Health

Harnessing Creativity & The Science of Pie (Event Recap)

Science & FoodBy Anthony MartinJun 10, 2014 2:00 PM

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On your mark… Get set… GO!

As the doors swung open, guests eagerly awaiting the final Science & Food lecture series were transported to a place nothing short of a Pie-Palooza. Twenty student teams stood confidently next to their baked confection and explained to the judges how they employed the scientific method to creatively reimagine the art of baking the perfect pie. Some developed aqueous solutions to modify the flakiness of their pie crusts while others sought to improve filling texture by altering pH levels and used techniques such as microscopy to measure their results. Whatever their approach, the students proved that a little bit of science goes a long way in mastering the craft of pie baking.

Dr. Paul Barber (Associate Professor, UCLA) and Dave Arnold carefully evaluate the student pie presentations

Nicole Rucker (Pastry Chef, Gjelina Take Away) and Jonathan Gold (Food Critic, LA Times) partner up as special guest judges

Lena Kwak and Dr. Rachelle Crosbie-Watson (Associate Professor, UCLA) take a closer look at student posters

After the large-scale pie tasting, guest speakers, Lena Kwak and Dave Arnold, took the stage to share their insight on innovation in the culinary laboratory and emphasized how unforeseen mishaps often lead to novel discoveries. Co-Founder and President of Cup4Cup, Kwak discussed how her breakthrough formulation of gluten-free flour was a by-product of her fearlessness to try new techniques and make mistakes in the kitchen. Founder of the Museum of Food and Drink (MOFAD) and Owner of Booker & Dax, Arnold described how curiosity and relentless dedication to experimentation led to the development of many of his out-of-the-box culinary gadgets. Case in point: the Searzall, one of his latest inventions designed for hand-held blowtorches to evenly apply high temperature heat to sear foods while avoiding the remnants of unpleasant aromatics. He also invoked the audience to participate in an experiment where he challenged everyone to digest gymnemic acid, which dulls our sensory perception of sweetness. This exercise was designed to help guests unlock and appreciate the other factors (such as texture) that contribute to our understanding of taste.

Kwak addresses the audience's questions and reveals some of ingredients in her gluten-free flour

Arnold explains and demonstrates the evolutionary process involved in developing the Searzall

Gymnemic acid, a sweetness inhibitor, made this bag of sweets taste completely bland

Finally, the panel of special guest judges shared with the audience their favorite pies from the student entries and awarded the students with prizes for the “Most Creative Pie”, “Most Qualified to Enter a Real Pie Contest”, “Best Scientific Pie”, “The People’s Choice Pie”, and “Best Overall Pie”.

Tom Folker and Eric Hirshfield-Yamanishi take home the "Most Qualified to Enter a Real Pie Contest" prize

Folker and Hirshfield-Yamanishi explored the effect alcohol, specifically Fireball whiskey, had on the overall flakiness of their pie crust and produced a pie the judges thought was worthy of a professional pie contest.

The "Most Creative Pie" went to Ying Zhi Lim and Jen So for their imaginative apple pie

These creative young women, Lim and So, took the competition to the next level by presenting a deconstructed, rosemary-infused apple pie topped with a "reverse spherified" lemon zest cream cheese sauce to a create a harmoniously balanced and flavorful treat.

Christina Chung, Tori Schmitt, and Elliot Cheung impressed the judges and won the "Best Scientific Pie" award

Chung, Schmitt, and Cheung added different combinations of liquids to generate their pie crust and recorded the amount of force required to alter the elasticity of the baked crust. Ultimately, the incorporation of beer into their pie crust recipe significantly altered texture as measured and quantified by the elastic modulus.

Apple Queens, Alina Naqvi and Ashley Upkins-Scott, stole the show and won both "The People's Choice Pie" and "Best Overall Pie" prize

Naqvi and Upkins-Scott of team Apple Queens took different varieties of apples, including Granny Smith, Red Delicious, Pink Lady, and Fiji, to produce a crumble top pie that garnered praise from both the audience and the judges.

Congratulations to all the winners!

All photos were captured by Patrick Tran. For more images from the event, visit this photo album.


Anthony Martin received his Ph.D. in Genetic, Cellular and Molecular Biology at USC and is self-publishing a cookbook of his favorite Filipino dishes.

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