Culinary detective Shirley Corriher hunts down answers to cooking mysteries
Special to the Star-Advertiser
POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Nov 3, 2010
Scrambled eggs launched the career of Shirley Corriher, cook, teacher, food writer, speaker, Food Network TV personality and culinary sleuth.
In 1959, Corriher and her husband started a boys school in Atlanta. "We started with two boys and had 30 at the end of the year," she said via telephone from her home in Atlanta, noting that she was the three-meals-a-day cook and didn't know how to cook.
"This was the 1950s; there were no nonstick pans. I would stand in the big old kitchen and crack a dozen eggs into a big frying pan with great dread. Then I heated the pan and with a big spatula, I'd scrape like crazy. The boys said they were starving -- they got very little egg."
Sage cooking advice from her mother-in-law solved the scrambled egg dilemma: "Liquid protein had gotten into every nook and cranny of the pan, then I heated the pan and cooked the liquid into the pan," recalled Corriher. "If you heat the empty pan first, then you have a hot surface to cook the food on, not in."
Corriher's career as a cook took hold -- it had to because the school grew to 140 students. But with a degree in chemistry from Vanderbilt University, she expanded her knowledge and understanding of food and cooking techniques.
In 1970, divorced with three children and no financial resources, Corriher began to teach classic French cooking and has since become one of the country's best-known culinary scientists and food sleuths.
She is a frequent speaker at gatherings of scientists and food experts and works with food companies. She writes for newspapers and such national food magazines as Fine Cooking and Food and Wine.
Corriher is in the islands this week to conduct classes for culinary students at Hawaii Community College in Hilo and Kapiolani Community College, presented by Hale Aina Ohana, a culinary education nonprofit based in Hawaii.
"People turned up their noses at food science in the beginning," recalled Corriher. "Back then in the 1980s, people despised science; 'We're gourmet,' they would say."
A small group of scientists and food enthusiasts began discussions on molecular and physical gastronomy as applied to food in the 1980s. They met formally in August 1992 at Erice in Sicily, Italy, led by cook and teacher Elizabeth Cawdry Thomas and Oxford physicist Nicholas Kurti.
The group convened for another dozen years to discuss traditional food preparations, how they work and how they might be improved with applied physics and chemistry.
In the past decade the interest in food science has grown, influenced no doubt by the publicity surrounding El Bulli chef Ferran Adria of Spain and Food Network's Alton Brown.
Corriher's books, "CookWise" and "BakeWise," lay out the science of food and cooking in simple terms and offer recipes that work, demonstrating the role of ingredients and techniques -- many of them her own -- in cooking. And she does it all with simple language and lots of humor.