The discovery of a means of cooking food is a crucial stage in the history of humanity. Although raw food still plays a vital nutritional role and constitutes a marker of food practices associated with beliefs and rituals, in the very long term cooked food has given rise to key social, technical, and economic developments. The processes used in cooking have never ceased to become increasingly diverse ever since the mastery of fire. All the various sources of energy have been used, whether this involves cooking in direct contact with the flame – with wood, coal, and gas, cooking in indirect contact with the flame - smoking, or cooking without the use of any flame at all – by means of electricity, steam, vacuum, or cryogenics.
The variety of the types of cooking has given rise to the development of ever more sophisticated equipment and appliances: cooking in buried ovens, the construction of brick-lined hearths and ovens, roasting spits, cast-iron stove, stoves with gas burners, cookers, convection ovens, fan assisted ovens, microwaves, and radiant and induction hobs. To adapt kitchen utensils to all these cooking methods Man’s inventiveness has succeeded in making all kinds of containers, which enable the cook to use heating times and intensity to good advantage: numerous types of frying pans, saucepans, casseroles, stew pots, stockpots, the pressure cooker, and the wok. Likewise, the use of a wide variety of materials – from copper to aluminium, and from clay to stainless steel – has increased food cooking solutions by making each material suitable for different types of cooking.
Whatever the level of complexity or simplicity of the dish being prepared, the skill of the person doing the cooking has for a long time been derived from their ability to master the cooking operation. Moreover, a wide range of culinary processes has progressively made cooking methods increasingly subtle, thereby giving rise to a precise technical vocabulary, e.g. to blanch, to braise, to simmer, to poach, to fry, to brown, to roast, and to seal/sear. However, the art of cooking is difficult, and the following advice can generally be applied to all areas of that art: “In cake and pastry-making, the cooking is the most delicate operation of all. At the last moment, an oven that is either too hot or, on the contrary, not hot enough can produce a really awful result”. (G. Mathiot, Je sais faire la pâtisserie, Paris, Albin Michel, 1938). Taste is a major criterion when appraising the successfulness of cooking, but it is, by its very nature, subjective. This fact is reflected by the numerous terms which are used in order to indicate precisely at what stage of the cooking of a dish the desired result has been obtained– or obtained without actually wanting to – at the consummation of the operation: from done to a turn to burnt to a crisp! However, it is not the only parameter accepted by our societies, as recommendations as to hygiene, medical opinions, traditional beliefs, and religious practices all have their roles to play as opinion leaders in culinary customs and practices. Innovation is not solely the effect of technical change. If the addition of a thermostat gives greater control and hence better results when cooking, the grounds for the reduction in the amount of fats, for example, are linked to health standards and guidelines or cultural fashions.
Call for papers
The evolution of different cooking methods and their effects over the very long term therefore provide a great many topics to examine. This conference will not manage to exhaust all of them, but we intend to adopt as diverse an approach as possible, by the choice of the multidisciplinary nature of the conference papers, by a comparative study of several geographical areas (these will not be limited to the European area but will consist of an opening-up of the study to all the continents), and by the consideration of every period from prehistory to the present-day.
Priority will be given to three particular areas of interest:
1- cooking techniques, e.g. energy sources, domestic or professional appliances and equipment, and cooking utensils.
2- rituals and practices, e.g. cooking times, cooking environments, the arousal of the senses, training and the passing on of practices from generation to generation, different vocabularies and symbolisms, and resistance to innovation.
3- food-related reactions and ramifications, e.g. food processing, nutritional and medical recommendations, and food and wine standards.
Both the domestic and professional fields are to be considered, as are topics ranging from institutional catering to gourmet restaurants.
Proposals for papers (a 1,500 character abstract) and accompanying CVs should be submitted to :
Jean-Pierre Williot (firstname.lastname@example.org)
before 1st February 2010.
The successful applicants will be notified on 1st March 2010.
The conference will take place in Tours from 23rd November to 25th November 2010.
Professeur d'Histoire contemporaine
Université François Rabelais
3, rue des Tanneurs -
F - 37041 Tours Cedex 1
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