Canadian Foodie, Valerie Rodgers-Lugonja, sent me an email last week with a rather odd request asking if I would be interested in taking my Thermomix (and hers) to Harvard University. The machines were needed for a food science demonstration being put on by Bill Yosses (the White House Pastry Chef) and Najat Kaanache, “apprentice to the world’s best chefs”.

Chef Bill Yosses at Harvard with the Thermomix

Lynette MacDonald, Australia’s Thermomix Queen, who knew Najat from when she traveled to Australia, was enroute from Australia but without her machine (different voltage). Two machines were needed and none could be found in the Boston area so Lynette called Valerie and Valerie called me because, in her words, I was the only one crazy enough to do this on short notice.

The course at Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS) uses cooking techniques as physical demonstrations of scientific phenomena. In their effort to explain physics, SEAS professors and guest lecturers demonstrate the why behind the what and the how. The food science sessions which have been running for almost a year have included chef lecturers Grant AchatzJosé Andrés, Juan RocaWylie Dufresne, and David Chang among others. Ferran Adrià was at Harvard in preparation for his lecture December 4.
We met up with Christina Andujar, a coordinator at the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and were taken down to the bowels of the North Lab. After meeting Najat and her crew, we left them to use the Thermomixes in preparation for the session while we headed into Boston to do touristy things. You know what they say about having too many cooks in the kitchen…
L to R: Me, Najat Kaanache, Lynette MacDonald
The next night, several hundred people crammed into Hall C to listen to Bill Yosses and watch as Najat combined various compounds to created olives, cheese and chocolate and poured liquid nitrogen over assorted foods in a dramatic display of culinary wizardry.

We also received some insight into the lives of these two chefs. Bill Yosses revealed that President Obama’s favourite dessert is banana cream pie, and Najat told of what she learned at the hands of some of the greatest chefs in the world: patience, discipline and the luxury of simple food.

But nothing was simple at this lecture while liquids foamed, honey freeze-dried, and Bill Yosses explained the complex nature of emulsions, foams and gels.

Bill Yosses (l) and Najat Kaanache


The next day in a session attended by students only, we got to sample more of Najat’s modern food creations.

It was hard to detect what was the real thing and what was created through molecular gastronomy.


Lots of “smoke and mirrors” as Bill Yosses said.
the creation of an olive
Is molecular gastronomy still hot, or not? Have we tired of all the “smoke and mirrors” and yearn for good ol’ salt of the earth food?

This course was not so much about how to create olive spheres and pink foam, but more of what happens to food when science is introduced. Fascinating, yes — maybe not for the everyday table, but if you want to get physics students interested in physics, its not a bad idea to do it through the deconstruction and creation of food especially when tasting the experiment is the end result.

Hats off to the staff at Harvard who have arranged these lectures–massive undertakings considering the arrangements needed to bring these chefs from around the globe and into the classroom.  Kind of makes me want to be a student again. With sessions like these, I’m sure physics would be more palatable than it was 25 years ago.Watch the full lecture here: