Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Sushi, Chocolate Torte and an Introduction to the Culinary Science Tech Program at COTC

Last month, one of my colleagues, Marilyn, had found an advert indicating a culinary showcase of sorts at Central Ohio Technical College (COTC) located about 15 minutes away in Newark, OH. For some reason, however, there was a bit of a mix-up and it was actually scheduled for a different date. Given the long winter break and uncertain of what that date actually was, she took a look online earlier today and saw that of all days it would be taking place in just a few hours. All told, it took little convincing on either of our parts to head over and so we did just that after the end of this (only) our second day of the spring term. It was a decision we definitely did not regret.

For those of you who are reading this and aren't aware, I've been researching and looking into food-related graduate programs (fyi, this list is one great starting point). Along the way, I've also found culinary schools and culinary arts programs, as well as programs which focus on food science (one such well known program exists at The Ohio State University); in some cases, especially international and technical ones, a Bachelor of Science (verses a Bachelor of Art) degree. Thankfully, I've found a few great B.A.-friendly fits and am currently awaiting a few more application results. As the waiting game plays out, I continue to be introduced to and impressed by innovative and developing programs that just a few years ago didn't exist. One such example is that of the Culinary Science Technology Program at COTC that Marilyn and I learned about tonight. Indeed, this program which offers an Associate of Applied Science Degree encourages my belief that the formal study (in its varied forms) of food will continue to proliferate as the interest and even the need grow.

In contrast to a food science program which, while aiming to be holistic in its approach to food, tends to focus on process and packaging, culinary science pays more attention to process and presentation across the senses. Perhaps one way of furthering the distinction is to imply the differences between molecular gastronomy versus molecular cooking. Taking this to another distinguishing level, Program Director and graduate of the Culinary Institute of America (Hyde Park) Matt Russo shared with those in attendance that COTC's program focuses on the science behind the cooking compared to the technique and presentation that would be at more of the core of a culinary arts program. (In this context, a similar differentiation is that between the science of cooking versus the science of food.) And while I could go on about specifying this program context, I do want to emphasize the distinction that while OSU can claim a strong food science program, COTC can claim a strong culinary science program. With the understanding that both are growing and constantly adapting, I'll note here that OSU's culinary science program is about 6 months old whereas COTC's is into its second year with a second cohort of 7. In both cases, and as is the case with all food-related programs as far as I'm concerned, such programs exist in response to the recognition that we need to learn from, about and through our food. As Matt put it, we're here to "just have some fun."

With the aid of second-year students Damon, Marah and Phil, Matt moved into the demo portion of the evening and presented us with information on and ingredients for sushi and sushi making. Long before I began getting into sushi (which was just over six years ago), sushi culture was a rising popular trend. And with the help of globalisation in recent years, this trend remains a reality and even harkens the ethical consideration and memory of the very fish we have commercialised into a consumerist commodity. While reminiscent to me of the approach I aim to take with our In the Kitchen Practicums as part of the Food and Culture Colloquium, Matt's content was a refreshing point of view that focused on the physical and chemical properties of the available ingredients we would be using as rational for their use. (By contrast, I emphasize culture and heritage.) For example, Matt had sushi grade tuna that arrived just yesterday. Did you know that to be called "sushi grade" the tuna which is rich in omega-3's and -6's must first be frozen at -32°F for 12 hours in order to destory the parasites that would otherwise be killed by cooking the fish. Scottish [sushi-style] salmon joins the party for its buttery, oily composition. Sushi refers to the rice, not to the fish; that said, as a whole, sushi began as naturally fermented rice in which fish was enrobed so as to sour it (the rice would be discarded). Eventually, rice vinegar was developed so as to provide the sour/vinegared taste to the rice used in sushi making and of which we continue to use today. Next up, Matt talked about the differences between different types of rice (starch content) and seaweed (the composition of which aids in the full mouth, umami taste). In addition to spicy crab and spicy tuna, we also had available to us daikon [radish], carrots, cucumbers and avocado, as well as crab and surimi.

After going through the ingredients in more detail than I included above, Matt then moved onto explaining the process and differences in making varied types of sushi. He began with a futomaki roll (1.5-2" in diameter, usually with three ingredients) of spicy tuna, green onion and daikon, and then proceeded to use a half sheet of nori (a traditional sushi wrapper made of pounded, pressed and roasted seaweed) to make two hosomaki rolls (1-1.25" in diameter, usually with one ingredient) of salmon and of spicy crab. In addition, he demonstrated the process of making one of the most popular non-raw rolls, the California roll: an uramaki roll (rice on the outside) with imitation sirimi, avocado and cucumber.

Having then plated each of his rolls and pairing them with a touch of wasabi and pickled ginger, he basically let us have at it with the ingredients. An aside: as an introduction to sushi terminology, I'd suggest checking these sites (12).

As shown above, Marilyn went for a hosomaki crab roll, while I tried my hand at an uramaki roll. When rolling sushi, it's particularly important to not use a ton of rice and to not compact the rice too much; doing so would yield a dense sushi roll with too much soft rice. Thankfully the crunch of the daikon and cucumber I paired with the salmon added enough texture to counter the mounds of rice I unintentionally used. In an attempt to counter an otherwise meal-in-your-mouth serving, I topped this all off half with spicy tuna and half with spicy crab.

In addition to the rolls we made, I also fashioned salmon and shrimp nigiri.

While all of that was going on, Matt eventually moved onto demoing the evening's dessert: a pecan chocolate torte. Going step by step through the process, the room instantly began to smell of cocoa and butter. Definitely nothing wrong with that.

The pecans spread in the baking pans, Matt eventually followed them up with the torte batter and got these into the oven. Meanwhile, he brought us to the program's banquet-equipped kitchen (comfortable max capacity of 25) and gave us a tour of the space, answering questions along the way. Quite honestly, I think I could see myself in that kind of environment... or at least teaching in it.

By the end of the tour, the tortes which only take about 10 minutes to bake were ready to come out of the oven. Cooled slightly, Matt took them out and plated them for each of us, finishing it off with a caramel sauce and a drizzle of chocolate. Light and airy because of the whipped batter and considerably less amount of flour than a cake, the chocolate was warm and pronounced, enriched by the sauces that soaked into it. Back in the presentation room, sushi making continued as the program formally concluded.

I'd like to end here with a heartfelt thanks to Matt, the Culinary Sciences students and the COTC staff for opening up the space and sharing a piece of their program with me and everyone else who attended. Over the last year and a half or so, it's truly been exciting to see how much central Ohio in particular cares about its food and its producers, artisans, consumers and the like, as exemplified by the courage and creativity to literally feed students so much knowledge. For more info on COTC's Culinary Science Technology Program, click here. For these and other photos from this event, click here.

1 comment:

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