What is a degree in Gastronomy?

Gastronomy

Last month, I graduated with a Masters in Gastronomy from Boston University. This revelation is often followed by blank stares and questions about my future in intestinal medicine or the study of outer space. Close, but no cigar.

Gastronomy is the study of food, not just from a culinary perspective, but from anthropological, historical, scientific, and policy-based perspectives as well. Below are the courses I took to complete my degree. You can click on each course to read more about it. Also, check out the Gastronomy student blog to learn more about current students and alumni.

Required core classes for the Gastronomy program:

Food Policy concentration:

Electives:

Other classes that I wish I would have had a chance to take (had time permitted) are: Food Marketing, The Many Meanings of Meat, Certificate Program in the Culinary Arts, Urban Agriculture, Food Science, and Food Microbiology.

What does one do with a Gastronomy degree? Graduates of the program work as food writers, consultants for food and beverage companies, culinary instructors, food marketers, as well as for nonprofit organizations working to reform the food system. As for me? I’m using my culinary training and knowledge of the greater food system in order to achieve my long-term goal of making healthy foods both more accessible and more appealing.

– Kelly

Advertisements

Gastronomy Course Spotlight: Food History

DSC01792

Food History is one of the four required core classes for the Gastronomy program. It has traditionally been taught as an online or blended course, but this semester, the class was held in a traditional, classroom-based setting. The course was taught by Historian Kyri Claflin (who looks remarkably like an older version of Isla Fisher). I had imagined that the course would be organized chronologically, focusing in on the major turning points in the history of food, but instead, the course was organized by themes (nature & technology, movement, and culture & cuisine).

The main assignment for the course was our class blog, which we were required to contribute to five times throughout the semester. However, don’t let the term “blog post” fool you. These were 1,000 word research papers, which just happened to be submitted via WordPress. We were also required to actively comment (and reply to comments) on each other’s posts. In grad school, there aren’t a lot of opportunities to read your classmates writing, so this was actually a really cool advantage of incorporating a blog.

The frequency of our research papers (“blog posts”) seemed burdensome at first (every other week for ten weeks), but it was such a relief not to have a 20-page paper waiting for me at the end of April (as is the case in most other Gastronomy classes). Additionally, this format allowed me to research a variety of topics that interested me (from the history of food preservation to the history of vegetarianism), rather than being stuck with just one topic.

Most of my other graduate classes have been anchored by student-facilitated discussion, but (whether due to the transition from online to classroom based, or the teaching style of the instructor) discussion was not as strong in this course. Nonetheless, there were other opportunities to learn. The most popular class, hands-down, was when Nawal Nasrallah, a scholar and food writer came and prepared historic Iraqi recipes for us. The food was delicious, the speaker was delightful, and the topic was interesting. But after two years in the program, it should come as no surprise that the best way to learn about a cuisine is by eating it!

– Kelly

 

Gastronomy Course Spotlight: Food Writing for the Media

Being able to take a writing course with the food editor of the Boston Globe is surely one of the biggest draws of the Gastronomy program. Obviously, I wasn’t going to leave Boston University without getting to experience it for myself.

sheryl julianThe instructor, Sheryl Julian, is a classy, well-accomplished woman, with lots of experience in the food world. (Julia Child hand-picked her for her first Boston food editing gig, after all.) Her matter-of-fact teaching style and obvious success command respect, and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t slightly intimidated. Like most writers, she is a gifted storyteller, keeping our class on the edge of our seats each week. It also doesn’t hurt that she has the best voice. I could listen to her read the phone book!

We turned in all kinds of food writing over the course of the semester, each week with a new theme. Assignments included Q&A pieces, product comparisons, restaurant and cookbook reviews, memoirs, blogs, and more. Sheryl is an excellent editor and her insight made my writing stronger each week. But the best part of the class was that Sheryl connected us with other successful writers and food professionals, so that we could learn from them as well.

Debra Samuels, who writes the “Tasting Table” column for the Boston Globe, held a cream of tomato soup tasting with us to teach the class how to conduct a product comparison and write about it. Beatrice Peltre, the blogger and cookbook author behind La Tartine Gourmande, visited our class to speak about how to build a successful food blog, and what it’s like to write a cookbook. But my favorite class of all had to be when we visited Nina Gallant’s food photography studio, and did a hands-on food styling and food photography lesson.

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 presetRequired reading for this course was also a treat. Rather than textbooks, our reading consisted of photocopied articles from newspapers and food magazines. Food Writing for the Media is taught exclusively in the spring semester, and Sheryl only accepts about 13 students into her class (a writing sample is required first). Many of Sheryl’s former students go on to do freelance work for her after they complete the course, which is all the more reason to do a good job throughout the semester.

– Kelly

image of Sheryl via Boston Globe

Field trip to a food photography studio

Farm to Table

For students that clamor over the latest issues of Edible Boston and weigh their dinner choices on “how it will look on the blog”, a field trip to a food photography studio is pretty much a dream come true. The trip last week was put on for my food writing class, where photographer Nina Gallant and her food stylist partner, Meridith Byrne, taught us the tools of the trade. They offered nuggets of wisdom on how to style food (tweezers and small dishes are a must), how to find food that is out of season and ripe (shop at Russo’s!), and how to get the best photograph (it’s all about the lighting).

Field trip to Nina Gallant's food photography studio

Our class split up into teams of three. Each group was given a tray of food and a concept to portray (ours was “Farm to Table”), reflective of the type of project that a professional food photographer might get assigned. We then worked together to style the food and compose the shots. Nina has photographed for cookbooks, food packages, and everything in between, so the advice that she and Meridith offered as they floated from group to group was indispensable.

So, what’s the secret to getting the perfect shot? Take several photos! As Nina likes to say, “Pixels are free”.

Food styling

Want to learn more? Nina Gallant is giving a food photography class here in Boston that meets four times this April and May. For details and pricing, see here.

– Kelly

Gastronomy Course Spotlight: Food and the Senses

DSC01788Food and the Senses is one of the 4 required core classes for the Gastronomy program, and is the best one that I’ve taken yet.  Classes always had a small sensory experiment, which included everything from blind taste testing to dark chocolate and red wine pairings to molecular gastronomy demonstrations. The hands-on, scientific aspect of the course was a refreshing change of pace from other classes in the program, which are often very focused in anthropology.

Like most gastronomy courses, the final project was open to pretty much whatever we wanted to study. We just had to write about a food topic and how it related to the senses. I wrote about improving the sensory appeal of vegetables, while my classmates covered topics as diverse as the rise of popularity of comfort food, and the sensory aspects of Jewish culinary traditions.

nettaThe class was taught by Netta Davis, who graduated in the first class of the BU Gastronomy program when it was created. From living on a vegetarian commune to working as an assistant to Julia Child to being a food writer in Spain, Netta has an entertaining anecdote for every culinary situation, and has the perfect personality to teach such a hands-on course. Admittedly, I am a little too Type-A for her free spirited teaching style, but I can’t say that I didn’t love the class.

– Kelly

Image via BU

Gastronomy Course Spotlight: Food Activism

DSC01498

This class sold me on the name alone. However, many friends and acquaintances I encountered throughout the semester didn’t have the slightest idea what food activism was or what I was studying. For our final paper, we had to come up with our own definition of food activism, so this is what I came up with…

Food activism: engaging in an action or adopting a behavior or set of behaviors that challenges a perceived wrong in the current food system, with the intent to create or be a part of positive structural change.

Readings covered all sorts of alternative food systems, from CSAs and farmers markets, to urban homesteading, food access projects, and cooperatives. While food activism is an area of interest of mine, this was no doubt one of the most time consuming classes I have taken in the gastronomy program thus far. The main assignment was to conduct an ethnographic research project studying food activism, and much to my surprise, the guidelines for the project were even more rigorous than that of  the food anthropology class.grasseni

The class was taught by Cristina Grasseni, a visiting lecturer (from Italy!) for the Gastronomy program. For anyone looking to learn more about food activism, I highly recommend any and all of the books pictured above.

– Kelly

Photo by Tony Rinaldo, image via Radcliffe Institute

Gastronomy Course Spotlight: Lab in the Culinary Arts

photo-33

The summer culinary arts lab is an abbreviated version (5:30-9:30pm, 2 nights a week, for 6 weeks) of the semester-long culinary certificate program. While the summer culinary lab doesn’t cover as much ground (due to time constraints), I highly recommend it for anyone who wants to participate in the culinary arts program, but doesn’t have the flexibility to give up their day job.

The BU Gastronomy Culinary Arts program is unique, because in addition to getting a hands-on culinary education from our instructor (Chef Christine Merlo), chefs from famous Boston restaurants visit as guest instructors. Over the summer, Chef Jonathon Taylor (Blue Ginger) taught us Asian cuisine, Chef Dante de Magistris (II Casale, Restaurant Dante) taught us how to make handmade pasta and pasta sauce, Chef Cara Chigazola (Oleana) taught us Mediterranean recipes, and Chef Jeremy Sewall (Lineage, Eastern Standard, Island Creek Oyster Bar, The Hawthorne) taught us seafood dishes.

Below is a peek at the dishes we prepared in class:

food pics

  1. Gazpacho & French onion soup (sanitation, knife skills & stocks)
  2. Macaroni & Cheese with Bechamel sauce, Chicken Pie with Biscuit topping and veloute sauce, & Asparagus with Hollandaise sauce (sauces & emulsions)
  3. Roast Pork with Mustard Herb Crust & Apple Cider Reduction, Sauteed Baby Vegetables, Seared Scallops with Thyme Brown Butter Sauce, & Farmers Market Cobbler (blanching, saute, and roasting)
  4. Coq Au Vin, Ratatouille with Egg and Cheese, Rice Pilaf, and Plum Granita (butchering a whole chicken, braising and stewing)
  5. Frisee Salad with Lardons and Poached Eggs, Haddock in Parchment, Cheese Souffles, & Poached Pears in Wine with Whipped Cream (poaching & steaming)
  6. Grilled Steak with Chimichuri Sauce, Pommes Frites, Onion Rings, Broiled Tomato & Brownie Pudding Cake (grilling, broiling, & deep fat frying)
  7. Guest Chef (Jonathan Taylor): Pork & Ginger Pot Stickers, Thai Beef Salad, Shrimp & Mango Summer Rolls, Clams with fermented black beans and fresh udon noodle
  8. Guest Chef (Dante de Magistris): Orecchiette, Ravioli Ignudi, Basic egg pasta, Gnocchi, Traditional Tomato Sauce
  9. Guest Chef (Cara Chigazola): Hummus, Kisir, Imam Bayildi, Chicken Schwarma
  10. Partner Challenge (3 course meal using the ingredients corn, cream cheese, and pork): Corn fritters, Beer marinated Grilled Pork with Homemade Tater Tots, Carrot Fries, and Ranch Dipping Sauce, Cheesecake Brownies
  11. Guest Chef (Jeremy Sewall): Lobster Bisque, Beignets, Lobster Ravioli, Baked Oysters, Grilled Fish, Summer Produce Salad
  12. Practical Final (3 course meal using the ingredients shrimp, chicken, zucchini, & blueberry): Grilled Shrimp & Zucchini Roll Ups with Goat Cheese and Herbs, Lavender and Honey Roasted Chicken with Garlic Mashed Potatoes & Crispy Mustard Brussels Sprouts, Blueberry Crostada

DSC01244

^^Jacques Pepin and Julia Child co-founded the Gastronomy program, which is why Pepin’s work is largely represented in our course materials. He is still involved with the program to this day, and I even had a chance to see him speak earlier this year.

The most notable assignments were the market basket challenges. For the US regional challenge, each group was assigned a different region of the United States and told to prepare a 3 course meal that represented that region, using 3 ingredients given. My partner and I got assigned the central plains, and the ingredients we had to incorporate were corn, beef, and cream cheese. We made corn fritters, beer marinated grilled steak with homemade tater tots, carrot fries, and ranch dipping sauce, and cheesecake brownies. It was only minutes after we plated and presented our beautiful entree when our instructor came rushing back into the kitchen after us exclaiming, “This is not your fault, but…”

Apparently, she accidentally pulled pork from the freezer instead of beef. And since medium rare pork is frowned upon in the culinary world, back on the grill it went. Oh, well…

For our final, we simply had to prepare a menu that showcased our new culinary skills using the ingredients corn, shrimp, zucchini, and blueberries. So for my meal, I prepared grilled shrimp & zucchini roll ups with goat cheese and herbs, lavender and honey roasted chicken with garlic mashed potatoes & crispy mustard brussels sprouts, and a blueberry crostada. For each of these challenges, we were given an hour for the appetizer, an hour and a half for the entree, and an hour for the dessert. Unlike on the show “Chopped”, we knew our key ingredients a few classes ahead of time. Additionally, we could only use one online and one magazine recipe. The others had to come from cookbooks.

Have you ever taken a culinary class?

– Kelly

Sustainable Aquaculture Interview with Fishmonger and Gastronomy Student Noel Bielaczyc

New Deal Fish Market

This week I met up with fishmonger and fellow Gastronomy student Noel Bielaczyc at his place of work, New Deal Fish Market (622 Cambridge St). Noel gave me the inside scoop on sustainable aquaculture, and also expanded my knowledge on the different varieties of fish available. Check out the interview below…

New Deal Fish Market

Kelly: How did you first get interested in seafood and aquaculture?

Noel: When I moved to Ann Arbor for college, I saw a fish market and I knew I wanted to work there. I love fishing and the water, so it’s a natural mix of interests.

K: Can you tell me a bit about organic seafood certification and how valuable that is?

N: I’m kind of skeptical about the organic seafood label. It only applies to farm raised fish and just means that plant portion of their feed (soybeans, corn, etc.) was organically raised. But fish like salmon are primarily carnivores, so how can you say that the fishmeal (wild anchovies, sardines, etc.) component of their diet is organic? This label only makes sense for fish that can be raised on an entirely vegetarian diet, like tilapia and catfish. Your best bet is to look for wild, domestic seafood.

K: Can fish be farmed sustainably, and if so, how would we know?

N: I have heard of a few cases of fish being farmed sustainably, but that is not the majority of the farmed fish on the market. It can be done well, but it’s not enough to feed the world.  Because salmon are carnivores, you must catch fish to grow fish, which leads to a net loss. [Salmon farms] are not really doing anything to increase supply.

K: How can consumers help support a sustainable aquaculture system?

N: If the only fish you eat are shrimp, cod, and salmon, you’re missing the point. If you want to be a responsible seafood consumer, you’ve got to branch out. Additionally, shellfish is some of the best stuff you can get. Shellfish aquaculture (like clams, mussels, or oysters) is almost like planting seeds, and it’s not nearly as intensive as salmon farming.

K: A February 2013 New York Times article reported that approximately 1/3 of the fish on the market are mislabeled. How can consumers avoid getting duped? Is there anything that should raise red flags?

N: You are most likely to run into that [deception] at a restaurant, because there’s less seafood expertise, the supply chain is longer, and there’s lots of pressure to control costs. If you are eating an $8.99 platter of scallops, snapper, and haddock, there’s a good chance it might not be what you think it is. [In order to avoid getting duped,] find a fish market you trust and fishmongers you can develop a relationship with. Over 80% of our seafood is imported, so one of the safest things you can do is buy domestic seafood whenever possible.

K: Do you know of any restaurants in Boston that source fish responsibly?

N: Bergamont gets their fish from us, and they do a really great job. East by Northeast buys from us as well. I’m sure Legal Seafoods is doing something right, but I’m not really sure what their practices are. Smaller, independent places are going to be your best bet.

K: Many home cooks are intimidated by the prospect of cooking fish. Any tips?

N: The most important thing to remember is that it’s actually quicker than cooking almost anything else. Let your fishmonger do the dirty work (scaling, gutting, filleting…)! My favorite way to eat fish in the summer is actually raw. Just throw together some dry scallops, good olive oil, onions, and grapefruit juice, and you’ve got yourself a beautiful crudo. If you are unsure about which fish can be eaten raw, you have to ask, and not all fish markets are like that.

New Deal Fish Market

Looking for the best catch in Boston? Then visit the team at New Deal Seafood! Noel helped me pick out some excellent Striped Bass from right here in Massachusetts. Do you have a favorite type of seafood to cook? Do tell!

– Kelly

Course Spotlight: Effective Writing in Public Communication

Social Change Writing

Although the BU Gastronomy program offers a multitude of courses, the class that caught my eye for the first summer session this year was actually at Tufts University, in the Urban and Environmental Planning program. Louise Dunlap specializes in social change writing, which is why this course stuck out to me.

dunlapLouise Dunlap got her start during the free speech movement of the 1960’s. Since then, she has been giving activists the tools they need in order to communicate with the public effectively. The class centered on one main writing project that we worked and reworked each week using the tools from Undoing the Silence. One of the Louise’s former students had used this project to write the business plan for Equal Exchange. A tough act to follow, but inspiring nonetheless!

photo-25My project was focused on how dietitians can help reduce hunger by supporting sustainable food systems. We also had a short letter to the editor assignment, as well as journal and freewriting activities. The class was held in a picturesque red home on the Tufts Medford campus, which was the perfect setting for an intimate class of nine. If you are interested in social change writing, then check out a copy of Undoing the Silence.

Image via Undoing the Silence

– Kelly

Gastronomy Course Spotlight: Understanding Food (Theory and Methodology)

DSC00855

Understanding Food: Theory and Methodology is intended to be the introductory course to the Gastronomy program. The purpose of the course is to introduce Gastronomy students to the landmark works that have influenced food studies, as well as learn the different methods that scholars use to study food. I took it my second semester in the program, because it filled up too quickly during my first semester.

Despite the course being called “Theory and Methodology,” it was much more heavy on theory (particularly social theory) and kind of skimped out on the methods. The class has a reputation for being tedious due to the heavy emphasis on social theorists such as Karl Marx and Pierre Bourdeiu, dense reading list, and rather intense writing component. Despite the dense articles, the books assigned for class (pictured above) were rather enjoyable.

rachel blackRachel Black, the director of the Gastronomy program, taught the course. Rachel has a reputation as being a tough grader, but her stories from living in France and Italy during her twenties won over our travel minded and curious class. Rachel stressed the interdisciplinary aspect of gastronomy, and I liked that each class was based on a different branch of food studies (anthropology, nutrition, geography, etc). As an added bonus, our class went to a guest lecture by Janet Poppendieck just one week after reading her book for our class.

This class had the greatest number of assignments I have encountered in the program thus far. We were assigned two short essays, a spotlight presentation, a midterm, a literature review, an outline, a final research paper, and a couple of homework assignments. Despite the tedious reputation of the course, I was pleased with what I learned. The topics covered in this course set a good foundation for the rest of my learning experience, and the required reading was both challenging and enriching. The authors we were introduced to are referenced time and time again in the food world, so it was good to get a handle on the different theories that food scholars draw upon.

Image via Rachel E. Black

– Kelly