Former White House pastry chef connects food with science in workshop for girls
February 4, 2016 12:00 AM
Students watch as their DNA becomes visible in sample tubes Wednesday at a workshop to promote STEM education at the Carnegie Science Center. The workshop was sponsored by Covestro and greenlight for girls.
Bill Yosses, former White House executive pastry chef, demonstrates how to make chocolate mousse without eggs or cream using super-cold liquid nitrogen to thicken the chocolate.
DNA workshop teacher Jelena Lucin, center, explains the process of extracting DNA at the science workshop.
Amani Spruill-Beck extracts her DNA in a workshop at the Carnegie Science Center.
Takela Mickens extracts her DNA in a workshop at the Carnegie Science Center.
Teacher Jelena Lucin, left, tells Madison Langer and Jali Ransom, right, what to watch for as their DNA becomes visible in a sample tube Wednesday at a Covestro and greenlight for girls event to promote STEM education at Carnegie Science Center.
Covestro President Jerry MacCleary speaks at the opening of a science workshop to promote STEM education at the Carnegie Science Center.
By Joyce Gannon / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
As executive pastry chef at the White House under two presidents, Bill Yosses created desserts for eight lavish state dinners, including those that honored Great Britain’s Queen Elizabeth, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande.
While preparing the menus involved consulting with the president and first lady’s chiefs of staff, the state department and foreign officials, Mr. Yosses said the real “mind-blowing” experience was walking out the kitchen’s back door to pick fresh ingredients from the garden on the South Lawn.
Mr. Yosses helped develop the White House Kitchen Garden spearheaded by first lady Michelle Obama. Three times a week, he led students on tours of the plot as well as a nearby beehive.
As he observed the children’s fascination with eating tomatoes off the vine or tasting herbs, Mr. Yosses noticed food was a powerful teaching tool. That revelation inspired him to leave the White House in 2014 for his next act: Kitchen Garden Laboratory, a New York City-based business that connects cooking with science.
With a focus on delivering programs to children in low-income communities, Kitchen Garden creates lesson plans for teachers that include healthy recipes and explanations of how they align with scientific facts. The organization also helps students create gardens on their rooftops or elsewhere on school grounds.
On Wednesday, Mr. Yosses brought his message about integrating learning with food preparation — as well as his kitchen skills — to Pittsburgh for an educational event at the Carnegie Science Center on the North Shore.
The program was sponsored by Covestro, a German-based plastics and chemical company that has its North American headquarters in Robinson; and by greenlight for girls, a Brussels, Belgium-based nonprofit that promotes the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and math.
About 125 girls ages 11 to 15 participated in Wednesday’s event; most were middle school students from the city and other communities. “There’s a great disparity in a lot of science fields that are male-dominated,” Mr. Yosses said in a phone interview prior to his Pittsburgh visit.
“We’re trying to get across that there is definitely a place at the STEM table for women and girls in all these fields. Even if they’re not going to do it as a profession, it behooves men and women to learn more about science.”
During his keynote address, Mr. Yosses whipped up an eggless, creamless chocolate mousse. He demonstrated how gelatin can be used as a protein source instead of egg yolks and water instead of cream to create something as smooth and tasty as traditional mousse.
“With just a little bit of understanding of chemistry and physical mechanics, you can make great food healthier and just as delicious,” he said.
For the 62-year-old native of Toledo, Ohio, food was an important part of family life. “Dinner time was the sacred time to share stories of the day,” he said.
He studied French language and literature for his bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and worked in several restaurants in France, New York City and elsewhere before joining the White House staff during the administration of George W. Bush.
“I’m really not a scientist,” he said, though he has lectured at universities such as Harvard and UCLA on how food can be used to teach scientific principles.
“I had a great chemistry teacher in high school. When I thought about the science and chemistry behind baking, it made me a better baker.”
Joyce Gannon: email@example.com or 412-263-1580.
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