The focus of the Roger Smith Food + Tech Conference is a fascinating one, “the exploration of our ambiguous love, hate, and fear of food technologies.” It’s a surprisingly broad topic. The Conference sessions and specific areas covered ranged from modernist cuisine to processing cacao to 3-D printing of restaurant dinnerware to smart appliances. Here are some of the more interesting points brought up at the sessions I attended:
Mechanizing Cacao: Processing the Food of the Gods
— At least 12 pieces of equipment are needed for the various stages of processing cacao – for splitting open the pods and removing the beans; fermenting and sorting the beans; roasting and grinding the beans, etc.,
— A metate is a slab – a stone-age technology – that’s still used today in some areas, such as rural parts of Guatemala, to grind cacao.
— Cacao production is one of the few areas which benefits from industrial processing. A finer grinding of cacao can lead to chocolate with a smoother mouth feel.
— However, in an opposing trend, a division of Mars, Incorporated, American Heritage Chocolate, eschews high technology to produce its chocolate. Instead it uses the technology and raw products that were available to the American colonists. Consequently it’s a coarser texture chocolate. And some artisan chocolatiers today also produce chocolate with a coarser texture.
Tales of a Thousand and One Layers (Baklava)
— The layering of pastry originated in Central Asia.
— Baklava pieces are often diamond-shaped but can take other shapes such as rectangles. The pieces are cut before being baked.
— Baklava is extremely labor-intensive. It’s all about the thinness of the dough. And the rolling out of the paper-thin layers requires much practice and precision, not to mention upper body strength. As part of the rolling process, each of the layers is rolled back on to the rolling pin.
Technology of Cake
— A quote (from Rachel Laudanum) was repeated- “Cake is America’s gift to the world.” What people think of as cake is American cake. It had its origins in the 16th century as a yeast cake.
— A hoop was used to help shape cake but it was difficult use.
— One of the most important technological advances that made butter cake easier and faster to produce was baking powder.
The Future is Now: The Brave New Worlds of 3-D Printing, Outer Space and Non-Thermal Technologies
— Americans waste 40 pounds of food per person each year.
— That’s why food technologies such as HPP (high pressure processing) and UV (ultraviolet light) are important. These technologies make foods safer and extend their life.
— HPP: foods in their final packaging are inserted in a machine and subject to very high pressure. Food suitable for HPP are coconut water, cold-pressed juices, etc.
— UV light: microorganisms are killed after their DNA absorbs the light energy. Fruit juices are very well suited to UV light treatment.
Modernist Cuisine: A Dialogue
— Wylie Dufresne started his restaurant, WD-50, because he wanted a place where he could continue his culinary education. He believes that while there’s no one right way to cook, if you understand the variables impacting cooking, you can make more informed cooking decisions. Wylie thinks you can learn a lot about frozen foods from Clarence Birdseye.
The Roger Smith Food + Technology Conference provided much food for thought!