“What can we do with chocolate?” asked renowned chocolatier Enric Rovira of the audience packed into Science Center C on Monday night. Then he answered his own question. “Do whatever you want,” he said. “Imagination is the limit.”
Rovira's lecture proved just that, as he displayed the versatility of the beloved sweet.
The toothsome talk was part of the public lecture series offered in conjunction with the undergraduate course Science of the Physical Universe 27: “Science and Cooking: From Haute Cuisine to Soft Matter.”
Audience members bobbed to jazzy background music as they viewed chocolate eggs melted with the heat of the sun, planetary chocolates that allow consumers to “pretend to eat the universe,” and a chocolate line called Imagine (after the John Lennon song) that “reflects the cultural diversity of the world.”
Professor David A. Weitz said that for undergraduates, the goal of the course is to make science entertaining—and edible. “If you are not a science major, it is a way to learn about science in a fun and exciting way while still learning serious science,” he said. “Besides, you get to eat your lab.”
The audience members got a little taste too. Rovira entreated the audience to “hold your horses,” but was drowned out by chewing noises as they happily savored roasted cocoa beans, spicy chocolate, and 70 percent dark chocolate.
Rovira, who hails from Barcelona and spoke through a translator, runs a chocolate company that has become almost legendary in Spain. “I came to see him because a Spanish gentleman I met at the last lecture said it would cost $200 to hear him back in Barcelona,” said Harriet T. Provine, a Harvard Medical School associate. “I heard he's something of a god there, so I had to see him.”
The lecture, like the class, focused on integrating the epicurean with the explanatory.
Michael P. Brenner, who teaches the class with Weitz, said, “All of the chefs think very scientifically about what they're doing. Essentially both scientists and chefs are focused on testing ideas in a lab.”
During the lecture, Ingrid Farré, a representative of the Alícia Foundation, an organization that studies the science behind pastry preparation, wowed audience members with her allergen-free creations. Two tasters in the audience called her gluten-free sponge cake “perfection.”
“I'd like you to see the texture,” Rovira said as he picked up his colleague's handiwork and punched it, failing to leave a mark. “It's a very spongy sponge cake.”
Looking further at texture, Rovira drew attention to some melted chocolate that had solidified around the sides of a bowl and called it “a little bit of a disaster.” The “disaster” in question served as a stark contrast to the slideshow Rovira presented of his work.
As the full house of 350 listeners quietly watched the creations before them in awe, Rovira concluded with a humble, “So that’s that.”