• A Chef’s Microbiology

    by  • January 1, 2018 • Fiction • 0 Comments

    Reviewed by Phil A. Minyawn
    Brought to our attention by E. B. Fischadler
    Art by Scarlett O’Hairdye

    If you’re reading this over lunch, or even a snack, put it away until you’re done eating. For that matter, don’t read A Chef’s Microbiology by Lotta Wurms unless you need to drop a few dozen pounds; it has left me wondering if I will ever eat again. This book comes on the heels of Wurms’ other fine book on food: Digestive Forensics, in which Wurms describes how she learned that her adolescent was gorging on junk food by examining the child’s vomitus. Wurms on food is (are?) clearly suitable only for those with an iron stomach.

    The book starts off innocently enough, enumerating the dozens of species of microbes that create the several varieties of green and blue cheese. Wurms soon digresses far afield when she purports to demonstrate the existence of life on the moon, specifically the microbe “Noxious Gorgonzolas,” which, she argues, converted a pleasant Camembert into the green cheese that composes the Earth’s satellite.

    She returns to more familiar turf, albeit macro, not microbiology, in her discussions of biologic meat tenderizers. Reading her formula for crispy beef made me gag on a dish of rice. Wurms places a tough cut of beef with hundreds of maggots into a plastic bag that she tosses in the fridge for a few days. Over that period, the maggots eat most of the connective tissue in the meat, making it tender. Wurms also recommends this as a means to store meat without refrigeration, as the maggots prefer meat gone bad; they will eat the rancid outer layers, leaving a core of fresh meat.

    The meat, maggots and all, is then roasted at 350 degrees for 30 minutes per pound. The result is a medium to well-done roast, tender inside with a crunchy outer coating. My nutritionist neighbor insists the coating has no nutrient value, but that it acts like an overdose of fiber on the digestive tract.

    Wurms’ concept for the “kitchen silo” arose when she noted that some popular high-fiber digestive aids are merely fine wood fibers dissolved in water. She sets up a stovepipe on the counter, into which she tosses peels, rinds, and used toothpicks. She then “starts” the silo with an over-the-counter probiotic. After several weeks, Wurms pulls the resulting silage from the bottom of the stack, which she serves as a side dish similar to naturally fermented sauerkraut. It’s a bit hard to discriminate between Wurms’ silage and compost–both taste about the same to me. This may be an example of the fine distinctions one encounters in haute cuisine.

    Several novel approaches to meats appear in Wurms’ book. Her technique of using hemorrhagic fevers to render meat free of blood and thus kosher must be employed with caution. Unless one selects a disease that can be killed by heat, the consumer will be rendered as pale as the beef.

    Wurms also has some innovative techniques for less popular cuts of beef. For example, she carefully selects cattle with mad cow disease when looking for sweetbread. Mad cow disease, known in the technical literature as bovine spongiform encephalitis, creates pores in the poor animal’s brain, making it resemble a sponge. Wurms appreciates this as giving the sweetbread a unique texture and lightness.

    Art for "A Chef's Microbiology"

    Several novel approaches to meats appear in Wurms’ book. Her technique of using hemorrhagic fevers to render meat free of blood and thus kosher must be employed with caution. Unless one selects a disease that can be killed by heat, the consumer will be rendered as pale as the beef.

    When preparing tripe, Wurms has the cow eat a specific diet consisting of several types of vegetables. After slaughtering and butchering the cow, she cooks the stomach with its contents intact. The digestive juices give the contents a vinegary taste that Wurms likens to salad with Italian dressing.

    One of the perks of being a food writer is trying new recipes on friends before they become fads. In the case of Wurms’ book, I was in no hurry. I doubt her cooking will be fashionable in my (or anyone else’s) lifetime.

    On a recent Saturday evening, some former friends and I shared a meal described in Wurms’ book. It begins with an appetizer of mold gelatin. You read that right. This is not a gelatin molded to a particular shape. It’s a pile of mold allowed to reach the stage where it resembles a lump of greenish Jell-O.

    The main course was Wurms’ sausage. Not only is the name a reference to the author, it is also a description of the contents. Fortunately, roasting in a 450 degree oven for 30 minutes is usually adequate to make the contents stop moving.

    As a side, Wurms suggests a salad made with Venus Flytrap. The variety she specifies doesn’t simply sit and wait for some unfortunate insect. It hunts its food. This helps keep the presentation neat, as the salad consumes any crumbs, as well as escaped contents of the sausage before it gets too far.

    When I announced dessert, the guests’ enthusiasm increased dramatically, as they were under the impression that Wurms included no desserts in her cookbook. Boy, were they ever wrong!  Wurms’ custard surprise is prepared by first making an incredibly sweet custard, then leaving it on the counter long enough for ants to find it. She then has the cook fold the ants into the custard. More than one of the guests made oblique comments on the sharp contrast between the sweetness of the custard and the acidic taste of the ants.[1]

    In contrast to her obvious mastery of culinary science, Wurms’ ability as a biologist has come into question. One prior reviewer wrote “Rather than being trained in an academic kitchen, I would assert that Wurms learned her skills in a sewage treatment plant.”[2] Who am I to argue? Yet one must grant that Wurms’ introduction of the underappreciated public works to the kitchen is a unique contribution to fusion cuisine.

    One example of Wurms’ weakness in biology is her confusion of the species Arthrotaxis myestosase and Arthrotaxis myestosose. One could forgive her the occasional typo, but the genetic code of these species is sufficiently different that the correct identification is immediately obvious.[3]

    Wurms also fails to meet the bar as a tutor of biology. A party game she invented entails serving two plates of lamb hors-d’oeuvre at cocktail parties. One is roasted with the usual herbs. The same recipe is used to prepare the second, with the addition of salmonella. Wurms asserts that she can differentiate the two based on taste, and that she can teach anyone to do so as well. The untimely deaths of her first three husbands demonstrates that she cannot.

    Not only has Wurms begun a new school of fusion cuisine, but her work includes contributions to anthropology. Writers of books on the diet of past civilizations have cited Wurms’ cookbook. For example: “Wurms has created a cookbook suitable to Neanderthals but too crude for Cro Magnon.”[4]

    It is with the same sort of anticipation that a convict has for the electric chair that I look forward to Wurms’ forthcoming book: Dark Coffee: Beverages Made With Recycled Wastewater, though I suspect it is hardly a coffee table book.



    [1] That special flavor comes from formic acid, which ants make to digest wood.

    [2] Scatological Review Letters vol 12. It should be noted that this reviewer apparently has a bone to pick. He goes on to state: “Wurms can’t seem to decide which end of the alimentary canal she’s working.”

    [3] The genetic code for Arthrotaxis myestosase ends in the string GATCGGTACTTTGCCATCAAGGTGCCATGCCCTAG, whereas the genetic code for Arthrotaxis myestosose ends in GATCGGTACTTTGCCATCAAGGTGCGATGCCCTAG.

    [4] The Caveman Cookbook by Wilma Flintstone, Bedrock Press 2012 BC.

    Phil A. Minyawn came to culinary science with a degree in physics. He readily made the transition from nuclear fusion to fusion cuisine. His book If it Quarks Like a Duck … is based on his dissertation, Sweeping a Few Particles Under the Rug. He is also well known for his biography of Leonard McCoy, Physicist, Physician–It’s All the Same to Me. Minyawn is currently Oscar-Meyer professor of sausage and franks and is much in demand for his lecture series “you don’t know beans.”

    E. B. Fischadler has been writing short stories for several years, and has recently begun publishing. His stories have appeared in Mad Scientist Journal, Bewildering Stories, eFiction, Voluted Tales, Beyond Imagination Literary Magazine, and Beyond Science Fiction. In addition to fiction, Fischadler has published over 30 papers in refereed scientific journals, as well as a chapter of a textbook on satellite engineering. When he is not writing, he pursues a career in engineering and serves his community as an EMT. Fischadler continues to write short stories and is working on a novel about a naval surgeon. You can learn more about Fischadler and access his other publications at: https://ebfischadler.wordpress.com/

    Scarlett O’Hairdye is a burlesque performer, producer and artist. To learn more, visit her site at www.scarlettohairdye.com.

    “A Chef’s Microbiology” is Copyright 2017 E. B. Fischadler
    Art accompanying story is Copyright 2017 Scarlett O’Hairdye

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