Chemistry and Californian Cuisine – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Chemistry and Californian Cuisine

After spicing things up in New Orleans last year, the C4 food chemistry competition co-created by Associate Professor of Chemistry Justin Miller returned – this time with a focus on the cuisine of California. “Communicating Chemistry: California Cuisine (C4),” took place during the 248th Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS) in San Francisco, Aug. 10 through 14. Student teams prepared live, interactive presentations that conveyed critical topics in food chemistry in the style of popular food science television shows such as the Food Network’s “Good Eats.”

Miller and Associate Professor of Food Science at Cornell University Gavin Sacks designed C4 to encourage student ACS members to develop their science communication and teamwork skills in a creative environment while also learning about chemistry through the lens of a particular cuisine. This year the focus was on the cuisine of California; last year it was Cajun as the competition debuted during the ACS meeting in New Orleans. This year Donnie Golden, an instructional support technician with Fresno State, joined as an organizer. He served as faculty adviser for the team from Fresno State that made the final competition last year (resulting in a tie).

Undergraduate and graduate student teams of up to four members were invited to enter by submitting a written description and a video of their presentations explaining the chemistry of a technique or dish featured in the cuisine of California, interpreted broadly. Among other possibilities, entries could focus on a dish native to (or popularized in) California; ingredients important to California; or a chemical transformation that either unites the cuisine or is heavily on display throughout the cuisine. Entries were evaluated based on scientific merit, clarity, entertainment value and connection of the theme to the broader chemical topics. Three teams were selected as finalists and received complimentary registration and travel vouchers to the fall ACS Meeting. The final competition took place Monday, Aug. 11, at the Art Institute of California – San Francisco.

The competition included two parts: a “lecture” and an “Interactive” segment. In the lecture portion, teams presented for 10 minutes on an aspect of food chemistry related to C4 to a panel of culinary and chemistry professionals, and before an audience of ACS members. The presentation were required to be modeled after a TV cooking show and include live demonstrations and explanations. The audience was encouraged to ask questions following the formal presentation.

Immediately following the lectures, the interactive part of the competition began, wherein the three student groups invited the audience to walk through their demonstrations. The groups were permitted to use a range of media in the interactive portion, such as posters, computer graphics, live cooking demonstrations, pre-prepared edible materials, and other creative methods of presenting their topics. The students also answered questions and interacted directly with the audience. Cookware and ingredients were provided for the teams at the competition.

Celebrity judges included Harold McGee, author of “On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen;” Guy Crosby, publisher of Cook’s Illustrated and Cook’s Country magazines, as well as producer and science editor of the popular PBS television program “America’s Test Kitchen;” and Mark Davis, chef director of the Art Institute of California – San Francisco.

Communicating Chemistry: California Cuisine (C4) was presented with support of the Agriculture and Food Division of the American Chemical Society, which provided free registration for student members of the teams that earned a spot in the final competition.

Miller joined the Chemistry Department at Hobart and William Smith in 2004 and also teaches introduction to chemistry, and various levels of organic chemistry. He earned his A.B. from Princeton University, his Ph.D. from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and his postdoctoral from Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.