14 Dec 2011

The Kitchen Stories project - Interdisciplinary network of culinary claims

The text below is an attempt at drawing up a new programme/collaboration/network for exploring claims about food and cooking. Hereby, we make an effort to start a new international and interdisciplinary network to explore such claims from various angles. If you are a researcher (from any field), teacher at any level, chef or something else and find this interesting, read on and feel free to contact us. The programme is drawn out by researchers from Finland (here and here) and myself.

Update 2nd June 2015: This is also described in a paper in the scientific journal Flavour. Fooladi & Hopia (2013). Culinary precisions as a platform for interdisciplinary dialogue. Flavour, 2(6). (open access)

Is it true that you mustn't rinse, but rather brush, mushrooms? Should a steak be seared to keep the juices inside? Can you prevent fruit salad from turning brown by sprinkling it with lemon juice? Such apparently mundane questions have been source of inspiration for food geeks at least since “The Curious cook” by Harold McGee (1990) was published, but most likely much earlier. A closer analysis of such questions reveal an abundance of intriguing, surprisingly complex and unexplored questions which might be vehicles for education and even subject for research within natural and social sciences.

The world of food and cooking is full of statements on how to do things and occasionally why one should adhere to these advices. Many are rooted in tradition or are created today by us all and sometimes appear to us like modern urban stories. Some are rooted in long experience of kitchen professionals or home cooks, and some even in science. When tradition and science meet interesting things might happen. In some cases the phenomenon in question (see examples in the introduction) is well described within one field of science but is less so in another discipline, laying questions open for research. Secondly, such culinary claims, which we have termed “Kitchen stories”, provide valuable opportunities in education at various levels (see below). Thirdly, interesting questions might be revealed by laypeople, craftsmen (chefs, artisans) or even school children which in turn could end up as relevant research topics to be studied within various sciences. Finally, such kitchen stories are valuable parts of our cultural heritage and provide rich research material for scientific fields such as cultural history and sociology (see figure).