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How Important Is Food Science And Organic Chemistry

post #1 of 6
Thread Starter 

I'm seeing more and more people touting the idea that you will be a much better cook if you know science and study the Harold Mcgee book. I wonder if you really can be a better cook knowing about what's going on in a molecular way? I don't mean Modernist and Ferran Adria type cooking, I just mean plain organic chemistry as it applies to everyday cooking in home or at a restaurant. Did Escoffier study organic chemistry? probably too busy working 16+ hours a day. Thoughts??

post #2 of 6

Are the people doing all the touting actually in the business or just people that like to read while they eat? Is it science to add a little oil to the butter in a pan so that it won't burn? Is it molecular to know about making sauces that don't break? What kinda examples were you thinking aboout?

post #3 of 6

      I have no idea what Escoffier studied. And the science of chemistry/food chemistry wasn't quite as developed in his time as it is now.

 As cooking is chemistry, it always helps to learn more about it if it interests you to do so. You don't have to learn any of it if you just want to make dinner but it certainly helps to understand why certain things happen the way they do.  But knowing the chemistry alone is no substitute for experience. 

 Part of the experience you gain as a professional is continuous interaction with food and the opportunity to experience it in many forms and through many processes. So you learn, if nothing else, by observation and experience that certain things happen under certain conditions and other things won't happen under certain conditions. Studying chemistry may get you there quicker and allow to you know exactly why those things do or don't happen but I think it takes both theory and practice to really deepen a grasp on good cooking. 

     Years ago I took a road trip to Cornell, to see about studying food chemistry. While there I met a woman whose job was to teach the chemistry students how to put their chemistry education to use in  a practical way. She said they may know the chemical composition of a carrot but they don't have the slightest idea what to do with it. The next day's lesson was to be German chocolate cake. 

I always thought she had the greatest job, the opportunity to both cook and study the chemistry behind it while teaching others. Her office was filled floor to ceiling with books on both topics.  

post #4 of 6
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by IceMan View Post
 

Are the people doing all the touting actually in the business or just people that like to read while they eat? Is it science to add a little oil to the butter in a pan so that it won't burn? Is it molecular to know about making sauces that don't break? What kinda examples were you thinking aboout?

Not necessarily the science behind a specific activity like an emulsion but in more general terms, basically will studying organic chemistry make you a better cook? 

post #5 of 6

Nope.  Studying cooking makes you a better cook.

post #6 of 6
Quote:
Originally Posted by mrdecoy1 View Post

I'm seeing more and more people touting the idea that you will be a much better cook if you know science and study the Harold Mcgee book. I wonder if you really can be a better cook knowing about what's going on in a molecular way? I don't mean Modernist and Ferran Adria type cooking, I just mean plain organic chemistry as it applies to everyday cooking in home or at a restaurant. Did Escoffier study organic chemistry? probably too busy working 16+ hours a day. Thoughts??

The Mcgee book isn't anywhere near organic chemistry. It's food science for non scientists, and there's a lot of useful stuff in there about how to troubleshoot what went wrong in a dish, or figure out the starting point for how to create an effect you have in mind. It's not quite the same as diagramming the chemical equations for what you're going to cook, which would seem completely useless to me.
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