Thursday, July 14, 2011

Some new perspectives on food and perspective

Any excuse to get out of the office these days is quickly pounced upon. Due to the status of the Max Planck Institute building we don't have air conditioning, and so on hot muggy days with computers buzzing and the heat of brains athinking on all sides, all I can do is try and keep from falling asleep at my desk.

Two papers are in their last throes right now and I'm wondering how best to approach another two very interesting projects, though now is the planning stage which just means lots of reading rather than shut-up-and-calculate time. Right now I'm just digesting and so thought I'd take a bit of a break to write up about the last couple of weeks' worth of events.

Most recently, last Tuesday we had the latest Chinese speakers' meetup which saw a group of 10 of us getting together and relaxing in a beer garden, chatting away in Chinese, while the tables around us looked on a little perplexed as to quite what this was all about. I started the group expecting to get mostly non-native speakers who would want to practice their bad Chinese, but in fact it's perhaps a 80:20 native to non-native ratio, good for us, painful for them! This week though we had a couple of French students who having spent just a year studying Chinese in Shanghai, already speak it pretty well (at least from my perspective). Next time we're going to try and get 40 people for hotpot and karaoke which should make for an awesome night!

On the cooking front we had the second gastronomic experimentation evening which was hugely fun. The menu was:

1) Steak tartare, salmon tartare and tuna ceviche
2) Guacamole made with some of the left-over ingredients from the above (I garnished the tuna ceviche with a very simple avocado salad) and an excellent lasagne from the next door neighbour - who it appears has some amazing Persian recipes up her sleeve.
3) Clams, quickly seared and served with two sauces. One was with a mango and curry sauce while the other was a tarragon bearnaise - I used a little white wine vinegar with the reduction and this was a mistake, as using lemon instead would have been a lot fresher.
4) Rosemary creme brulee, thyme creme brulee and an orange creme brulee - next time we'll add cardamon to the orange mixture and try to perform proper essential oil extractions from the herbs rather than just adding them to the custard mixture.

On the cooking front also I've just finished watching the Harvard course on science and cooking, which is a wonderful look at modern gastronomy techniques and the science behind food. I have to admit that the format of the lectures doesn't work very well for me, as the first ten minutes, an introduction to some of the equations that have been used in class time, either you know it already, or it'll probably go too fast to catch anything terribly useful. So, I've been downloading the movies and going through with variable speeds (easy to do with VLC)

Some of the recipes and techniques in this one are outrageously beautiful:

In this, the head chef from Alinea talks through some incredible ideas to get season and multi-sensory experience integral into cuisine

In this, Jose Andres talks about gelation and the incredible things that one can do with modern gelling agents. He's also one of the most passionate foodies you're ever likely to watch and talks a little about the use of solar cookers in the developing world in the last part of his talk.

and this one I still haven't worked out whether it's appalling or brilliant - a bit of both I think!

Also on the food-front there's the talk by Nathan Myhrvold here talking about his book Modernist Cuisine. I think that although it's a fun talk, you don't get the idea of quite how important this book is going to be. This is the new McGee and given that McGee is the book related to cooking that I read most religiously, I need to get hold of a copy of Modernist Cuisine!

Ok, enough for now, but I'll post up a picture I took last weekend in the church by Odeonsplatz here in Munich which I popped into with a Couchsurfer who was staying for a few days:

church ceiling in munich

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