For three hours each Friday last spring, it was me and 15 other students at Arrillaga working our way around the Teaching Kitchen in our chef hats and closed-toed shoes, sautéing, searing, chopping. We were in BIOE 32Q: “Bon Appétit, Marie Curie! The Science Behind Haute Cuisine,” an introsem for sophomores.
For about an hour each class, Professor Markus Covert would teach us the physics and chemistry and biology we would need to know to prepare the day’s meal before we made our way to the kitchen. We conducted experiments on potatoes, on steak. We learned about colloidal suspension, clear dispersions, gels and emulsions before we went into the kitchen to make sauces. We used molecular gastronomy to make balsamic vinegar into spheres, to gelify basil into long green noodles. We learned about acid-base titrations to make salad dressings, read up on Saccharomyces cerevisiae before we made pizza dough, used sous vide to cook aged steak. And lucky for us, we could eat it all afterwards.
This class was the best way for me to spend my Fridays. Not only was I learning how to apply the principles of chemistry I learned the year before to a setting outside of the lab (hello, Clausius-Clapeyron Equation), I was learning about culture. How people around the world cook. How they eat. As the course progressed, I thought of the various Ways of Thinking/Ways of Doing requirements this course could fill based on the territory it chartered: We were engaging diversity (ED) whenever we considered the French culinary tradition; we used the scientific method and analysis (SMA) as well as formal reasoning (FR) each time science informed our cooking; we used aesthetic inquiry (A-II) and creative expression (CE) when we practiced cooking as one would a form of art.
Not to mention, I was learning a life skill that college students are notorious for not having: how to prepare my own food. In this way, cooking courses are similar to wellness courses, in that they give students practical skills they need to take care of themselves and make informed, health-conscious decisions. The problem is, only a handful of students a year get to have this experience.
While there are a couple of classes offered for students who want to learn how to cook, these classes are often oversubscribed or notoriously hard to get into. For example, FRENLANG 60E: “French Cooking” fills up almost immediately after course enrollment opens on Axess. And in the case of BIOE 32Q, many students apply for the few seats available, which makes the enrolling process a competitive and often stressful one, as described in a Daily article published a few weeks ago.
Stanford leads in the humanities, in engineering, in computer science — in virtually every field of study the University offers. The few cooking courses offered on campus, in their favor with students and alignment with the University’s educational values, should be supplemented by others so that more students can have the chance to take them.
Contact Amanda Rizkalla at amariz ’at’ stanford.edu.