From Haute Cuisine to Soft Matter Science
I have always been a woman with a plan. From being an intense teenager building up a rather ridiculous Record of Achievement for my university applications to today being almost halfway through a twenty-year plan which incorporated home ownership, motherhood and then financial freedom, I’ve always liked to have a strategy. And as a rule, my goals were achieved (although as this meme demonstrates, never in a linear way) and each of those left turns on the way have taught me something, making me more creative and resilient as a result. So while it might have been nice if I had had a little longer than eight and a half months from becoming a single mum before the Coronavirus lockdown, I decided to be optimistic and reasoned that at least I was in a very adaptable stage of my life. Rather than being set in my ways, I was open to running a business in a Covid climate (far more than I was to experiencing Love in a Covid Climate).
In the month preceding lockdown, I had decided to launch some new events from September, and I made the decision to continue with this plan. I had two restaurant events that had already been postponed until I reopen and rather than do nothing, I thought it better to launch the new events with the promise of a refund if I had to reschedule. I ran some competitions over on my Facebook page and have been making steady sales. Whilst doing this I decided to explore some professional development. I happened across a course on edX run by Harvard University which seemed to fit the bill perfectly. Harvard like all of their students to do some science and created a Food and Science course to make the content relatable to those with Arts and Social Science majors. I hadn’t done any science since my GCSEs but my curiosity was piqued. I was fascinated to learn about the science of food.
It is worth stating that I have a huge amount of respect for mature students. It has been over twenty years since I got my exam results and promised myself I never had to science again and wow was I rusty! I won’t bore you with my anguish over molecules and mass but with two modules now completed, I have begun to enjoy the course.
Patience is an (alleged) virtue
I’m a pretty impatient person. After my academic career ground to a halt in 2009 thanks to the recession, I made the move into marketing. After a few months as an intern I applied for a permanent position which was arguably a stretch but one I knew I was more than capable of. My boss disagreed and patronisingly told me I needed to learn to walk before I could run. Rather than take this to heart, I applied for an even better job outside the organisation and got it (her face was not only priceless when she congratulated me but she later got fired for being incompetent which was satisfying). So having to agonisingly make my way through formulae in order to reach understanding has been frustrating. Compared to the boss who failed to recognise that some people pick things up quickly due to the existence of such things as transferable skills, this is an area where I had nothing to pull from. I just had to watch the videos multiple times, read the chapters over and over and, hardest for me, accept that a pass grade was a pass and to make peace with not excelling.
Fortunately, I have plenty of time at the moment.
As the material began to clarify in my mind I started to see the value in turning a recipe into an equation (although every part of my creative mind screamed no). Molecular mass explains a lot that I has previously wondered about salt and sugar ratios whilst lacking the language to ever form a question and the energy density of wood being 14 MJ/kg compared to 30MJ/kg for charcoal gave a number to something I instinctively knew.
Will learning chemistry change me as a chef?
When I began the course, I was looking for a way to fill my time whilst preventing my brain from turning to mush. Home schooling Mini Chef has been a wonderful, fascinating and deeply bonding experience whilst also being one of the loneliest, frustrating and exhausting exercises of my life. Trying to plan the reopening of a restaurant with no idea as to when that might be has me swinging between hope and conviction that my work is completely futile. The course absolutely provided me with an escape that was a little more enriching than binge watching Normal People (although I absolutely recommend that as well) but I am questioning dishes like never before.
Take the easiest recipe for flat breads where you mix yoghurt with self-raising flour. Yoghurt is alkaline (which I’m meant to call basic now for some reason) but the baking powder in the self-raising flour already combines basic (baking soda) and acidic (cream of tartar) elements to create the air that gives the flour its name. If I’m not adding yoghurt for the chemical reaction, why am I adding it?
I’m questioning everything in the kitchen right now and as I prepare yet another meal or snack for the bottomless pit formerly known as Mini Chef, I’m having more ideas for dishes than ever before. Which is pretty exciting and is keeping me going until I can cook for other people again.
How are you finding business in a Covid climate?