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HARVARD’s SCIENCE AND COOKING LECTURE RECAP: David Chang

I think it’s about time I admit my foodie crush on David Chang. Sure, his cuisine isn’t as refined as Daniel Boulud’s or Jean-Georges’s, but he has fun with it and more importantly, makes it taste good. And he just seems to hit all the points in food that make me happy. Fried chicken? Check! Kimchi with everything? Check! Noodles as comfort food? Check! There have been nights where I would curl up in bed with my Momofuku Cookbook and read it until I fall asleep. Man, did I go to sleep really hungry those nights. When I heard that David Chang was presenting at the Harvard Food Science Lectures, I knew I had to go. I barely made it in – about the 3rd to last in the lecture hall but I’m so glad I did. Before being seated, we were each given paper bags with 4 mini petri dishes, an apple, and a spoon. Ooh—exciting already!

The lecture started with a short talk on microorganisms, what they were, how they exist, and why they’re important in our food. This short lecture given by the professor that teaches the Food Science Lectures at Harvard was followed by none other than David Chang! Chang talked about the different microorganisms that he has come across in his experimenting with food such as aspergillus oryzae, a fungus used to ferment soybeans. It is more commonly known as koji and is used in abundance in Chang’s cooking. The first mini petri was koji grown on barley, it had a slightly bitter taste of barley with a sense that it was being fermented by the organism.

Then, Chang went on to talk about glutamic acid and its role in dry aged beef to create flavor. The umami flavor was prominent in foods that contain glutamates. This is pretty much why monosodium glutamate (MSG) makes any savory food more delicious. The second petri dish had several grams on MSG, of which I had a pinch. Some people were licking the dish clean! My grandmother used a lot of MSG in her cooking, which is probably why everything was absolutely amazing, but I’ve been able to wean myself off it in my own cooking. Overall, I’d say used MSG sparingly and only if you need that extra kick. I’m pretty sure Chang uses it in his ramen, and it’s kicking!

The MSG was followed by the 3rd dish with Peanut-Butter Miso which was discovered by Chang who was not sure if mixing the two would taste good. He suggested sampling the peanut-butter miso with the apple provided, and yet again, a great suggestion by David Chang. The peanut-butter miso had a smooth taste that was predominantly peanut-buttery but with a slight savory addition from the miso. It paired really well with the tart apple.

Alas, the 4th petri dish was not to be eaten. Sure, it was “edible”, but Chang suggested not eating it. The dish contained neurospora, a fungus used to grow oncom, a food common in Sudanese cuisine. The small, solid spores smelled like cider, which make them more tempting to eat. Chang spent the lecture going over the different uses of the various microorganisms that have become present in his cooking. Although it’s risky since many microorganisms can be dangerous, Chang has been very lucky in self-sampling his experiments. He sends samples to get tested for the presence of microorganisms when he taste-tests them himself. The take home message from his presentation was “[the] future of food is microbiology!” So keep that in mind next time you’re fermenting sauerkraut or kimchi or making cheese and wine! Many of these delicious flavors are results of microorganisms doing their thing. Chang doesn’t hold back when testing the effect of microorganisms, stating that his next venture is going to be experimenting with vinegar. He is a man of food and science—what more could you want? And he makes a bangin’ ramen!

 – Christina Pan

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