During the American Chemical Association’s annual conference in New Orleans, Associate Professor of Chemistry Justin Miller hosted the Creole Cooking competition— where student teams went head-to head Food Network-style in live, interactive presentations that conveyed critical topics in food chemistry.
Presentations included live demonstrations, explanation of underlying chemistry and food for audiences and judges to demonstrate the chemistry involved. The winning team, from Rutgers and Yale University, presented bananas foster and demonstrated a thorough understanding of how the chemical process of flambé impacts the formation and taste of the dessert. The runners-up, from Eckerd College, developed a deeper understanding of chemistry just weeks before the competition and applied it to their gumbo dish that explored Maillard browning.
“It’s awesome to see students get so excited about learning chemistry in a practical way and becoming mini-experts on their particular dish,” says Miller, who developed a passion for food chemistry upon the emergence of cooking television.
Miller and Associate Professor of Food Science at Cornell University Gavin Sacks designed the competition 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, teams from Columbia, Rutgers/ Yale and Eckerd tackled Creole cuisine; previous competitions have focused on California cooking, Cajun food and more.
Winners were selected by a panel of celebrity judges: famed restauranteur and New Orleans legend Dickie Brennan; worldwide French cuisine connoisseur and master chef Rene Bajeaux; and renowned flavor scientist and food chemistry consultant to Fortune 500 companies Kathryn Deibler.
Miller attended the conference with four HWS students who presented their anticancer research. HWS students could not compete in the cooking competition due to Miller’s leadership role.
“Science is out there and it’s your friend in the real world. Cooking is just like doing a lab experiment,” says Miller, who has hosted the competition four times since 2013.