body, the journal exists as a space in which students may present independent research, offer book reviews, and otherwise connect with peers throughout the academic arena of food studies.

While at its core a student driven product, the Graduate Journal of Food Studies also includes a sizable and very respectable faculty advisory committee, listed below. World renowned scholars and educators aided the journal’s founding editors from start to finish. Without their support, this fantastic undertaking would not have been possible.

Faculty Advisory Board

Ken Albala (University of the Pacific)
Patricia Allen (Marylhurst)
Rachel Ankeny (Adelaide)
Warren Belasco (UMBC)
Amy Bentley (NYU)
Rachel Black (Boston University)
Melissa Caldwell (UCSC)
Simone Cinotto (UNISG)
Carole Counihan (Millersville University)
Lisa Heldke (Gustavus Adulphus)
Alice Julier (Chatham)
Jane Kauer (Penn)
Fabio Parasecoli (New School)
Heather Paxson (MIT)
Amy Trubek (UVM)
David Szanto (Concordia)
Harry West (SOAS)
Andrea Wiley (IU)

The efforts and contributions of former and current Boston University Gastronomy students also played a pivotal role in the journal’s premiere edition. The founding editorial board is comprised of many Boston University students. These students not only peer-reviewed submissions, but they also designed the layout, produced artwork, and created the journal’s website. Furthermore, the journal’s first issue features articles by Emily Contois (’13) and Miki Kawasaki (’14) as well as book reviews by Chris Maggiolo (’14) and Brad Jones (’14). Wine and Culture: Vineyard to Glass, by BU Gastronomy professor Rachel Black, was among the books reviewed in this edition.

In the upcoming months, the Graduate Journal of Food Studies will be accepting submissions for its second issue. Students working on food-related research projects are encouraged to apply. Please refer to the About section of the journal website for submission guidelines. If current students wish to participate in the journal’s production, the committee is currently seeking a new editorial staff. Please submit inquiries to gastrmla@bu.edu.


Chris Maggiolo (’14) is a recent alumni of the Boston University MLA in Gastronomy program and was a founding associate editor of the Graduate Journal of Food Studies. He currently works in the Boston Greater Area as a beverage industry and artisanal food consultant and as a freelance writer and photographer. www.chrismaggiolo.com