James Oseland

James Oseland realizes he's a nerd.

on Jun 2, 2011

If you couldn’t tell by the suspenders and bow tie I sported for this week’s episode, it turns out that I’m a nerd. I’m genuinely, deeply interested in the biological and chemical processes that we engage with whenever we cook or eat. When I cook at home, I dissect everything; even when I cook things that I think are good, I like to pay attention to what exactly it was that made them so great, whether it was a balance between acid and fat in a stew, or the effects that the ambient temperature in the kitchen that day had on the final result. Early in this week’s episode, Curtis told the cheftestants that cooking was a lot like science; the fact is, cooking is science. As this episode drove home, even the simple act of making a dough or searing a steak is chemistry and physics in action. It was pretty ironic when Hugh’s assistant this week told him he wasn’t a scientist; he certainly is — it’s just a matter of semantics.

Given my predisposition for the geekier side of food, I had a blast participating in this week’s episode. Ruth and I were like kids in a candy shop wandering around the Top Chef Masters Edible Science Fair—maybe we had too much fun, since the producers kept shooing us away from the cheftestants’ demos because we were spending so much time asking questions and marveling at science in action! I was deeply impressed by (almost) all of the cheftestants’ commitment to this week’s intellectually rigorous challenge; I walked away from most of their demos having learned things I’d never known before, and also appreciating the depth to which the chefs had rethought techniques and properties that they’d been working with for years. 

Mary Sue’s demonstration on viscosity was the perfect encapsulation of everything we were looking for in this challenge. Every chef knows that some liquids are thicker and slower moving than others, and that this variance in texture can have a meaningful effect on a final dish. But at her table, Mary Sue delivered an impassioned, engaging, lucid demonstration of the differences between dulce de leche and cream—as well as why they’re different. It didn’t hurt that her dulce de leche churro was utterly spectacular; it was a bite of food good enough to win any Elimination Challenge. Poor Floyd is clearly getting tired of always coming in second to Mary Sue. His exquisite (petri) dish of beef two ways was just as delicious as that churro, but Mary Sue really nailed the challenge on the strength of her natural teaching style and the strong visuals of her demo.