Public Release: 

How science sizzles in the modern kitchen

American Chemical Society

WASHINGTON, Aug. 4, 2014 -- Some of the world's finest chemists don't wear lab coats. Instead, they don aprons and toques, and masterfully meld their passion for cooking with a growing awareness of the science behind the culinary arts. The results are driving an extraordinary expansion of our cuisine and transforming ordinary meals into fabulous feasts. That's according to a group of prominent chefs, authors and culinary educators who will speak on Sunday, August 10, from 9 a.m. until noon, at the 248th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS), the world's largest scientific society.

The meeting, attended by thousands of scientists, will feature nearly 12,000 reports on new advances in science and other topics. It takes place Aug. 10 through 14 in San Francisco at the Moscone Center and area hotels.

"This is a great time to examine the intersection of culinary arts and science," says César Vega, Ph.D., who is at Mars, Inc., and is editor-in-chief and co-author of The Kitchen as a Laboratory. "Science is helping to put a lot of new culinary experiences on our tables. With it, chefs have many new tools at their disposal to manipulate the sensation, the flavor and the color of the foods they're able to put on a plate."

Science is enabling culinary experts to see food differently, says Guy Crosby, Ph.D., the co-author of The Science of Good Cooking, who organized today's symposium, called "Trends in Cooking Science."

"Traditional methods of cooking are making way for new insights into cooking based on science, especially chemistry, the central science in food and cooking," Crosby says. "This melding of science with the culinary arts will continue as chefs become more comfortable and knowledgeable with the applications of science to cooking, and as food scientists see opportunities to apply their science in the kitchen."

But to keep this momentum moving forward, Vega says culinary science needs funding for more basic research. Researchers, he adds, also should be looking for ways to make these advances more widely available to the general public. "We need to think a bit more about the social benefit of culinary scientific research. This type of research isn't just for restaurants' sake," Vega said. "This is to make people at home eat and cook better."

In addition to Vega, the symposium will feature Harold McGee, Ph.D., author of On Food and Cooking, considered by many to be the seminal book on the scientific approach in the kitchen.

While the science of food and cooking has become popular in the past 15 years, McGee points out that this connection has been around for a long time. A member of the Royal Society of London, for instance, invented the pressure cooker in the 1680s. This development occurred at about the same time as other scientists were determining how gases act under pressure and other conditions.

"Nowadays," McGee says, "food scientists, who have historically neglected small-scale food preparation in favor of industrial manufacturing, are collaborating with professional cooks, who make their work much more visible to the general public."

Other symposium speakers include:

  • Jeff Potter, author of Cooking for Geeks, who will describe several everyday scientific reactions, such as the Maillard reaction (involved in searing meats and toasting bread) that every cook should know and understand.

  • Ali Bouzari, Ph.D., a culinary scientist and consultant, who will explain how a better understanding of the functional components in foods is allowing chefs to explore using ingredients in new and unexpected ways.

  • Christopher Loss, Ph.D., director of menu research and development at the Culinary Institute of America, who will describe the Institute's cross-disciplinary curriculum.

Crosby, McGee, Potter and Vega will sign copies of their books after the symposium.


The American Chemical Society is a nonprofit organization chartered by the U.S. Congress. With more than 161,000 members, ACS is the world's largest scientific society and a global leader in providing access to chemistry-related research through its multiple databases, peer-reviewed journals and scientific conferences. Its main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio.

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A press conference on this topic will be held Monday, August 11, at 1 p.m. Pacific time in the Moscone Center, North Building. Reporters may check in at Room 113 in person, or access live video of the event and ask questions at the ACS Ustream channel


'Question everything': Science in the modern restaurant kitchen

Harold McGee, Ph.D., Curious Cook


Cooking is a kind of practical chemistry, the deliberate transformation of natural materials into more desirable forms of nourishment. Scientists have been influencing cooks since the time of Isaac Newton, but the last decade has brought an explosion of interest in the science of cooking, and on both sides. Today restaurant chefs collaborate with chemists and sensory psychologists, and Harvard University offers a regular undergraduate course on cooking, and an associated MOOC, taught by scientists and chefs. Key to this development has been the growing importance of innovation in the culinary world.


Enhancing science education and developing a cross-disciplinary research program through the culinary medium

Christopher Loss, Ph.D., The Culinary Institute of America


Scientific literacy is the new literacy, and cooking and feeding can engage undergraduates to develop this literacy and enhance their critical thinking and problem solving skills. The culinary medium (i.e. ingredients, cooking techniques, and human senses) presents a unique and valuable opportunity for educators to engage students with principles of chemistry, physics, and biology and spark interests in research and scientific inquiry. The Culinary Institute of America's Department of Culinary Science has developed a cross-disciplinary curriculum that provides academic scaffolding for experiential science education. Courses in the Culinary Science major include Culinary Chemistry, Heat Transfer and the Physical Properties of Food, Flavor Science and Perception, and Microbial Ecology of the Kitchen, amongst other kitchen-lab-based, research-focused classes. This presentation will describe the core principles and key learning objectives of the field of Culinary Science. Peer-reviewed research conducted in the Culinary Science Department, that brings together chefs, scientists, and students, will also be discussed.


Applied culinary science: Restaurant cooking elevated through scientific insight

Ali Bouzari, Ph.D., University of Calif., Davis


For years, chefs' intimate interaction with food on a daily basis endowed them with extensive empirical knowledge about the behavior of food systems, yet they lacked understanding of the fundamental chemical and physical principles inherent to cooking. In the past few decades, chefs have begun to collaborate with the scientific community to gain greater understanding of their medium, which has given rise to the field of culinary science. In the world's most acclaimed kitchens, avant-garde and traditionalist chefs alike are implementing this knowledge to achieve fascinating results ranging from understanding microbial ecology in order to make complex, innovative fermented products to using sensory science to evaluate the flavor of their creations with unprecedented precision.


Culinary science at home

Jeff Potter


What are the recent trends in culinary science? How can science change the way you approach the kitchen? New tools and techniques allow you to create experiences that even a decade ago were only within the reach of high-end restaurants. Better "mental models" about the science of what happens as food cooks can change the way you think about preparing a meal. In this session, we'll look at the recent trends in science and food along with a few of the modern culinary techniques that you might enjoy trying at home.


From Savarin, Adria & Blumenthal via von Liebig, Kurti & McGee: What does the future hold for the science of cooking?

César Vega, Ph.D., Mars, Inc.


It is no longer news that chefs are seasoning their craft with more than a pinch of science and simmering them within a technological stock. It has also become less exceptional that food science departments incorporate some elements of (the science of) cooking in their curricula. That begs the question: Are the 'scientific' approach to cooking and the culinary-based approach to (food) science here to stay? The genuine interest on the phenomenon of cooking from those practicing the 'pure sciences' (e.g. physics); the creation of 'culinary science' programs in cooking schools; the creation of ElBulli Foundation; and the growing list of (peer-reviewed) publications on these topics seem to indicate that the answer is yes. While I welcome all these activities, I think there is a need for a more articulated and cohesive vision of the social benefits that these approaches enable. I will take a stab at this and offer my own vision; because only with a vision we can secure the much needed funding to continue to make the case that all cooking is molecular.

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