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

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Gastronomy Course Spotlight: Lab in the Culinary Arts

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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:

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  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

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^^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

Gastronomy Course Spotlight: Understanding Food (Theory and Methodology)

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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

Gastronomy Course Spotlight: US Food Policy and Culture

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US Food Policy and Culture has been my absolute favorite course in the Gastronomy program, and I’m a little afraid that it can’t be topped. Topics that we covered in class included the Farm Bill, the National School Lunch Program, organics, GMOs, obesity, hunger, local foods, and so much more, all with a focus on U.S. Food Policy. I have always had an interest in these topics, but it was very valuable to learn the intricacies of how various branches of the government regulate them, as well as the role that private intuitions or non profit organizations play. As a Dietitian with a strong interest in US Food Policy, I was also extremely pleased that this course introduced me to a multitude of organizations working to make good food available to all.

Ellen MesserEllen Messer taught the course, and is the same instructor that I took Food Policy and Food Systems with last semester. It was structured similarly to her previous course, with biweekly short assignments, a commodity paper midterm, and a final. Dr. Messer’s passion for eliminating hunger came across in this course as well, but it hit much closer to home as we focused on the US rather than looking at food issues internationally.

I am a huge Marion Nestle fan, so I was excited that her Food Politics book was a major contributor to the course, in addition to a chapter from What to Eat. Another great resource was Dan Imhoff’s Food Fight, a great introduction to the Farm Bill. For those of you that would like to learn more about US Food Policy, I highly recommend starting with Marion Nestle’s book. But all of the books I read for the course were excellent, and you should read them all if you get the chance. Not pictured is The End of Food, by Paul Roberts, a book that was also recommended in Ellen Messer’s international course last semester.

Image via Tufts

– Kelly

Gastronomy Course Spotlight: Food Anthropology

BU Gastronomy

I came to the Gastronomy program to understand people’s relationship with food from a new perspective, and, little did I know at the time, Food Anthropology was the perfect place for me to start. Food Anthropology is one of the 4 required core classes for the Gastronomy program, along with Introduction to Food: Theory and Methodology, History of Food, and Food and the Senses.

Coming from a rigid science background, I was suspicious that Food Anthropology was just fluff. Sure, anthropology involves data collection and analysis. But studying the culture of how people eat… is that really academic?

caroleI was in for a treat. My class was led by Professor Carole Counihan, an entertaining and well established anthropologist with an extensive background in Italian food culture, among other things. Our main assignment was to complete an ethnographic research project of a food place using participant observation, interviewing, and a literature review. The project was shaped through class discussions over various landmark food studies literature, where ideas, theories, and processes could be taken back to our own research.

My favorite part of the class was the readings. The various ethnographies of restaurants, cafeterias, grocery stores, and other food spaces provided valuable insight on why people choose to eat what they do. I learned about the various emotions, traditions, and functions associated with food for people across a variety of cultures and time periods, and I am a better Dietitian because of it. If any of you are interested in Food Anthropology, Counihan’s Food and Culture Reader just came out with a 3rd edition.

Image via Amazon

– Kelly