Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Rose and Harold McGee

Last week I was extremely fortunate to attend two lectures; one with Rose and the other by Harold McGee.

Rose came to San Francisco for a series of presentations.  Thanks to Rachelino, I attended the presentation and book signing at Omnivore Books.  Rose mentioned she spoke to two baking groups in the bay area,  Bakers Dozen and another group in the Napa valley, whose members each month bake a recipe from Rose's Heavenly Cakes exactly as written.  They then taste test and discuss.  I can't remember their name but it sounded fun to me!  And definitely made me think the Heavenly Cake Bakers should have a conference somewhere, sometime.

Harold McGee was a speaker at the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science at the University of California at Davis.  I didn't know a thing about Mr. McGee but a longtime, childhood friend, a UCD alumni, signed me up after my Seville Orange Marmalade obsession.  Still dubious, Virginia mentioned Harold McGee's method for hollandaise sauce and I was inspired to attend the lecture.

My memory is somewhat fuzzy these days but here are the few notes I took during the lectures. Both taught me one thing, there is nothing like listening to a gifted speaker who happens to be a world class baker, cook, food scientist.  If I had it to do over again, I would attend a culinary school, if only at the junior college level, which is where GingerElizabeth began her education, and who I noticed was at Harold McGee's  lecture.

Those of you who have expressed interest in culinary school and still have long term/short term memory, I whole heartedly encourage you to go for it.  Maybe only one class at a time if your family responsibilities or current job prohibits you from taking more or geography. I see so many gifted bakers and cooks on the blogs, with curiously keen minds and more importantly, passion, that want to pursue the culinary arts.

Favorite book is The Florist's Daughter by Patricia Hemple
Favorite cake is the Golden Lemon Almond
Understand ingredients and what they do for successful baking
Too much flour and cocoa mixed with water left uncovered both make for a dry cake.
Vanilla, if measured and left uncovered before use, will evaporate.
Texture affects flavor
Accurate oven temperature is critical

The story behind the chocolate lacquer recipe is fasinating and I hope she'll post it on her blog, if she hasn't already. I probably have the details wrong but it involved a lady, I think in Japan, who knew the technique, a baker who wanted to learn the technique so spent many years observing her, he then wrote a book. Rose saw his chocolate lacquer cakes in his itty bitty tidy cafe/bakery, he gave her recipes in Japanese. He only spoke Japanese and French, she speaks French so they were able to communicate. Rose had a student/assistant/friend(?) translate the recipe then waited, I think, three years to  make it afraid it wouldn't work.  Okay, I may have hallucinated that last bit because it still doesn't seem possible chocolate and sugar could ever intimidate Rose.

She introduced her brother, who is as cute as she is, and plugged his store saying "Shop at Pet Food Express!" which was next door to Omnivore Books.  It was hillarious!
Cake Bible was styled completely by Rose and Martha Stewart told her she needed a professional stylist because it looked too perfect.
Her husband figured out straws would work better than wood dowels for supporting wedding cake layers but doesn't want any of the credit!  The plugs from the straws are a perfect way to taste the cake.
She loves the restaurant Qoi
Rose's two books, Rose's Celebrations and Rose's Melting Pot: A Cooking Tour of America's Ethnic Celebrations, were not big sellers because people didn't think she could cook. ( I personally think the publisher should re-release both.  They are fantastic books and do include desserts)
The biggest shock of all: it was a challenge to get Cake Bible published as no one particulary believed in her.

Harold McGee
Research shows the human brain is "bored" after three bites of the same flavor.  Cutting edge chefs take this into consideration and devise menus with small amounts of different foods, so the palate is "shocked" and not bored.
Low temperature cooking over a long period of time produces superior flavor in meats ie 50 hours @ 130 degrees.
Sous-vide water bath cooking is now available for home use
Temperature controlled at precise degrees produces textures and flavors never tasted before
French Culinary Institute cooked eggs at temperatures which varied by degrees to produce different tastes.
Paris restaurants are now featuring egg on the menu by degrees.
His slide show included cutting edge chefs from around the world:
Ferran Adria
Wylie Dufresne
Heston Blumenthal, who devised a way to make a cup of tea both iced and hot at the same time.  No joke!
Tech n Stuff Blog
Jose Andres
Massino  Bottura
Daniel  Patterson, from Qoi in San Francisco
The book Food for Thought, Thought for Food 1987-2007, the menus from Ferran Adria who never repeats a meal at his restaurant.
One of these chefs, which I failed to earmark, is creating stunning flavor sensations with agar, producing such things as plum caviar.
And last but not least, there are 52 odor active compounds detected in the flavor range of stews.


  1. Thank you for sharing this incredible event with us. Most of us will never have an opportunity like this, so reading of your experience was very special.

    Harold McGee is so knowledgeable in the field of food science. His book, On Food and Cooking -- The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, is a kitchen classic. No serious cook should be without it.

    I do not need to extol Rose's merits on your blog -- we are all believers here. I would not be the baker I am today if it were not for her books.

    Thank you again. It was a treat to read your post.

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  3. Vicki, thank you for sharing your notes. I think you did a great job. I had a great time reading.

  4. How cool is that!! I can only imagine what a treat it would be to listen to either speaker. I didn't know about Harold McGee until my friend went to culinary school and told me about his books (which I then borrowed from the library). Thanks for sharing some of that experience with us on your blog.

  5. Wow Vicki! Thanks for sharing! Interesting!

  6. What a wonderful review. I almost feel as if I was there!! Thanks again for sharing your notes and the gift..which I LOVE.