Friday, October 22, 2010

Is cooking an art or a science?

I love to cook, I really do, but cooking every day can get a bit boring and tedious when you are a father of two young boys and half of your cooking time involves keeping tiny hands away from the stove/oven and the counter top where you are cutting and working. However, as one who failed chemistry, the first time, will tell you, science is hard at first and then easy on the second run.

What am I dribbling about?

Molecular Gastronomy is the fancy way of saying 'art of cooking' without the art part but meaning more of the science of cooking.  With cooking you learn how to boil and egg and how to make ice.  But, with the science part, the molecular gastronomy part, you learn why the egg cooks and how the ice is formed from the water.

In a container pour 250 grams of H2O and submit to sub-freezing temperatures of 32 degrees F or below.

Why does ice form?  As the water becomes colder, the liquid condenses to the point where it becomes a solid.  Knowing this, and knowing that each crystal that forms in ice is important to its structure can give someone the information to play with it; perhaps by making ice cream or sorbets.  Once you have the science down, you can do whatever you want within the rules of the formula and therefore use art and creativity.  So, perhaps the art could follow the science.

On the other hand, inventors over time pretty much decided to do things through trial and error and not cared about the science, in a way.  If I mix chocolate sauce and milk together and create chocolate sauce, I am not trying to come up with a new balance of chocolate particles swimming in the immersion.  I will not measure the chocolate down to the gram and the milk as well as try many different experiments to see which one of which amounts I like the most.  I will simply squeeze the bottle a bit longer for more chocolate.  Its not science, its creativity and fun. 

Now, my wife decided to cook a chicken this week.  It is simple science: you clean the chicken, cook it on all sides in a hot pan to get the skin done a bit.  Then you place it in a Dutch Oven for about 20 minutes per pound at 350 degrees F and then an additional 15 minutes after that.  Our 7 pound bird was stuffed with some fresh herbs, from our garden, along with a mix of vegetables that were cut and placed inside here with some water. A bit over two hours later, this is what came out.  There is a science behind it and we know that if we place it in the oven for this long that it will come out cooked, filling the whole house with that indistinguishable smell of roasted chicken, and any liquid in the pot as well will be the best tasting broth we have ever had.  My wife knew this, she knew this would happen, so after she had the science down, she went on with the recipe, her way, by adding her own mix of herbs and vegetables.

Is my wife and expert scientist?  No, but she can cook well and that shows you that art can come after the science.  I am thinking of only our examples in this case, but am almost certain that art follows the science when cooking, just like the form follows the function.

Does anyone else think the same or different?

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