A Taste of Caltech

A Taste of Caltech


Hi, prospective culinary students! If you’ve been looking to burnish your skills as a sous chef, you’ve come to the right place at Caltech! OK, maybe not really. But when you’ve had your fill of math and science a select few of us can don chef hats and pretend we are instead spending four years of our lives learning to be Gordon Ramsay or Bobby Flay in Tom Mannion’s legendary Cooking class. Every term, a lottery is held for the 30 or so spots available, as the class is always oversubscribed. It takes place in Tom Mannion’s house on Hill Avenue, right across the street from President Chameau’s residence. Tom Mannion, in case you have not already heard the wonderful things about him is the Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs, which you can translate as Dean of Awesome, and is basically in charge of having students’ backs and making sure they have a fun time here. He introduced this class because he felt that Techers would need to entertain in the future when they grow up (Pshaw!) and should be acquainted with proper cooking and dining.

But before I go any further let me introduce myself. I’m Noah, a senior in Ruddock House majoring in chemistry who has just returned from a term abroad at Cambridge University through Caltech’s study abroad program. In fact, I filled out the lottery form online while at Cambridge on a lark not thinking I would get in.

Bachelor pad that Mannion’s house is, the entire lower floor as far as I can tell is given over to supplies for the cooking class, with two rooms and the basement as pantries, as well as an ultramodern kitchen.

In the first class we attended we learned about all the different utensils we could use and made some simple things like salads, and helped President Chameau out with some lawn grooming by picking all the excess tangerines from the trees in his backyard, which we then put in the salad. (As admitted students, you will all get to loot the tangerines as well when you are invited there for dinner as part of your first week as frosh.)

This week, we were learning about different tastes and flavors, so we were given little numbered trays

of foods ranging from prosaic to exotic, such as plain yogurt and kumquats. My group was particularly fascinated with something called a tapenade, which we had never heard of before. Tom spent a while discoursing on the five fundamental tastes, sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami (Japanese concept roughly corresponding to the taste of MSG), and how to use them in cuisines, for example that one should use sour to counter something too bitter. We then had to create little mini-dishes to show that we could balance flavors properly.

Well, that’s all until next time, when I hope to provide you with pictures of deliciously arranged soups as tomorrow is “Stocks, Sauces, and Oils”. And we’re told Stephen Hawking will be joining us for Asian food night on Feb. 18, so I’ll be sure to have my camera out then!