You don't get in to CalTech without near perfect college entrance exam scores, a 4.0 grade point average throughout high school, and often, at least one nationally recognized scientific achievement by the time you apply. The scientific rigor of what is arguably one of the two elite centers for scientific learning in the world (MIT being the other) is exemplified in some of its course titles: ChE 110 Optimal Design of Chemical Systems, Ma 105Elliptic Curves,Ph 12 Waves, Quantum Physics, and Statistical Mechanics, andAPh/BE 161 Physical Biology of the Cell. Nestled among these rigorous courses isPA 16. Cooking Basics. That's right, often while trying to learn about the intricacies of the natural world around us, many college students never are taught now to cook for themselves—Ramen noodles and 7-11 "cheeseburger chili dogs" at 4:15am (spoken from this author's personal experience) not withstanding.
In a class introduced a few semesters ago, CalTech's Assistant Vice President of Campus LifeThomas N. Mannion began teaching the course in his own home, which is complete with a professional kitchen. Being CalTech, it does seek to teachthe technical aspects of cooking as well: the textbook is"On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen", a text which focuses on the science of flavor—authored by a CalTech alum, no less. Now Prof. Mannion, along with a set of six helpers—students who previously attended the course—teach young chefs how to make a veritable feast of epicurean delights. From fresh biscuits to cheese laden grits to herb crusted roast tenderloin, the students learn how to make food to impress even those with the most discriminating taste buds.
While not taught by one of CalTech's six Nobel laureates, they too take part in this class. The final exam meal is judged by a panel of past Nobel prize winners. Not only are CalTech's resident scientists in on this sweet deal, students in the class have prepared meals for and dined with Stephen Hawking, and Jean-Lou Chameau, CalTech's newly named president. I think this represents a wonderful trend. Too often scientists become myopic regarding what's important in this world. I have found that those who make the best scientists and engineers have interests that lie well outside of science and engineering. By opening student's eyes to other paths will allow them to be more well rounded, and hopefully inspire them to go onto even greater scientific achievements.