Finally, the basics of plant and animal cells and cellular organization are key to understanding the nature of food and cooking processes. However, before we get into some of the science fundamentals, it is important to recognize and acknowledge the origins of and the chefs who first embraced the science behind their profession. Many chefs and bakers embrace the collaboration of science and food. Historically, one means whereby science has been utilized in the kitchen is in the area of food technology The discipline in which biology, physical sciences, and engineering are used to study the nature of foods, the causes of their deterioration, and the principles underlying food processing. This area of food science is very important in ensuring the safety and quality of food preparation, processing of raw food into packaged materials, and formulation of stable and edible food. College undergraduates can major in “food science” or attend graduate studies in this area, working for a food production company where they might look at the formulation and packaging of cereals, rice, or canned vegetables.
Recently a new marriage of science and food, coined molecular gastronomy, has grown to influence popular culture that extends far beyond the historical definition of food science. A physicist at Oxford, Dr. Nicholas Kurti’s interest in food led him to meld his passion for understanding the nature of matter and cooking. In 1984 Harold McGee, a gastronomist with a doctorate in literature from Yale University, wrote the first edition of the influential and comprehensive book On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. This fascinating book is the basis for much of the molecular gastronomy movement and describes the scientific and historic details behind most common (and even uncommon) culinary techniques.
Together with cooking instructor Elizabeth Cawdry Thomas, McGee and Kurti held a scientific workshop/meeting to bring together the physical sciences with cooking in 1992 in Erice, Italy. While there were more scientists than chefs attending, with a five to one ratio, the impact of the meeting was significant. It was at Erice that the beginnings of what was then called molecular and physical gastronomy became the catalyst for an unseen growth in science and cooking.