Soft Matter and Cooking: A Pedagogical Experience

Patrick Charbonneau and Justine de Valicourt (Duke University) — January 15, 2015

Contemporary chefs such as Ferran Adrià, Joan Roca, and Heston Blumenthal have more than fame in common. They use soft matter chemistry and physics to create a gastronomy that challenges the traditional culinary experience. Techniques are not followed blindly, they are deconstructed, explained, and brought to new heights. In this seminar we will relate our experience teaching an introductory-level science class on this topic at Duke University. Demos included.

Patrick Charbonneau received his PhD in chemical physics from Harvard University in 2006 and was then a Marie-Curie fellow at FOM Amolf, in Amsterdam. In 2008, he joined Duke, where he is now an Assistant-Professor of Chemistry and Physics. A soft-matter specialist, Charbonneau uses numerical simulation and theory to study the self-assembly of colloidal systems, protein crystallization, as well as the glass and jamming transitions. His research accomplishments have notably been rewarded by an NSF Faculty Early Career Development Award, an ACS Open Eye Outstanding Junior Faculty Award, and an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Fellowship. Although he loves to eat, he is a fairly lousy cook.

Justine de Valicourt received a BSc in biomedical sciences with a minor in nutrition from Université de Montréal in 2008 and carried on with a training in the high-culinary arts from the prestigious Institut de Tourisme et d’hôtellerie du Québec. She finished top of her promotion and first of the national San Pellegrino Almost Famous Chef Competition (fourth worldwide). A summer internship with chef-cum-painter Jean-Luc Fau at Goûts et Couleurs (1 Michelin star) opened her eyes to the artistic potentialities of gastronomy. In 2010, she received the prestigious Ferran Adria International Fellowship to discover the Catalan culinary traditions and to work with the world leaders of molecular gastronomy at El Celler de Can Roca (3 Michelin stars) and El Bulli (3 Michelin stars). In 2011-2012, she explored farm-to-table gastronomy thanks to a Relais et Châteaux Fellowship that brought her to Falsled Kro (unrated), De Librije (3 Michelin stars), and Chez Bras (3 Michelin stars). Since then, she has been researching and teaching at Alicia, the Nordic Food Lab, Vestjyllands Højskole, and Duke, helping bringing science and cooking to a new level.

You can also watch this video on the multimedia site ENS: savoirs.ens.fr