Oxford Symposium

Oxford Symposium


125. The Chinese tea ceremony

Posted on January 30, 2017

The Chinese New Year, which began this year on January 28th, is a big deal in Sydney, which has a large and vibrant Chinese community, some of whose families go back to the gold rush days of the 1850s. As part of the celebrations, the Art Gallery of New South Wales hosted a demonstration of the traditional Chinese tea ceremony. The ceremony predates its better-known Japanese cousin, and goes back to the 9th century. By pure chance, I was in ...

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Letter to “Times,” Thursday June 16 (2016), re food and Brexit.

Posted on June 16, 2016

At Theodore Zeldin's suggestion, supported and promoted by Paul Levy, here is a letter that I and 59 others signed, with food-related reasons for Britain to stay firmly in the EU. Sir, As people engaged in the food world, concerned about the cultural, nutritional and environmental effects of our food supply, and especially the quality of our diet, we urge Britons to vote to stay in the EU. Who would want this country to return to the time ...

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Brain cutlets, anyone?

In celebration of the “offal” theme at the 2016 Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery, here is the wonderful brain cutlet story from Lawrence Durrell’s Prospero’s Cell, a semi-fictional diary of his time on Corfu. The Count is “Count D” (probably an invented character, represented as a recluse who has befriended Durrell and his small group). “Theodore” is the very real and erudite Dr Theodore Stephanides, whom many will recognize ...

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101. Tacit knowledge and the replication of results.

One thing that seldom gets talked about in the world of science is the notion of tacit knowledge – that is, know-how that is only, and sometimes can only, be passed on through direct experience. A recent example was described in the journal Nature (Vol. 514, pp. 139 – 140 (2014)). It concerned measurements of the quality of sapphire, now used to make laser mirrors. Russian scientists were claiming very high precision that Western scientists ...

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The true place of science in gastronomy

Posted on July 6, 2015

My contribution to a panel discussion at the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery, Sunday July 5th, 2015. We don’t need to understand science to enjoy our food, but quite often we need science to provide us with food that we can enjoy, and understanding the science can add to that enjoyment. When it comes to enjoying it in the gastronomic sense, a good starting point is early nineteenth-century Paris. This was when Charles Fourier ...

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How To Eat Your Mummy

Posted on June 29, 2015

I am a regular speaker at the annual Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery, where famous food writers, food historians, and other food enthusiasts share their ideas and experiences in the cloistered dignity of St. Catherine’s College, Oxford. Well, it would be cloistered if it was one of the older colleges, but St. Catz is actually a modern college, and lacks such picturesque features. Dignity was also notably lacking from its main lecture hall ...

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Shaken, not Stirred: The Story of Mixers and Mixing

Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery, St Catherine's College, Oxford, July 5-7 (2013) A talk in which I dressed up as James Bond to deliver a stirring message, with co-author Janet Clarkson playing the part of "M", and third author Alan Parker staying safely away in Geneva. From the abstract: For once, James Bond got his science right. A martini should be shaken, not stirred, because the aim is not so much to mix the ingredients as to get ...

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All Wrapped Up – A History of Mummy Eating

Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery, St. Catherine's College Oxford, July 6-8 (2012) (with Janet Clarkson) Now published in the proceedings of the symposium, and also available as a video showing me delivering part of the talk dressed as a mummy. From the abstract: When it comes to stuffing and wrapping, nobody did it better than the ancient Egyptians. Corpses were eviscerated and dried with a desiccating salt mixture known as natron. ...

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The Great Aussie Barbecue

My talk at the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery, Oxford U.K., 8–10 July, 2011 Here's the full text: INTRODUCTION The Aussie barbecue is a unique celebratory institution. From humble beginnings, with meat cooked on a ploughshare over an outback campfire, or on a shovel in the firebox of a steam locomotive, the Aussie barbecue has now reached iconic status. It forms the focus of many of our national and personal celebrations. To ...

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The Kitchen Thinker: Anosmia

Daily Telegraph (UK) A great summary by food journalist Bee Wilson of a talk that I gave at the 2009 Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery. I described how the sense of smell is unique to each of us, and how this affects our enjoyment of a meal. Here is one example, as summarized by Bee: "Seven per cent of the population cannot smell trimethylamine, a compound whose presence indicates that fish is going off. I find this fact truly astonishing. ...

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