Cajun cuisine becomes a focus in competitive chemistry

ChemistryThere are those of us out there who embrace the tradition and delicious nature of Cajun cuisine for the thrill it gives our taste buds with every bite. It’s something we take pride in, where our biggest source of validation comes from seeing full stomachs and big smiles.

Then there are some out there who tackle Cajun cuisine for the purpose of competing against others in a themed chemistry competition.

Take a look below at this excerpt from an article that details this event…

On April 9, three student teams combined Cajun cooking and chemistry in a national competition as part of the American Chemical Society’s New Orleans conference, which was themed “The Chemistry of Food and Energy.” The competition, titled “Communicating Chemistry: Cajun Cooking,” was organized by Prof. Gavin Sacks M.S. ’01 Ph.D. ’05, food science, and Prof. Justin Miller, chemistry, Hobart and William Smith Colleges.

The teams from California State University, Fresno, College of the Ozarks and Cornell University were selected as finalists out of a dozen of applications to compete at Dickie Brennan’s steakhouse in the French Quarter. The students’ task? To deliver a compelling, scientifically rigorous cooking demonstration that catered to the theme of Creole or Cajun cooking. Both Creole and Cajun cuisines originated in Louisiana and were heavily influenced by French recipes and techniques. 

Participants were encouraged to develop their presentations as if they were on a food-related television show. 

“We wanted the students to come up with at presentation that they could imagine someone watching television to be drawn in and stuck on their channel,” Sacks said.

The teams investigated and presented the chemistry that drives the flavors and textures of traditional Louisiana recipes.

“We intentionally didn’t give a lot of guidance for what the presentations were to look like, and students came from very different perspectives – 1 [group] did a cooking show, one was more of a documentary style, and the third approached it more like an experiment,” Sacks said.

First on the menu was Fresno State’s gumbo, a one-pot stew that usually includes seafood and vegetables with a base of roux, a thickener made by carefully heating flour and oil. The team applied biochemical principles to explain the gelatinization and caramelization that is responsible for the roux, often described as one of the of the “mother sauces” of French cooking.

Flour, one of the main ingredients of the roux, contains starch, long chains of sugars, and amino acids, the building blocks of proteins. Heating flour in oil causes the sugars to react with the amino acids, which results in browning – this famous cooking reaction is called the Maillard reaction. Manipulating the heating conditions changes the chemistry behind the roux, which includes many other caramelization reactions in addition to the Maillard browning process, leading to different aromas and colors.

If something has this much diversity to what can be done with its food, there’s got to be something to this whole Cajun thing, and at Huckleberry’s, that’s exactly what we aim to serve you! We might not have professional chemists cooking up your dishes, but we’re plenty content to leave that up to the expertise of our chefs. And we’re sure you won’t be let down either.

Check out the rest of the article reference above, here: