Yeast

By Sonia Dovedy

The dense odor overwhelms my nose while walking down the supermarket aisle. I’m looking for a simple bottle of water so that I can quaff my thirst in this wind-chill. Turns out, the bottled water section just so happens to share shelf space with…the bread section.

You know, ten weeks ago, I would have just described this scent as “bread,” and I would hardly have been irritated by the fumes. But today, I know that this smell is something deeper than that, something I have smelled so often these past weeks. And that pungently unpleasant, suffocatingly sharp group of molecules emanating from the packages across from me is quite plainly yeast.

I dash out of there as fast as I can.

Did you know that yeast is the catalyst in the chemical reaction that turns lovely little sweetheart grapes into alcohol and CO2? Also known as vin, VINO, wein, vinho, and oh yes, wine.

Chemistray graphic

It feels amazing to be back in school! I just finished my first summer course of my program, An Introduction to Wine Level 1. Doesn’t that sound like fun?

So, yes, I tasted a ton of wines, but this class went far beyond simply enjoying wine. (In actuality, we hardly consumed any wine, as spitting is essential to bringing out the residual tastes and textures in the mouth.) This course was about meeting the wine, sensing its personality, understanding its roots, its values, its character, and tapping into our own sense organs.

For example, I now understand a dry spicy Riesling. It likes to be chilly, thriving in regions such as Alsace, France, and prides itself on being quite sour, crispy, and refreshing. I also understand that if a red wine is harshly astringent, it is probably just too young and excited. It needs some time to grow up. Age and maturation will soften the tannins.

I could share cool things with you about wine all day, but what I really want to talk about is the evolution that took place within me during this course.

Let me back up a little.

Class One. We all arrive. I have just come from yoga class, so naturally I am in yoga attire. Behind me is a stay-at-home mom. There are two disheveled-looking boys who have just gotten off their shifts at a restaurant, a few girls my age. There is a wine-expert-in-suit and a gentleman-in-light-pink-lacoste-shirt-and-boating-shoes. Very eclectic crowd. We line up our glasses as our professor passes around our first wine, showing us how to observe, smell, swish, sip, and spit.

So the first thing I notice is that this wine is definitely red. Well that was a cinch. I put my nose in the glass, and I am getting the smell of, hmm, well…honestly it just smells like the smell of wine. This is a silly class, I think.

Meanwhile, I glance around to see wine-expert-in-suit furiously swishing his wine in the glass and making chewing noises as he spits out into the spit cup. Strange. Disheveled #1 is scribbling and scratching his disheveled hair. What is so fascinating to note? Stay-at-home-mom is in deep contemplation. Boating-shoes raises his hand and affirmatively states, “I smell cherry cola, good leather, and a hint of pepper.”

What?!? I look at him in disbelief and submerge my nose back into the wine, trying to pick up anything, anything at all. That doesn’t work, and instead makes me sneeze. I doubt whether I will ever be a decent wine taster. Oh boy.

Slowly, surely, effortlessly, the world around me has started to change for my little nose. I open my cupboard and at once, the aromas of dried figs and those dried currants hidden up in the corner jump out at me — YES, I remember these scents from my red Bordeaux wine. The dust of cocoa powder that flutters up when I open the box instantly brings clarity to that bitterness that I sensed in the Chilean Cabernet. Green bell peppers, olives, nutmeg, cumin, new tennis balls, grass, green apples, and more come to life. I’ve started to pause during my day and pay attention to different things that I perceive in the nose, making little mental notes in my olfactory’s factory.

I like to close my eyes and visualize different things that I have smelled before, when I search for what is “in the nose” of the wine. A little conversation takes place, of memory, recollection, and the present moment.

Do I sense those lemon piths that make me wrinkle my nose? Or is it oxidation from a browned apple core that was sitting out on the counter today? Cooked fruits from Thanksgiving pies? Or fresh fruits from the springtime? Yes, this one takes me back to kindergarten, to the peach syrup from those canned peaches Mom used to pack me for school. This one reminds me of mildewy sweat from the yoga room. That one of wet-wipes — yuck. I smell gushers and Robitussin cough syrup. Yuck again.

Fast-forward to Class Five, and I am really starting to get the hang of this. Together, my comrades and I enter into a deep discussion about the nuances in each glass. As my nose opens up, I become more chatty and daring, sharing what I actually do smell, even if it’s something silly, like “a forest”. Sometimes, people even agree with me, which is something I never thought would be possible in Class One! Our disagreements are what really make things interesting. We stimulate new ideas and we laugh at the crazy things that come up in our noses. For instance, Disheveled #2 always finds a way to smell “basement” and “cigars”. And sometimes he is right. It’s a subjective study indeed.

What I realize is that in order to taste wine properly, you have to pay attention to the fragrances that surround you. It requires a keen sense of imagination. And it is much more enjoyable with a friend to bounce ideas off of.

What’s more, I find the practice of wine tasting to be much like yoga.

Let me try to explain.

Yoga postures, or asanas, exercise each cell in the body to sharpen and sensitize your physical awareness. Wine tasting exercises my nose and my brain’s power to remember and recall smells. In just nine short weeks, my nose has become sharper and pointier, like Pinocchio minus the telling lies part. I’ve realized that I rely so much on my sense of sight, and that perhaps sight is overrated. Smelling and tasting sense organs on their own are far more incredible in the details of information that they can provide.

Learning wine has strengthened something within and is starting to teach me a bit more about myself. Just like yoga, this study is refining my insides like a pencil sharpener. My goodness. This world is too exciting. I think it calls for a celebration, don’t you?

Cheers to wellness, spontaneity, and refreshing imaginations.

You can find this post and others on Sonia Dovedy’s food, yoga, travel blog at Bake with Sonia.

Exploring The Culinary Arts Certificate Program – And Why You Should Take It

Jacques Pepin instructs students how to
Jacques Pepin instructs students how to debone a chicken.

by Audrey Reid

The Culinary Arts Certificate Program at Boston University is one of a kind. It was founded by Julia Child and Jacques Pepin in 1989 when Pepin suggested turning their highly successful cooking seminars into a full semester course. The program was designed around French cuisine and technique but also highlights other ethnic dishes and cooking styles. The intent was not necessarily to produce chefs – although graduates have certainly pursued that goal – but to teach those interested in food how to cook. 

A class of 8-12 students has been held every semester since its beginning, and Pepin still makes guest appearances to teach. There are a few core instructors but the majority of classes are taught by a rotation of Boston’s best chefs (think diversity but also networking). The program also takes field trips to stage in local kitchens, visit producers, and work with other food professionals like writers and photographers. Additionally, students are exposed to cooking in volume by hosting large events for the Seminars in Food, Wine & the Arts. Upon graduation, students are very well rounded in cuisines, techniques, methodology, and Boston food culture.

IMG_2455
Culinary students preparing birthday cakes for Julia Child’s 100th birthday celebration.

Whether students want to go into the kitchen, use their knowledge to support other academic work, or just want to make dinner for friends and family, the Culinary Arts Certificate Program is worth every minute. 

If you aren’t convinced that you need to take this class, perhaps Katherine Shae and Tianyu (Cici) Ji can persuade you. Katherine and Cici are MLA Gastronomy students currently taking the Culinary Arts Program and were interviewed about their experience (and love for!) the class.

Interview with Katherine Shea, expected graduation in May 2014

  • Tell us a little bit about yourself.
  • I’m from West Hartford, CT. Most of my jobs previous to working in the food industry were related to teaching (both of my parents were teachers). I did a sustainable agriculture program in Italy for the last semester of my bachelors at UCONN and that is what prompted me to apply for the gastronomy program. Since the switch to gastronomy/food industry I’ve worked at a restaurant (Front of House) in Cape Cod, Whole Foods (Specialty), Allandale Farm and a couple other farms in Maine for the summer.
  • How far along in the program are you and what do you plan to do after graduation?
  • This is my last semester in the program and I am not entirely sure what I want to do with the degree but I would love to be in the field of Agriculture (perhaps policy).
  • Why did you chose to take the culinary arts certificate class? 
  • It is definitely the best class I’ve taken in the program. I chose to take it because I went to a Jacques Pepin lecture last year with my class and a fellow Gastronomy student asked Jacques what advice he has for people going into the field. His response was to start with learning how to cook. He explained how anything related to food: food writing, policy, business, all stems from the basics of cooking. Recently, our class had the pleasure of having Sheryl Julian visit and she reiterated that same notion. She explained that her training in Culinary allows her to understand exactly what it takes to make a dish that she is critiquing.
  • What do you hope to do with your culinary training?
  • I know that I won’t work in a professional kitchen after the program, but I am sure that the skills I’ve learned will be useful in my life and future career.
  • Would you recommend the class and why?
  • Until the Culinary program, I had no idea how much was behind just cooking. The technique and skill involved is amazing, and learning from the best chefs in Boston is an incredible experience. I think everyone in the Gastronomy program could benefit from trying the culinary program. I strongly urge Gastronomy students to take the culinary class, you will learn a ton, have fun, and make great connections in Boston!
Katherine and Cici hard at work.
Katherine and Cici hard at work.

Interview with Tianyu (Cici) Ji, expected graduation in December 2014

  • Where are you from? 
  • Beijing, China
  • Why did you choose the Gastronomy Program?
  • The Gastronomy program is a good combination of academic and hands-on experience.
  • What do you plan to do after graduation?
  • I would like to have a restaurant after studying in major food countries.
  • Why did you chose to take the culinary arts certificate class?
  • The culinary arts program is a one-of-a-kind experience in the world. Our instructors are from the business in Boston, and what they do are not only about techniques, but also good attitudes of persons in the industry. I learned a great deal from each and every one of them.
  • What do you enjoy about the culinary arts program?
  • The intensive program is well designed. There is one field trip almost every week plus special events in the semester. The chefs/instructors are helpful in the kitchen. I got the chance to stage in some of the best kitchens in Boston. This experience is so unique.
  • What has been your favorite dish to learn to cook?
  • I can’t really name a favorite dish, because they are all so fantastic. Cooking is not difficult, but it takes practice to make the good food right.
  • What has been the hardest part about the class?
  • Remembering the dishes in a short time. Learn to cook efficiently with recipes. Take notes.
      • Would you recommend the class, and why?
      • There is no better way to learn about food except for cooking it and tasting it. The culinary arts program allows me to think of food in a classic perspective and that is always important before going deeper about the gastronomic aspects. After all, food is for people to enjoy. I would be a great loss were I not in the culinary arts program.

        IMG_1283
        Foie gras with figs and port.

For more information about the Culinary Arts Certificate Program, you can visit their webpage at http://www.bu.edu/foodandwine/culinary-arts/, email cularts@bu.edu, or call 617-353-9852.

Audrey Reid is president of the Gastronomy Students Association, manager of the Gastronomy at BU blog, and in her final semester of the Gastronomy Program. She has a BS in Chemistry, is a graduate of the Culinary Arts Program, and is earning her MLA with a concentration in Food Policy.