STEUBEN — When Joseph Kakareka talks about the chemical reactions between polyhydroxyaldehydes and polyhydroxyketones with amino acids, most people scratch their heads.
That’s until he tells them that that just means putting a nice brown sugar/honey glaze on a cooking ham.
“It’s just a perspective,” said Kakareka, a professor of organic chemistry at Florida Gulf Coast University who will teach “The Science of Cooking” at Eagle Hill Institute in Steuben Dec. 19-21.
Students will learn about the major classes of organic compounds in food: carbohydrates, fats and oils and proteins.
Other active ingredients —salts, spices, caffeine, sugar, food and flavor additives — also will be considered in terms of their relationship to taste and cooking processes.
Kakareka said he has been cooking and experimenting with cooking food and making wine since he was 10.
“I am a cook who likes to experiment with new foods cooked and served the first time to guests, which makes cooking interesting and challenging,” he said.
Kakareka teaches the science of cooking class at his university and brought it to Eagle Hill, where he is a board member, for the first time last year.
He said the science of cooking is familiar to chefs who prepare food in the classic French style —such as Chris Meynell, executive chef at Eagle Hill’s Christopher’s, who will teach the course with Kakareka.
“I believe all good chefs do,” said Kakareka. “They know how good food tastes work, which is good chemistry.”
Last year, he taught the cooking class to high school students at Eagle Hill and said that as a group, they need the training more than most.
“These kids don’t cook today and they eat so much junk food all the time,” he said. “When they slow down and cook for themselves and their friends they discover a lot about life and what they are missing.”
Kakareka said most of the science of cooking is news to teenagers — from making butter, raising dough and vegan cooking to cheese making and creating pizza without a tomato-based sauce.
Physiology and good health also come into play.
Asked about the royalty in the food science field, Kakareka brings up France’s Hervé This, author of “Molecular Gastronomy: Exploring the Science of Flavor” and Nathan Myhrvoid’s “Modernist Cuisine at Home,” which at $625 is not for the feint of heart, and Harold McGee’s “On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen.”
This approach to cooking is the antithesis of fast food. The recipe for lobster rolls in “Modernist Cuisine at Home” takes two hours to prepare.
“You might think it’s hard to improve on an old fashioned lobster roll — until you taste one made with lobster cooked with precision to attain ideal sweetness and tenderness,” the author states in the cookbook.
From “Modernist Cuisine at Home,” by Nathan Myhrvoid
Makes 1 5/8 cups
Time Estimate: 40 minutes, including 20 minutes of preparation and 20 minutes unattended.
Storage Notes: Keeps for one day when refrigerated
Level of Difficulty: Moderate
Special Requirements: Sous vide set-up, grill
The apples for this sauce are twice cooked: first sous vide (a method of cooking in tightly sealed plastic bags), which establishes just the right texture, and again on the grill, which develops the roasted flavors that make this applesauce distinctive. When the apples emerge from the water bath, they should be firm enough to hold together on the grill, but soft enough to puree to a creamy sauce. We call for green apples, but other varieties work well, too.
4 large green apples, peeled, quartered and cored
Cooking spray or neutral frying oil, as needed
3 Tbsps. rendered bacon fat, warm
2 Tbsps. honey
3¼ tsp. cider vinegar, Salt, to taste
Preheat a warm bath to 90 degrees C. Vacuum-seal the apples in a single layer. Cook sous vide until tender, about 20 minutes. While the apples are cooking, build a fire in a charcoal grill and prepare an ice water bath alongside the sous vide water bath. Place a clean grill rack over the coals to preheat for at least 10 minutes. When the coals are gray and ashy, bank them to the side. Plunge the bag of cooked apples into the ice bath until completely cool.
Remove the apples from the bag and spray or brush them with a light coating of oil. Sear the apples, on one side only, on the grill over the banked coals until the side facing the grill turns brown, about three minutes. Puree the seared apples in a blender until smooth. Pass the puree through a fine sieve and measure 1 1/8 cups for use in the next step. Combine with the apple puree and stir together.