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 Venerable 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!
This summer I had the incredible opportunity to do a 10-week internship at Gilead Sciences in Foster City, CA. For those unfamiliar, Gilead Sciences, Inc. is a research-based biopharmaceutical company focused on the discovery, development, and commercialization of innovative medicines.
With 45 Nobel Laureates on its Faculty Roster, it’s not surprising that research is an integral part of the Caltech undergraduate experience. One of the programs that promotes such research is the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF). There is no minimum knowledge or experience required to participate in a Caltech SURF. In fact, students can participate in a SURF as soon as the summer after their freshman year. It is not difficult to get a SURF. All you need to do is find a mentor who is working in an area of research that interests you and willing to mentor you through a research project. The mentor can work in a Caltech lab, at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), or at another participating institution. Once you find a mentor, you work together to write a project proposal that you later send to the SURF office for review and approval. About 98% of the SURF proposals get approved. This fellowship is a great way to explore various fields of research and obtain real, hands-on experience where you get to apply the theoretical knowledge you’ve learned in class. Not only do you get to work and learn alongside your mentor, but you also get compensated for your time. The length of the SURF is ten weeks, and it starts at the beginning of the summer. However, it is not uncommon for many students at Caltech to continue their research project throughout the academic school year.
Like many students at Caltech, I suffer from a slight boba addiction, where side effects may include over caffeination, minor sugar highs, and of course, a large toll on one’s wallet. This addiction is not helped by the fact that there are at least three boba shops within walking distance of campus. So, after an entire term’s worth of boba runs, I came back from winter break with a new year’s epiphany: it was time to get a job. Rather than try to curb my addiction, I decided to find a way to subsidize it.
Research at Caltech looks different for every student, and can often vary term by term. As a chemistry major, my course requirements are on the lighter side for a Caltech major, and many chemistry majors take advantage of the lighter course load to join research groups. This can be whenever the student wants, but many people join labs during their freshman or sophomore years. Some may work in one lab only, and some may switch between labs during the course of their undergraduate studies, depending on if their interests change.