Harvard's Science & Cooking lecture series launched its fifth season last night, bringing world-renowned chefs and scientists to Cambridge, Massachusetts to give weekly talks to the public, lasting through the fall. In all, there will be fourteen lectures. First up, veterans of the series: Dave Arnold of Booker and Dax (a New York City bar in the Momofuku empire) and Harold McGee, an author who literally wrote the book on science and cooking — the definitive On Food & Cooking: The Science & Lore of the Kitchen, which was originally published in 1984.
As with all the lectures, Harvard's Michael Brenner, Glover Professor of Applied Mathematics and Applied Physics, gave the introduction. He led with a famous quote from Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin: "The discovery of a new dish confers more happiness on humanity than the discovery of a new star." (Brillat-Savarin published his book, Physiologie du Goût (The Physiology of Taste), in 1825. Nowadays, it's available for free on the internet.) The quote set the stage well for the series in general but in particular for last night's talk, which was dubbed "A Look at the Last 20 Years." In it, Arnold and McGee reviewed the past several decades in the ever-growing sphere of science and cooking, pinpointing some of the key players and musing about the next big obsessions in the field (spoiler alert: fermentation). This year, the duo didn't do any demonstrations; last year, Arnold caused an evacuation of the hall due to a malfunctioning cereal-puffing cannon.