Museum of Science and Industry


As part of "Food Day" I spoke with Jeff Potter, author of Cooking for Geeks. His book analyzes why people cook the way they do (I say "they" since I wouldn't call what I do "cooking") and highlights the chemistry behind preparing meals. And when I say "chemistry" I'm not just talking about things like Monosodium Glutamate or Red Dye #40. I'm talking about grilling a steak or sautéing onions. Most of us take it for granted but it really is chemistry.

And in chemistry, how are great things achieved? Experimentation, of course! Sure, there are recipes to help you out, but, as Jeff says in his book, it's okay to deliberately choose to try something new. A great example of this presented itself to me later that day during dinner. I was invited to the Smart Home to join five Science Achievers (these were HS juniors and seniors who participate in a program at MSI) to have a cooking class with chefs from Whole Foods Market. We learned some knife skills and followed Won, the chef, through the process of creating roasted vegetables in balsamic reduction, fresh cheese for pizza and whipped cream as part of dessert. We were then set loose to choose our pizza toppings from a kitchen full of supplies: pepperoni, green peppers, onions, different types of cheeses, powdered sugar, garlic, prosciutto, and more. Huh? What's with the confused expression? That's right, powdered sugar. While the sugar was an ingredient for the whipped cream, it didn't stop Kevin, one of the students, from sprinkling some on top. We all questioned him but he was confident. After all, what's the worst that could happen? It might ruin the pizza; who cares, we had five others. It's all about experimentation! 

That's Mr. Experimentation himself, Kevin, seen above with one of his pizzas.

So, next time you're in the kitchen, think about the chemistry behind what's going on. Why did you set the oven to 350 and not 375. Why does toasting a bagel change it's flavor? How does the rice cooker know when to stop? And do as Kevin did: experiment! With risks come rewards. And in this case that meant tasty pizza.

 And here are some more photos from the evening:

 Won preparing the veggies and teaching some knife skills

 A beautiful table set at the Smart Home

Won used lemon juice to curdle the milk (chemistry!) then cheese cloth to separate the curds from whey.

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kevin byrne


A digital marketing analyst from Chicago, Kevin is living inside the largest science museum in the Western Hemisphere for 30 days.

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