CHEM 178: Chemistry of Cooking


This semester, I finally had the opportunity to take CHEM 178: Chemistry of Cooking. I’d heard about this course during my interview for Rice during my senior year of high school, and I instantly knew it was for me. I loved the idea that one of my least favorite high school subjects (admittedly poorest as well) could be transformed into an exciting form that I could thoroughly enjoy.

CHEM 178 is a small 18-20 student class only offered during the Spring semester. Needless to say, the wait list for this class is very long. This course examines the chemistry involved in the composition, transformation, and consumption of food. Topics include chemical properties and processes of food, cooking tools and techniques, sensory perception, and nutrition. This course will also explore the various connections, both materially and philosophically, between food and culture. Lectures and hands-on kitchen experiments are taught in conjunction with Rice Dining staff, an experience unparalleled by any other course on campus.

Co-taught by Dr. Lesa Tran Lu (Associate Teaching Professor in the Department of Chemistry) and Chef Johnny Curet (Director of Campus Dining), the course encourages students to engage in scientific inquiry and creative self-expression through food and cooking, while also demonstrating diligence in understanding how the viewpoints and experiences of others may be different from their own. 

While my chemistry skills may be questionable, my love for food and cooking is not. I am taking the course to fulfill my Division III (Natural Sciences) requirements, but I am so excited to grow as a cook throughout the course. From learning how to properly julienne a jalapeno, how osmosis applies to freshwater vs saltwater fish, and the thermodynamics behind spices, I have grown so much as a cook and we’re only halfway through the semester.

In fact, I am learning so much that Naman wanted to get in on the action and crashed one of our labs focused on Modernist techniques. Watch the video below to learn more about CHEM 178, one of Rice’s most unique course offerings!


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