Kitchen Lab: FAQ

With the advent of Food Fridays here at the Lab, I thought I’d take the opportunity to bring back my ludicrous Kitchen Lab posts. Why is it a lab? Because I am doing a science, of course!

WTF is Kitchen Lab?

Kitchen Lab is an intermittent series of Mad Art Lab posts where I (and any other Labbers who care to participate) try a new thing in the kitchen. Like an experiment. That’s it. For all I know, it could be simply trying a new way to wash counters, but so far it’s been food.

Why do you call it a lab?

I just told you, because I am DOING A SCIENCE!

What do you mean, doing a science?

Since I blatantly stole that from @sarcasticrover, I’ll let them explain:


A: It means just what it says. I feel that scientific understanding and engagement is at a depressingly low level in this world, and I would like it if we all looked at science a little more closely, and with a bit more enthusiasm for participation. Science is something we can all do, something we actually do everyday without realizing it – and I would like it we took a stronger interest and a brighter look at the science in our lives and worked consciously to elevate the level of understanding and curiosity in our world. That’s my hope. That’s why I want you to do a science.

So go do that please. And thank you.

That’s not science!

…and that’s not a question.

If you meant to ask, “Why (or how) is what you’re doing ‘science’ at all?” then lemme ‘splain.

Science, or more specifically the scientific method, is a way to ask (and answer) questions by making observations and doing experiments. So, I observe that interesting foodstuffs exist and then perform experiments to see if I can make them. Easy? Well, yeah. Science isn’t just for lab-coated geniuses with big-time jobs and letters behind their names, science is for everybody. Including my inept self standing in my kitchen in my PJs.

There are particular steps to the scientific method, but it all starts with asking a question. My Kitchen Lab questions are usually along the lines of “Can I make this foodthing myself in a way that a human might like to eat it?” And since the answer is generally “I don’t know yet,” we move on to background research. I look up recipes for a particular food-thing, assess the contents of my kitchen for supplies, make sure I’ve got the gear I need, and construct a hypothesis along the lines of “If I follow (or make thus-and-such modifications to) this recipe, I will make a foodthing that a human (usually me) would like to eat.” (Note: I never said it was GREAT science.)

The biggest part of the Lab is generally the experimentation part. Kitchen Lab is generally a report on my first try ever making a particular food-thing. I’m doing something unfamiliar, testing my as-yet-untested hypothesis. I have to make the thing, to see if my hypothesis (“I can make this particular foodthing in an edible way“) holds up.

Then I have to analyze my data and draw a conclusion. So, uh, I eat the foodthing (or share it with friends) to see if I like it. DATA ANALYSIS FTW! Do I conclude yes, I can make this foodthing in an edible and tasty way? No, it’s disgusting? Hell no, I burnt it to a crisp and have to try again? I don’t like it but someone else would? All valid conclusions. The answer does not have to be yes in order for the experiment to have been successful. I will publish my negative results, too!

Communicating the results of my experiments is kinda the whole point of Kitchen Lab. Here’s what I did, how I did it, and here are the results. Unfortunately, the intarwebs don’t allow for snack-transport yet, so these Kitchen Lab posts are pretty much just a looking-at-results rather than a sampling for everyone. Sorry.

If the experiment has a positive result (i.e., I would in fact like to eat this foodthing), I may attempt to replicate this experiment to see if I get the same or similar results. I encourage y’all to try this at home, replication is important to good science.

You’re not doing anything new.

And that’s STILL not a question.

However, Doing New Stuff is not always the point of science. Replicating results, or repeating experiments with different, controlled variables, is a pretty big deal. F’rinstance, every time I move into a new place, I generally make a test batch of cookies or something before trying to use my oven for anything ‘important.’ How else will I know how long it takes to preheat, or if the temperature gauge reads true, or if there are hot/cold spots in the oven? The recipe and all the ingredients are the same as I’m used to, and I know the result I should be getting because I’ve made the same kind of cookies with the same recipe and ingredients before. All variables are controlled/known except X = Oven, so I can solve for X. When the resulting cookies do not turn out as expected, I can analyze the resulting data and draw a conclusion about why that might be. And, more importantly, how I can make adjustments so I can have good cookies to eat. Which leads to more experiments…

But what’s the point?

The point is, cooking/baking/mixing/preparing is a science. You do science without even knowing it. You can do better at science (or cooking) when you think about it, maybe approach things in a different way. I mean, I am not very good at this, so I am an ideal demonstrator for beginning-level kitchen-ers. I encourage folks to try a science of their very own, and really, who doesn’t want the a bonus snack at the end? Everybody wins!

Every good scientist has to start somewhere. Some scientists don’t advance to PhD level, and that’s okay. I don’t need to be a PhD chef (which should TOTALLY be a thing, food is amazing), I just want to be able to feed myself. And I’m willing to embarrass myself a bit in order to show that this doesn’t have to be hard, and you don’t have to GET it right in order to be DOING it right. You don’t have to use exotic ingredients or spend hours with sharp objects or break the bank on expensive tools to be a Kitchen Labber, ya just gotta be interested in giving things a try.

And I certainly hope you will. (Tell me how in the comments!)

Beth Voigt

Beth is a graphic designer in Chicago, a superhero in her own mind, and absolutely nothing on TV. She wrangles fonts professionally, pummels code amateurishly, and has been known to shove fire in her face for fun. Fond of volunteering, late-night bursts of productivity, and making snacks, she dislikes grocery shopping and sticky public transit and is only on her second smartphone. Her opinion is that you should try everything twice; if you don't like it, you were probably doing it wrong the first time around. If external links are your thing, here are links to Twitter and Instagram, and you can support her ongoing weirdness by buying her a coffee or six.

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