Yesterday we had the opportunity to attend a lecture by Herve This. In short he is a physical chemist who loves cooking and has enough passion and opinion to fill Giant's Stadium. In many ways Herve This is a mystery to chefs and cook alike, particularly those who do not speak and read French.
In recent months, his book, Molecular Gastronomy Exploring the Science of Flavor, has begun to fill bookshelves and desktops, mainly do to the fact that it has been translated into English. To be frank, I enjoy the book though currently it generates more questions than answers. But, questions are good as they promote thought, conversation and an examination of ideas.
Herve This brought these questions and more to the lecture he gave at the French Culinary Institute. The room was packed with students and professors. Aki and I were there more for me and she noted that the room was filled primarily with guys, stating "they are the ones who are into all this molecular gastronomy stuff." Well, I am not sure if it is a guy thing or just a gadget thing and the fact that guys like gadgets.
And This began the lecture, speaking of the origins of molecular gastronomy, its vision and approach and the changes it has undergone since inception. We were also informed that when This speaks of Pierre, he means only Pierre Gagnaire. Let's be frank, I attended the lecture to uncover mysteries, dissolve false notions and come away with ideas. Much of what was shown can be taken from the book. Though it is inspiring to witness the passion and inspiration This has for the subject, something the book does not quite present.
Anyway back to Herve This. After the first hour of snippets and focused culinary stream of consciousness presentation , (perhaps the set up for our minds) This began with his experiments, formulas and ideas. And this is where my brain took off. Again, my mind is like a rubber ball and goes everywhere and anywhere.
Amidst the slide presentations and the variety of egg experiments, This noted that collagen denatures at 55 degrees C in meat, and that an associate of his found that fish from cold and warm water have collagen that denatures at different temperatures. I raised my hand and asked for a source of the findings though I was unable to scribble down the names of the French individuals fast enough. I will email him later.
The importance of the temperature of 55 degrees C is really important to me. I have been continuously trying to further my own education and am constantly trying to unearth facts and then justify them. Most recently our friend Tony Maws of Craigie Street Bistro had an in depth class with the French food scientist Bruno Goussault, regarded as a zen master in sous vide cookery. Well, after Tony's continued education, which he has been kind enough to filter through to me via tantalizing and tempting emails, he had a much clearer vision and approach to sous vide cookery. One key point which we have discussed before and after his classes was the denaturing point of collagen. After his work with Goussault, Tony had the temperature of 55 degrees C for cooking short ribs. That means that collagen would denature at or around 55 degrees C. Well, I still doubted or at least wanted concrete proof. I also had questions about the amount of time needed to cook ingredients at such a temperature and whether or not the large amounts of time are beneficial or beneficial enough to tie up machinery for so long.
The lecture yesterday reintroduced the denaturing point of collagen to my thoughts and provided another point of reference to begin asking questions. Unfortunately, I still do not have the answers. We have happily cooked short ribs at 67 degrees C for 24 hours which yielded a melting tender product with a rosy pink interior.
And so it goes, Herve This presented ideas and theories, passion and opinion and I happily left with many new inspirations and unanswered questions.