Thursday, June 20, 2002

The scientist in the kitchen

I started out engineering school intending to be a chemical engineer. Mercifully I got out of that - it was overcrowded when I was there. The professors were meaner than snakes and made no bones about trying to drive you out of the department. Then when I graduated I saw guys with sterling averages and excellent coop experiences go without jobs because the market had turned south severely. (Aerospace engineers can tell you something about that too).

A big part of ChE is something called unit operations. Here you learn about things like filtration, distillation, and other batch or continuous processes to create such things as bourbon, fudge, gasoline, ketchup, or about anything you can pump or dump. They never did tell us how they put the stripes in the toothpaste, doggone it, but this does.

I got my engineer designation the hard way. But calling traditional housekeepers "domestic engineers" might not be so far off the mark, especially if they can cook. You can read all about it in Robert Wolke's book "What Einstein Told His Cook". Nine stirring chapters cover the stuff you might have learned about cooking in engineering school - topics such as food irradiation, microwave ovens, chemicals like vinegar and cream of tartar, why cooking is different at high altitudes, and everything else you're just dying to know.

And for extra credit, you can measure the speed of light with your microwave oven.

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