UCLA Professor Brings Big Time Chefs To Class

UCLA assistant professor Amy Rowat teaches a popular class called "Science and Food: The Physical and Molecular Origins of What We Eat," which strives to answer big questions relating to food like: Why do different cuts of meat have different textures? Why are some foods naturally crispy? "Our goals are to spark scientific curiosity and to get people to think more critically about the food they eat," says Rowat in a statement from the school.

To help her answer these questions she's invited some big-hitter chefs to drop by her classroom to speak to her class of 60. This has become somewhat of an annual event, with David Chang and Rene Redzepi and Lars William of Copenhagen's Nordic Food Lab dropping by last year. Prior to that, she organized similar events at Harvard (where Ferran Adria presented).

Rowat, who a Los Angeles Times restaurant critic once called "Zooey Deschanel with a physics doctorate," also organized three public lectures — tickets should go on sale any day now. Follow @scienceandfood for more information about that.

In the meantime, here are details for the three lectures:

Wednesday, April 17

7 p.m.

UCLA's Moore Hall, Room 100 (map)

Featuring: Alex Atala

Chef Alex Atala runs D.O.M. in Sao Paolo, Brazil, rated the "best restaurant in South America" and ranked No. 4 worldwide in S. Pellegrino's "World's 50 Best Restaurants" survey, published by Restaurant magazine. Atala cooks with native Brazilian ingredients and produce from the Amazon, which has earned him the moniker "The Amazon Explorer." He works closely with anthropologists, botanists and other scientists to discover and classify new ingredients in the Amazon and use these ingredients to create unique entrees.

Thursday, April 25

7 p.m.

UCLA's Royce Hall (map)

Featuring: Alice Waters, Wendy Slusser and David Binkle

Rowat will moderate a panel discussion about how healthful nutrition can be delicious with chef Alice Waters, founder and owner of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif., who believes that cooking should be based on the finest and freshest seasonal ingredients, produced sustainably and locally. Waters has created the "Edible Schoolyard" at Berkeley's Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School; the school program features a one-acre garden and adjacent kitchen–classroom and integrates gardening, cooking and nutritious school lunches into an "eco-gastronomic" curriculum.

Also participating in the panel discussion will be chef David Binkle, director of food services for the Los Angeles Unified School District, and Wendy Slusser, an associate professor of pediatrics and public health at UCLA, who directs the Fit for Healthy Weight program at UCLA's Mattel Children's Hospital UCLA and heads the nutrition and diet section of UCLA's Healthy Campus Initiative.

Discussion topics will include nutrition and initiating positive change in how we eat through school lunches, edible gardens and healthy campuses — topics Rowat says are "close to many people's hearts."

Sunday, May 19

2–4:30 p.m.

Grand Horizon Room at UCLA's Covel Commons (map)

Featuring: Christina Tosi and Zoe Nathan

Renowned dessert artist Christina Tosi, winner of last year's James Beard Rising Star Chef award and head of New York's Momofuku Milk Bar, and award-winning Los Angeles chef Zoe Nathan (Rustic Canyon, Huckleberry, Milo & Olive, Sweet Rose Creamery) will share their perspectives on inventing new desserts. 

In addition, students in Rowat's "Science and Food" course will participate in a "scientific bake-off," in which groups of students will prepare apple pies, conducting experiments concerning the texture and other physical characteristics of their creations and explaining their results. The pies will then undergo a live taste-test and will be judged by a panel that includes Tosi, Nathan, other esteemed local chefs, food critics and UCLA scientists.

Tickets for the events will be available in the coming weeks through UCLA's Central Ticket Office. Please visit www.scienceandfood.org for updates or to sign up for the "Science and Food" mailing list, and follow the latest developments on Twitter (@scienceandfood).