Wednesday, September 03, 2008

The Science of Cooking demo at my old high school

Well I still haven't fully recovered from several utterly sleepless nights cramming preparing for last Tuesday's Alternative Classroom Learning Experience (ACLE) at my highschool alma mater Philippine Science High School (PSHS). It's been 17 years since I graduated from "Pisay" and I was excited about this opportunity to "give back". I'd been kicking ideas around but hadn't really gotten enough focus to lay an outline down on paper. I'd spent much of the weekend bogged down in other projects, though I made some progress ACLE-wise last Friday when Papa & I drove up to Pampanga to buy 3kgs of liquid nitrogen for the demo. I had already solved the logistics problem by getting my culinary school CACS to sponsor most of the ingredients and equipment (LN2 not included, but I got Pisay to reimburse that, and I coughed up the rest for some other ingredients. Hey Hagee I forgot to pay you for the tube ice!)

So I was up all of Monday night finishing my powerpoint slides. I had trouble getting some of the videos to embed, and come presentation time they wouldn't play :( But I had fun compiling them. Next year they'll be good to go. I had scheduled to meet my team (chefschool classmates of mine that I'd arm-twisted had volunteered) at Cafe Ysabel 7am to pick up the equipment: portable 5 butane stoves, assorted pots and pans and other cooking implements (part of my discussion was to compare materials used in cooking vessel manufacture -- aluminum, stainless steel, cast iron, copper etc etc). I already had 3 crates of ingredients (I had spent some of the night before making eighteen 10-inch pizza crusts) but I had a few additional things to pick up at the grocery (peppermint gum for a demo on taste fatigue, a bag of lychee jellies for a demo on inhibiting enzymatic breakdown of proteins, and some plastic cups). I finish my groceries and then my car would not start! Call Papa, call the mechanic. Call my team to tell them to get the gear and meet me sa Pisay. Dang, I'm out of phone credits. Car started and phone reloaded, I chug over to Pisay. Now I get to haul all my gear to the bio lab by myself. Besides the crates of ingredients there's the tank of nitro, my blender, the videocam, laptop, Cafe Ysabel promotional stuff, sound equipment (1 tiny wireless lapel mic, and one monstrously heavy 300watt powered speaker) and a large cooler for the---oh dang I forgot the ice! SOS to Hagee. He'll buy the ice. Thanks, buddy! :D

It's almost 9am (class is scheduled for 10am) and my gear isn't ready, my powerpoint isn't ready, I'm physically and mentally exhausted, and I'm all alone in the lab. Worst of all, I'm not having fun. Steph arrives (she'd been forced to skip work by a busted harddrive and so was available to help out) and then Hagee, then Tim. Hagee sets up laptop and LCD projector. Tim sets up audio. Steph sets up video documentation and then she helps me set up the "kitchen" though it's all just ingredients as my cooking gear isn't there yet. I'm freaking out. I know I will have to wing this. I change shirts as I'm sweat-soaked from exertion and stress. I'm no fun to be around.

Around 9:50am students start arriving. Where the heck's my team?! I change to my chef duds and rifle through my note cards. My team calls from the gate; they're held up by security. I talk to security on the phone and they're let in. Tim meets them at the back lobby. 10am my team comes in and immediately sets up the gear. The student in charge tells me we're still waiting for 20 people (40 had signed up). I force myself to relax. Just enjoy this, JB, and the kids will too. Ma'am Docto (my Bio teacher from way back) peeks in and I say "Hi!" she asks if she can watch and I say "Sure!" (she doesn't show again)

10:40. Session begins. I am introduced, and I introduce my team. I have the kids put on their lab gowns and wash their hands. Should've had them do that while waiting duh! Not a great start. I begin with showing them how a kitchen is like a laboratory and then go full on into Molecular Gastronomy. The kids are starting to dig it :)

On to kitchen myths debunked, and then Forms of Heat Transfer. I'm on a roll now 8) Next it's the materials physics discussion with the cooking vessels. One student knows what PTFE! "If Teflon is so slippery, how do they get it on the pan itself?" Oh dang, my video with the answer doesn't work so I describe the process (sandblasting to etch, and then a PTFE-spiked primer before the PTFE itself), and I show them a couple of pans the school had had re-coated. Ma'am Bawagan (my History teacher senior year) asks me where we had it done and I have to tell her I don't know hehe :oops:

Kitchen Chemicals: The kids identify water and table salt from molecular diagrams. They don't do too well with lactose, though they know what it is when I identify it. They get sucrose right off. I show them a triglyceride and explain what "saturated" and "unsaturated" mean on a molecular level. I'm getting ahhs and wide eyed "now I get it" looks. I'm enjoying this :D Ooh look at the time! I gotta skip topics.

Chemical Changes During Cooking: I show them how to make caramel and explain the exothermic chemical reactions taking place. I show them how to use an invert sugar to prevent recrystallization. Next up it's the homemade sausages for some Maillard browning reactions. "Rusted" apples to illustrate enzymatic browning. Then it's my pineapple puree enzymes attacking their lychee jellies.

On to Leavening Agents, mechanical, biological, and chemical. I activate some yeast, and I get some baking soda fizzing in some lemon juice. I had planned to fizz the baking soda in some melted caramel (forming caramel crunch, locally known as tira-tira) which we could've used as ice cream topping later, but I forgot. Then an explanation of single and double acting baking powder.

The 5 Basic Tastes: Sweet, Salty, Sour, Bitter, and Umami. Some of the kids actually know what umami is. My non-Pisay chef-school classmates are amazed :wink: I go into chlorophyll degradation via heat and how to inhibit it. The mint gum experiment fails; we're unable to replicate documented results. The kids enjoy it anyway :)

I use the yeast discussion as an excuse to cook pizzas for the kids. I had wanted for the toppings to have come from a scientific discussion too. Well we had the sausages from the Maillard rxn demo but the mozzarella and basil were just throw-ins. I get all five stoves going with my team to supervise, and the kids laid on the toppings themselves. Ma'am Caintic (senior year Physics) comes in for a peek at this point. I cheerily greet her and wonder if she remembers my senior year hijinks haha!

12noon I want to do the no-tech ice cream (hand-squished in a bag submerged in an ice bath rendered sub-zero by the addition of salt: an illustration of freezing point depression) but I'd already gone overtime so I brought out the liquid nitrogen. I'd had my team prepare the custard base as I was starting the session, and now I got one of the kids to bash up some Oreos. The LN2 froze the ice cream in under four minutes. The kids ate it up in under two :lol:

Session officially over, a bunch of guys hung around and we finished all the pizza. I also start some pasta going and I keep quizzing them: "Will this water boil faster lid on or lid off? Lid on, you say? Tell me why" They're really into it, posing hypotheses. I give them a hint: The Ideal Gas Law. I'm really having fun with this, and it looks like so are they.

Students gone, I finish cooking the pasta as cleanup is in progress. Ernie chucks the leftover pineapple, lemon juice, ice and sugar into the blender. Lemon pineapple smoothie! It's really good! Now if we only had some vodka :twisted:

Hagee calls us up to the 2nd floor. I regret not having come up earlier..we could've met the rest of the lecturers. Heck, with all our gear and ingredients we could've fed them all and Pisay wouldn't have had to spend on catering. Oh well.

Back downstairs to pack up. It's raining Felis catus and Canis lupus familiaris outside. The other driver and I slosh through rain and flood to get to the vehicles. My car won't start again. Finally get it going but it overheats on the way home. Got that under control at the Shell station on Visayas Ave, leave my car at home and we all pile into the other car to head over to Cafe Ysabel and return the school's gear. I'm swaying on my feet, totally spent. When Steph and I get to her place I crash on the bed and am not heard from til late morning. No, actually Steph said I kept sitting up and blathering on about magnesium in the chlorophyll and stuff like that. She had stayed up to install her new hard drive and watch me lecturing in my sleep. :lol:

All in all an exhausting but fun & fulfilling day. I'm still in recovery, and my other project deadlines are breathing down my neck but already I'm thinking about how to fine-tune the session for next year's ACLE. I've also set up a PSHS Molecular Gastronomy yahoogroup for the kids so we can continue discussing. I'm having the time of my life! :D

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