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A QualitEvolution is intended to capture positions and experiences as a participant in the evolution of the Quality profession into the 21st century. From its origins as the brainchild of Corporate Industrial Statisticians, our profession has transformed and evolved to incorporate and adapt to the demands and expectations of our modern existence.

The scope of the subject matter within A QualitEvolution extends to the furthest ranges of quality, business transformation, management science, and quality issues especially pertinent to the members of ASQ in Canada.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Unexpected Quality - Design of Experiments in a PBS Cooking Show

This month's challenge from the View from the Q post this month is to find quality in unexpected places.

One of my personal interests is the pursuit of proper and effective cooking techniques.  Unlike the celebrity-driven cooking shows portraying slim socialites, haughty foreigners, or gluttonous hosts, I have switched the channel to the calmer programming of Public Broadcasting to find a more appeasing and intellectually stimulating approach to cooking.

There is a cluster of shows emanating from the America's Test Kitchen concept which includes Cook's Illustrated, Cook's County, and similar brands.  Operating out of Brookline, Massachusetts, this group presents and publishes instructional recipes from the unique perspective of experimentation.  Without intending to do so, this organization has demonstrated the principles of Design of Experiments.

I will simplify the discussion with this summary:
- Each recipe or cooking approach represents an instance of experimentation
- Factors include cooking method, ingredients, flavorings, and other approaches
- Treatments refer to the alternatives of the different factors and can include:
  • Cooking meat with or without the bone
  • Cooking with the pot covered or uncovered
  • Making a pie crust with flour and water or flour and water plus vodka (reducing the gluten and resulting in a flakier crust
There is a recent publication, The Science of Good Cooking which elaborates on the scientific principles behind the cooking methods and approaches. A summary of some of the concepts, obtained from experimentation in the test kitchens, include:

  • High Heat develops flavor (due to the chemical interaction known as the Maillard reaction)
  • Resting the meat 20-30 minutes after meat has been cooked results in less loss of meat "juices", resulting in slices with higher levels of moisture and flavor.
  • Salt makes meat juicy and skin crisp (by attracting the fluids of the meat to the surface creating a super-concentrated, shallow brine which dries the surface, leading to a crispier finish)
  • The high content of butterfat in creme fraiche (30-40 percent, compared to much lower concentrations in sour cream and yogurt) protects against curdling (clumping with proteins) when used in hot dishes.
The appeal of this program goes beyond cooking demonstrations to compare kitchen appliances (i.e. BBQ smokers, blenders, kettles, etc.) and taste preferences of commercial brands of common grocery items (ketchup, peanut butter, etc.).  It is very interesting how they compare alternatives and come up with an optimal solution, or a reasonably close approximation obtained from simplified cooking techniques or compressed practices.

Design of Experiments is a quality concept that is frequently performed inadvertently by those seeking to optimize solutions or eliminate negative outcomes.  The cooking approach taken by America's Test Kitchen applies Design of Experiments so effectively that DoE examples can be reconstructed by following the recipes and rationale described in the publications.

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