Book Club – Sept 3rd, 2009 Edition

The following is a guest post by Shimon Rura. All photos and text are from him.

On Thursday evenings, Jeff Potter invites friends to dinner at his place. New ideas are tested and discussed, with Jeff taking copious notes before, during, and after each course.

At the table this evening were (from left to right above): Mac Cowell, Cynthia, Steve, Jeff, and Sophia. I’m Shimon Rura behind the camera.

This was the first “book club” dinner.

Right, Jeff attempts to add a carmelized surface to a white gazpacho soup that Cynthia and Steve brought. Mac suggested it would be well matched with a crunchy texture, like the carmelized sugar atop creme brulee.

Of course, a sweet crust would clash with the flavor of gazpacho, which is heavy on tomatoes and vinegar. So Jeff combined sugar with an experimental food additive that masks or removes sweetness from foods in hope of making a flavor-neutral crust.

Unfortunately, a crust did not form as desired and we moved on to other things.

Jeff’s kitchen, left, is part garden and part science lab. You might notice the microscope sitting next to the blowtorch behind a basil plant.

Between the kitchen and dining areas are some bar stools, perfect for watching the process and volunteering to help, or just snagging a stray chunk of cheese now and then.

Our first course was a salad with peppers, tomatoes, basil, and mozzarella. Two varieties were served: one with organic ingredients and one conventional. Guests did generally prefer one variety over the other, and we think the organic stuff was preferred, but aren’t totally sure because some things may have gotten moved around a bit in the kitchen.

In any case, both versions were very tasty; even in a direct comparison, minute factors such as ripeness probably far outweigh any flavor effects of pesticides.

Cynthia helped to prepare the basil. Jeff selected potted basil plants for use here, and did not rinse the leaves. “They should be clean, and will hold more flavor,” he said.
A refrigerated centrifuge sits in a corner in Jeff’s apartment. It came from a high school teacher who was getting rid of some equipment, via Mac (below left).
We discussed a wide range of topics during the evening. Many of them had nothing to do with food. Everyone at the table was into something pretty interesting.
After our first course, we decided to test our tastebuds. People fall into three general genetically-determined classes of taster: supertasters, who have many fungiform pappillae buds; normal tasters, who don’t have as many; and nontasters, who have even fewer. Supertasters can be put off by the flavors of foods like brussels sprouts, coffee, and carbonated drinks.

One way to classify yourself is to count how many of these buds you see in the area of a paper punch-hole. We used a blue food coloring to make these more visible. Mac went first.

After the dye is applied, place a blank sheet of paper with a punched hole onto your tongue, and have a friend count the number of whitish bumps.

This is harder than it sounds. Those things are tiny.

Photographing your tongue (don’t forget to switch into macro mode) might be easier, if you can get the focus right.
So, we all got together, put some paper on our tongues, and made funny faces.

I hear that’s pretty much what they did in the 60s.

Our second course was wonderful salad, consisting of cubes of watermelon and feta cheese, along with a bit of red onion, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar.

If you haven’t had watermelon+feta before, I recommend it very highly. It’s a surprisingly harmonious combination.

The main course was chicken breasts (prepared sous vide, then browned in a frying pan) with snow peas and red and yellow bell peppers over pasta.

Again, there were two varieties: one with organic peppers and chicken, and one conventional. Opinions were, if anything, more divided here than with the tomato/mozzarella salad.

You can also test for supertaster status using a strip of chemical-coated paper like what Jeff is holding here. The paper is coated with phenylthiocarbamide (PTC), and supertasters should experience a strong adverse reaction — you’ll see a grimace. Normal tasters will detect some bitterness. Nontasters will think, “you know, this paper tastes exactly like paper.”

According to this test, I am a nontaster. Our group of 6 had two nontasters, two normal tasters, and two supertasters. (I won’t name names.)

We also tasted paper coated with sodium benzoate, which is a common preservative. A small percentage of people have a genetic trait that makes this chemical taste unpleasant.

None of us seemed to have that, although Jeff did report a lingering aftertaste.

Thank you for hosting a wonderful evening, Jeff. Thank you also to Cynthia, Steve, Sophia, and Mac for being excellent company and wonderful photographic subjects.

Hope to see you all again soon.

Shimon Rura

shimon -at- rura.org

0 thoughts on “Book Club – Sept 3rd, 2009 Edition”

  1. This was a fun and informative evening…. and weird. Testing our tongues with blue dye took me outside my comfort zone…but it was interesting. Jeff’s combination of feta and watermelon was wonderful and a dish that I will try myself.

    Cynthia

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