The Chemistry of French Food-Philosophy

In the light of the current stat of the US, it seems absurd to write this, but at the time I was teaching this class, I considered provincialism in the US as regional, and particular to the deep south. We now know that there is a deep streak of isolationism and fear of “other” in the US, and a tendency toward nationalism that our national leadership has fueled. These tendencies are in direct opposition to my motivations for teaching this class.

Many Mississippians never leave the boundaries of the state or the southeast region of the US. My sense is that this is for many reasons. Travel costs too much. It is difficult to arrange in all aspects-to, from, where, how long, etc. More than anything, there is a concern that they are vulnerable because they do not know the culture and language, and that the people are different than they are. I set up this “Chemistry of French Food” class in order to provide this opportunity for the students. They could use scholarship money. I made all of the arrangements.

Before leaving the US:
During the regular semester, most of the course work was loaded toward during the first half of the semester. We had two primary components, chemistry and French culture and history. we spent the class sessions covering the chemistry of cooking. First, there were basic tutorials on the chemistry of the biological polymers (starch and proteins), and lipids, acid-base chemistry, noncovalent forces and solubility, the effect of heat on kinetics, digestion, aromatic compounds and flavor. These basic chemistry lectures were followed by lectures on major food groups including wheat, eggs, milk and milk products. Some of the students were deeply committed cooks. There were associated assignments-exams, quizzes, but also dissection of the chemistry of recipes, and cooking and reporting cooking as experimental science with detailed science ‘lab’ reports of the experiment. Students were responsible for conducting class on specific sections from “On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen” by Harold Magee.

On the ground in Paris:The purpose was to empower students to embrace the local food culture and environment. To do this, they had to become comfortable with navigating the public transportation system, staying oriented in the complexity of a very large and diverse city, participating in commerce in the French language.

Find on the Map& Tour Guide Exercises: For most of the students, the trip to Paris was their first excursion out of the US. For most of the students, it was their first experience with public transportation. On the first day in Paris, they had to find major land marks and specific, funky, out-of-the-way places on their own using public transportation. I gave them an Orange card, a map to the Metro, a map of the city, and a time limit. Then a public park to meet at the end of the day before dinner. The list of places below are from the last trip in 2017. This assignment was brilliant. The students were so empowered afterwards. When we met in the park, they were on-fire, they were so excited. They all has some adventure to tell.

Thereafter, they were totally comfortable with the public transport, reading maps, the arrondisment, and finding their way to the hotel from anywhere in the city.