Chemistry and Californian Cuisine

Posted on Thursday, May 22, 2014

After spicing things up in New Orleans last year, the C4 food chemistry competition co-created by Associate Professor of Chemistry Justin Miller will return - this time with a focus on the cuisine of California. "Communicating Chemistry: California Cuisine (C4)," will take place during the 248th Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS) in San Francisco, Aug. 10 through 14. Student teams will prepare live, interactive presentations that convey 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 is 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, joins 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 are 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 will be evaluated based on scientific merit, clarity, entertainment value and connection of the theme to the broader chemical topics. Three teams will be selected as finalists and receive complimentary registration and travel vouchers to the fall ACS Meeting. The final competition takes place Monday, Aug. 11, and will be held at the Art Institute of California - San Francisco.

The competition will include two parts: a "lecture" and an "Interactive" segment. In the lecture portion, teams will present 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 should be modeled after a TV cooking show and include live demonstrations and explanations. The audience will be encouraged to ask questions following the formal presentation.

Immediately following the lectures, the interactive part of the competition will begin, wherein the three student groups will invite the audience to walk through their demonstrations. The groups can 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 will also answer questions and interact directly with the audience. Cookware and ingredients will be provided for the teams at the competition.

Celebrity judges include 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) is being presented with support of the Agriculture and Food Division of the American Chemical Society, which is providing free registration for student members of the teams that earn 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.

Entries are due by June 2, 2014 and can be submitted online.



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