DANVILLE, KY—A group of Governor's Scholars at Centre College got a taste of a wide variety of cooking techniques in Stephanie Dew's class "The science of cooking."
For Dew, associate professor of biology whose Centre College coursework usually focuses on biomolecular architecture and biochemical pathways, the science of cooking course represented a way to have fun in the kitchen and to introduce some serious issues in the process.
Dew ticks off with pride the various concoctions she and the Scholars have created, including homemade ice cream, jam, bread, pumpkin bread, cheese and pickles. "We even made beef jerky using furnace filters bungee corded to a box fan," she says.
On the day the Communications Office visited the class, all of the Scholars were preparing smoked salmon with contraptions they assembled themselves, using hotplates, probe thermometers, wood chips and elaborately decorated computer boxes. One box was painted to resemble a ladybug, another aspired to a sleek chrome look (or as close as one could get to that effect with aluminum foil). One Dell computer box bore the mystical abbreviation OPSD. The Scholars decided it should stand for "outdoor portable smoking device."
Some Scholars poked and rearranged the wood chips and tested the interior temperature of the salmon, while others passed the time by chatting, playing cards and reading books—doing what they could (within legal limits) to follow the smoker's time-honored advice to "grab a beer and a book and wait."
Dew says the salmon-smoking project offers the Scholars a perspective on food preservation in history, and that the time-consuming process has the added benefit of serving as "an exercise in patience."
The class and subject matter came as a pleasant surprise for most Scholars. "We got a letter from Professor Dew earlier in the summer," says Barron Adams, a Scholar from Trigg County, "saying bring a Dutch oven, stirring spoon, mixing bowl and jars for pickling. We didn’t know what to expect."
"It's been a lot of fun," says Mischa Davied, a scholar from Trimble County, Kentucky.
"This is the best class we could have been assigned," says, David Montgomery of Lawrenceburg, Ky. "We never think about all the biology and science behind cooking."
Dew arranged for a number of guest speakers to address the Scholars. Rick Axtell, Associate Professor of Religion, spoke on hunger; Beau Weston NEH Professor of sociology, held court at the Hub coffee shop on the culture of coffee; Ray Hammond, professor of biology and biochemistry, spoke on distilling (the class also had a field trip to the Maker's Mark distillery in Loreto, Ky.); Phyllis Passierello, professor of anthropology, addressed the cultural aspects of food; and Dew’s mother Aloma, a Sierra Club conservation organizer, to speak on industrial farming and agriculture.
Dew says that while the Scholars were a receptive audience for all of the speakers, they were really hooked on the hands-on aspects of the class. "I think they enjoyed the cooking the best."
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Founded in 1819, Centre College is ranked among the U.S. News top 50 national liberal arts colleges. Centre alumni, known for their nation-leading loyalty in annual financial support, include two U.S. vice presidents and two Supreme Court justices. For more, visit http://www.centre.edu/web/elevatorspeech/
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