Students from the Steinhardt food studies program and ITP use physics to create culinary anomalies.
In ITP professor Stefani Bardin’s Culinary Physics class, looks may be deceiving. In one modernist cuisine exercise, what appears to be an egg is actually mango, yogurt, and milk. The egg “white” is made rubbery using agar, a substance made from seaweed. Calcium lactate increases the density of the mango “yolk” so that it cuts like the real thing.
This is just one example of what Bardin describes as “the magic of transformation,” which graduate students from Steinhardt’s food studies program and Tisch’s Interactive Telecommunications Program explore in this studio and seminar course. Throughout the semester, they learn the basic principles of food biochemistry, enzymology, molecular gastronomy, and modernist cuisine—all in order to use food as a material to tell stories that are personal to them. The projects they create, from studies of tuna fishing in Sardinia to the role of wasabi root in Japanese cuisine, explore food as it relates to the senses, technology, history, politics, and culture.
Climate change—and its potential to change how we eat—is the ever-present backdrop to these experiments. “Our food system and our food sources are being threatened,” Bardin says, “and the most food insecure people will be the first impacted.”
But the seriousness of the subject matter doesn’t preclude fun—or snacking. In fact, Bardin emphasizes that tasting should be an essential element of any discussion about food. Borrowing from the principles of soft matter physics, student dishes are presented in a form that’s unexpected, unique, and often deeply weird. A range of experts—curators, chefs, artists, and others—visit the class to offer their expertise and feedback.
“Sometimes when you’re trying to make people comfortable talking about difficult, divisive, or scary topics,” Bardin says, “being playful with food is an avenue and a trajectory to do that.”
Cool Course Dispatches
From analyzing metaphorical monsters to studying robotics, our students are getting hands-on experience—in and outside the classroom.