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Food For Thought

by Alexlyn Dundas

Photography by Sarah Wu

Boston University has a foodie gem hiding in its midst; it is a treasure trove of food enthusiasts—cheesemongers, vintners, photographers and stylists, policymakers and chefs—who have all gathered to share their passion for food. Boston University’s Gastronomy Program is a unique program for BU students and Boston locals interested in food. It is one of only a handful of food focused programs in the world that offers the opportunity to study food to the same degree that math or language are typically studied.

The BU Masters of Liberal Arts in Gastronomy in conjunction with the Graduate Certificate in Food Studies and the Certificate Program in the Culinary Arts is truly a unique program. Created in 1991 by celebrated chefs Julia Child and Jacques Pépin, the program marries food with traditional academic study. The program came into fruition due to Child and Pépin’s, along with other school administrators, desire for a formal program that utilizes traditional academic fields like anthropology, history, literature and sociology and applies it to culinary arts. The goal was to give academic credibility and attention to the interdisciplinary knowledge needed within the food industry. Child and Pépin wanted to show the world that working with food was more than just eating or cooking.

"There's a lot more to the field than cooks piddling in the kitchen. It's high time that it's recognized as a serious discipline," Child said in an interview with The New York Times.

The Gastronomy Program prides itself on its interdisciplinary curriculum, the characteristic that sets it apart from its policy or nutrition-driven counterparts such as NYU’s Steinhardt School and Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition.

The program requires 16 credits of fundamental classes that cover major subjects across academia; Introduction to Gastronomy, in which theories and methodologies from all academic disciplines are applied to food; Anthropology of Food, which studies the human relationship with acquiring, producing and consuming food; History of Food, which traces the role food played in shaping historical events and Food and the Senses, in which students learn the sensory perceptions and functions of food as cultural and physical phenomena.

Students are free to apply their remaining 24 credits to all sorts of food-related subjects, such as writing for food media, the cuisine of France, planning a food business, artisanal cheeses or food in film. The elective list allows students to specialize in business, culture, history or communication and includes time for directed studies and thesis writing.

“The Science of Food and Cooking” (MET ML 619) was a popular class during the fall of 2016; it gave students a deeper look into the science of preparing, cooking and storing food. Professor Valerie Ryan, a graduate of the gastronomy program with a background in Food and Nutrition and Food Chemistry, explored the basic chemistry of modern and traditional cooking in her curriculum.

“With technology, and the way food is being modified, we need to have some basic knowledge in the ways food can be or is being manipulate[d] and process[ed] before it reaches our tables,” said Lyrsa Torres-Velez (MET ’18). She wrote her final paper on analog meat (faux meat) and presented the science behind a recipe for "Sorullitos de Maiz con Mayo Ketchup," a Puerto Rican appetizer and dipping sauce originally created in the mid 1800s.

Other hands-on classes are available through the baking and cooking labs offered exclusively to Gastronomy students each semester. If a student wants to maximize their time in the kitchen, the Gastronomy MLA also works in conjunction with the Certificate in Culinary Arts and offers a full-time culinary curriculum in the fall and spring semesters. Students don chef coats and aprons and learn the basic principles of cooking and baking in the professional kitchen at 808 Commonwealth Avenue. Instructors hail from local Boston restaurants, and several times in the past Jacques Pépin himself has lead a special demonstration.

This program attracts professionals from all areas of the food industry looking to enrich their careers or tackle a new culinary career. The gastronomy program is interdisciplinary; therefore, students with no prior experience in the food industry can explore and develop their passion for food. For BU foodies, it offers the chance to align their undergraduate degrees with their passion for food.

“I never thought I'd be interested in pursuing food as a career,” said one incoming Gastronomy student, “but after finding out about this program freshman year, I set it as a goal to mix my undergraduate studies [in communications] with food.”

BU’s Gastronomy Program has elevated the study of food to an academic level. Alumni go on to impressive careers as chefs, industry consultants, food filmmakers, writers and business owners all over the world, yet the program remains relatively unknown to incoming BU students.

Interest piqued? Check out the websites for the Masters of Liberal Arts in Gastronomy, the Food Studies Graduate Certificate and the rest of the Food & Wine programs at Boston University. Be sure to sneak a peek at student life on the Gastronomy at BU blog too!

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