Periodic Table Supper series promises plenty of brain food for science-types

Q: If Fork A leaves the plate travelling at 1 mile per hour and Fork B leaves five minutes later travelling at 1.6 miles per hour, how long does it take to finish dinner?

You won’t be subjected to such ridiculous conundrums at Periodic Table Supper -- a new monthly dinner series that pairs multi-course meals with lectures about the science of each dish -- though the format may be a little reminiscent of a high school science class.

In lieu of boring professors with ill-fitting pants, talks are led by co-founder Eric Schulze. The molecular biologist is also the founder of Thirst D.C., a social gathering that unites people of all ages and professions for drinks and science-leaning intellectual discussion (thirstdc.com). Or, as the Web site describes it, a “sexy nerd house party.”


Co-founder of the club Eric Schulze. (Photo by Kate Warren)

The inaugural Periodic Table Supper takes place Tuesday (June 24) at Union Kitchen. The theme of the meal will be the Maillard reaction, the chemical response that gives meat, bread and fried food a savory flavor when cooked. There are 20 seats available for the experience, which costs $50.

The night’s menu comes courtesy of Ed Cornell and Patrick Griffith -- the friends behind Milk Cult ice cream sandwiches -- and includes Spam masubi, Vietnamese ribs and potato gratin with roasted Gruyere.

Though academia will be in the air, expect anything but a snoozefest. Schulze uses snark, visual aids and accessible concepts illustrated through food to make abstruse scientific theories easy to digest. He anticipates his discussion at the first event will blend elements of philosophy, evolution, hard science, sociology and even painting.

“Just because you’re learning doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be entertained,” says Schulze who, in case you didn’t already assume, wears horn-rimmed glasses and has an extensive tie-clip collection. “I mean, come on. The first course is Spam. Ultimately we want people to challenge any fundamental presuppositions they have about food.”

Kim Bryden, the other founder, is responsible for vetting the culinary talent. It’s a role she’s familiar with as the partnership and events coordinator at Kitchen Surfing, an online community that connects up-and-coming chefs with adventurous eaters in their area (www.kitchensurfing.com).

“I looked for chefs who are creative and willing to take a risk, because it’s not every day they’re told to design a menu around a scientific theme,” Bryden says. “As a result, guests are not only going to be able to hear the lecture, but also taste it.”

If you’re too tied up conducting your own science experiments to make the first event, Schulze and Bryden plan to unroll three more suppers over the next three months: The science of sweetness; raw versus cooked food; and the science of sex and food on the brain.

Tickets available at the-periodictable.tumblr.com

Union Kitchen, 1110 Congress Street NE. (Metro: NoMa-Gallaudet U). 

Holley Simmons is the dining editor of The Washington Post Express. When she’s not reporting on local restaurants and tastemakers, you can find her sewing a dress from a 1950s pattern or planting a windowsill herb garden. Contact her at holley.simmons@wpost.com.
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