Featuring renowned chef and molecular gastronomer Wylie Dufresne and culinary consultant Ted Russin, this week’s “Science and Cooking” lecture focused on the culinary benefits of the meat-binding enzyme known in the restaurant industry as ‘meat glue.’
Entitled "Catalytic Conversion: Enzymes in the Kitchen,” Monday’s lecture was the 10th in the series, which parallels Harvard’s popular General Education course, Science of the Physical Universe 27: “Science and Cooking: From Haute Cuisine to Soft Matter Science.”
The event’s two guest lecturers discussed how they employ the chemistry underlying enzymes and amino acids in creating innovative food.
Keeping with the overall theme of the series, Dufresne and Russin’s lecture offered insight into how principles of chemistry, biology, and physics can illuminate the art of cuisine.
Dufresne, who heads the progressive restaurant wd~50 in New York City, emphasized the connection between science and the culinary arts, noting that in order to truly understand cooking, the culinary world must turn to science.
“We’re going to have to go outside of our discipline,” he said. “We’re going to have to leave the kitchen and talk to other people and get some of these answers.”
Russin and Dufresne specifically discussed the enzyme transglutaminase, the technical name for meat glue, and how it is used in such novel dishes from wd~50’s menu as casing-less sausage and shrimp spaghetti.
Dufresne said that meat glue has become integral to the menu and popularity of his restaurant. The molecular gastronomist noted that many of the popular dishes that have drawn attention to his restaurant are only made possible by the ability of the enzyme to seamlessly bind together the proteins found in meat.
Addressing the criticism that a focus on cooking’s scientific basis might detract from the soul and artistry of culinary creation, Dufresne said his methods only add to the spirit of cooking.
“It’s important to realize that we’ve only added to the depth and knowledge that the cook can have—because there can never really be a right or wrong way to cook anything,” he said. “There will, however, be a more- or less-informed way to cook something.”
Timothy R. Mooney, a Harvard Business School student, agreed with Dufresne’s framing.
“When I cook, I like to understand what exactly is happening and how it works,” Mooney said. “I think that by understanding the processes you are better able to innovate and improvise and come up with something that nobody has done before.”