vendredi 31 juillet 2020

A "cooking scientist"? Impossible: you can be a scientist, or you can cook, but cooking is not science (of nature), and science is not cooking

1. A friendly correspondant has named himself a "cooking scientist", but this is really impossible, as I shall try to show.

2. Let's observe first that human activities are defined by their goal, and the way to reach it. When you want to make shoes, i.e. being a shoe maker, the goal is to make shoes. And if you want to make food (or rather dishes), the goal is to produce dishes. The way to being able to make shoes is to learn how to make shoes, including having ideas about leather, tools for working it, etc. The way to being able to make dishes is to learn how food ingredients behave when you cut them, when you heat them, when you emulsify, foam, grind, distillate, etc.

3. For cooking (making dishes), there is more, because, as shown in one of my books, cooking is love, art and technique.

4. Accordingly, if you want to reach the goal of "cooking", it's probably good to decide how much of art you want to reach, how much love, how much technique.
I write this because I know chefs who don't think themselves as artist, and are happy to produce technically well done food. This does not mean that these dishes are not good, but the goal is not  to transmit emotions. Indeed, one can be proud to produce well done sandwiches for hungry people having lunch on their office site.

5. Some chefs can have the goal to be artists, i.e. for them the technical question is less important than the "beauty to eat" (to make "good dishes"). Did you ever cry of emotion while eating a dish? I did it twice in my live, and this was truly wonderful.

6. And other chefs focus on the social link. But more generally, I think that chefs would be well advised to choose the proportion of the three components, in order to reach their goal.

7. And science? For sure, the results of science, rather than the scientific activity can be helpful for chefs who want to be good at technique, because technology is exactly the activity of transferring scientific results into technique.

8. But science is very different from cooking!
Because the goal of science is to look for the mechanisms of the phenomena, not producing food!

9. Science does not mean being rigourous, as it is too often confused, in particular because Escoffier popularized the error.

10. By the way, the "way" of science, leading to its goal is to:
- identify phenomena
- characterize them quantitatively (measure everything)
- group the data into equations called "laws" (by fitting)
- induce a theory, introducing new concepts quantitatively compatible with the laws
- look for testable consequences of the theory
- test experimentally these consequences, trying to refute the theory
- and so on, back to the phenomena.

11. As we can see in 10, there is no room for cooking in sciences of nature. Sciences of nature are not producing food, but new knowledge.

12. For sure, one can like (or love) cooking AND science, but when one want to be very good in something, is it possible to have two activities?

13. So, finally, our friendly correspondant can change: he can be a scientist interested in cooking (molecular gastronomy) or a chef interested in science (or the results of science?). Which choice will be his own?

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