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!
Almost a year ago now, I was just about to start my first Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) at JPL. NASA had sent out an email to all of their summer interns containing a social media template to announce that we had been selected as NASA interns. Excited to show my NASA pride, I posted it on my Instagram story, unaware of what would come out of this small action.
Hey hey! We’re starting a series where I walk you through my best finds for food and drinks in the Pasadena region, and in the LA metropolitan area. Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives, if you will (although, for copyright reasons we can’t call it that). As you explore your college options, I firmly believe that food and location are more important than your high school guidance counselor may lead you to believe. And I’m here to share my best finds from my time at Caltech with you.
Over the past several months, I have had the opportunity to intern at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) under the mentorship of senior research technologist Dr. Xiaoqing Pi. Dr. Pi’s guidance and mentorship has been instrumental to the development and success of my internship at JPL, where I use machine-learning to enhance the accuracy and integrity of navigation and communication signals. In addition to helping me develop an understanding of atmospheric and ionospheric remote sensing and machine-learning, Dr. Pi has often offered his insights on how to improve my researching skills. Dr. Pi was generous enough to take the time to answer a few questions regarding his research and advice for future student interns. I believe many students can benefit from some of the lessons that he has taught me:
The transition period to remote learning was a very uncertain time, especially for research and the Caltech Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships (SURF) program. Many hands-on projects had to pivot at the last minute to facilitate off-campus contributions. However, many Techers were able to take advantage of the research opportunities offered at Caltech and JPL to make the best out of remote learning and research. To paint a picture, I’ve interviewed a few talented Techers for some insight on what researching from home looks like for them.