Let’s make Music for Cooking with Frank N. Foode™!

posted in: Food, Updates | 2
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Frank, Mozart, and Papaya enjoy some Viennese coffee together

As many of you may have heard, following the unboxing of our Frank N. Foode™ and Papaya plushies, we have placed the order for these plushies and the factory is beginning production. Not only that, but we managed to increase our order from the original 500 Franks and 250 Papayas to 750 Franks and 500 papayas! The tremendous amount of support and enthusiasm that we saw in our Kickstarter campaign and while we perfected the new designs has been phenomenal, and I personally can’t wait to get the boxes ready to ship as soon as the plushies arrive!

We know that Frank N. Foode™ is going to be a hit, and he will help us reach more people and make science more fun for them. Right now we are preparing to launch Frank into a whole new domain with cooking videos and science festivals – and to do that we need to make music! And we’re going to need your help.

Here at Biology Fortified, we have developed innovative approaches to science communication. Just recently, we launched our GENetic Engineering Risk Atlas, and it has reportedly been used in classrooms already. We’ve sought out scientists working on genetically engineered crops to do interviews and Q/As for the blog. We have given talks and engaged in debates and discussions in a variety of different forums, including and especially on our blog. We have many more projects that we’ve only hinted at, and some are still in the planning stages. We have a “citizen science” project coming up that you can get involved in (see more at the end of this post), and a snopes-style resource that is being built (by the same programmer who built GENERA). But one project that I’ve talked about for a long time now is finally coming to fruition: “Cooking with Frank N. Foode™!”

We teased about it in our Kickstarter. Our Twitter followers have seen pictures from film shoots and updates dropped here and there. Some of the artwork for this show has been seen as well, and a draft episode was aired at the Wisconsin Science Festival last year. I’m getting ready to release the first episode, and work on other episodes is ongoing. I’m excited to finally share my vision for this show with you!

We discovered that our eponymous Frank N. Foode™ makes plant genetics approachable for people. People have fun with the character, and when the plushies arrive it will be even more so! His tongue-in-cheek style would be perfect for a video series about cooking that would be fun and engaging, educational, and encourage people to cook and think about science, culture, and art. Based on my experience with a test audience at the Wisconsin Science Festival last year, it will be phenomenal.

Cooking with Frank N. Foode™

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Dr. Dennis Gonsalves, my guest for the first episode of Cooking with Frank N. Foode™

Food has changed, and will continue to change. But these changes are not always easily seen, explained, and experienced by most people. Some of these changes are done through genetics, which is even more difficult to relate to the everyday lives of people. Other changes include chemistry, geography, and culture combined with history. It is ironic that we’re talking about food that people eat every day, yet these facts and issues remain in obscurity. I want to people to experience and relate to these issues, and think about them in new ways – in their kitchens.

There are plenty of cooking shows out there – and many are built more for entertainment and gawking at the skills of professional chefs and showing off cuisines and restaurant fare that are inaccessible to most people. This mirrors the current socioeconomically one-sided dialog over food. Instead, I grew up watching The Frugal Gourmet and Yan Can Cook. I find more value in learning to make and enjoy fantastic foods and making that possible for other people than watching other people eat something that I cannot.

Instead, each episode of Cooking with Frank N. Foode™ will present recipes that are accessible to everyone. The ingredients, tools, and techniques will not be expensive or hard to find. I want people to learn how to make something new, learn about the science involved, and complete the experience by actually making it at home! Each recipe will be analyzed by a Registered Dietitian so people can learn the nutrition facts and portion sizes and incorporate them into their everyday meals.

It is my hope that it will also help encourage people to cook more at home. New foods, new ways to look at classic foods, foods from various cultures, and easy directions is one part. But we’re also going to use social media to encourage home chefs to show off their creations, submit their own ideas, and make it cool and fun to cook!

There are also many different topics and issues that we will explore on the show. Genetically engineered foods will certainly be a big part of it, but there are many other changes in foods that we will explore. And while we explore the science of these changes, there are social and cultural issues that intersect these changes that we will explore as well! How did a genetic change or culinary technique change how we interact with food, and what will new changes mean for the future? Here are some foods and topics that I want to discuss in Cooking with Frank N. Foode™.

  • Hawaiian Papayas and genes moving between species
  • Bringing back the American Chestnut with breeding and genetic engineering
  • Transforming Jalapeños into Chipotles through smoking
  • Combining genomes with bread wheat, durum, and triticale
  • Non-browning fruits and vegetables and how it might change the foods we eat
  • Corn smut fungus as a friend, foe, and taco
  • A dish made from genetically engineered fish
  • Genetic engineering meets organic food

Each episode will also have a story for Frank N. Foode™, and development for the character. He will explore the recipes in his own way, and go off on (mis)adventures with people and other characters as he learns about each food and issue with the audience. He’ll provide some comic relief, and help people relate to success and failure in the kitchen. See Frank run from protestors, battle diseases, and meet new friends!

Frank-pianoFinally, each Cooking with Frank N. Foode™ episode will be infused with art. Food is itself a great art medium, and I will explore food-as-art in these shows. Sometimes the recipe itself will represent the science or issues themselves. Other times the way the food is presented will express ideas that mere words could not. For example, in my science festival presentation last year I explored the debate over organics and GMOs with mere cornbread, and while I won’t yet say how this was accomplished – I can say that the audience opened their minds – and their mouths for a quick ‘wow.’ Our artist Celestia has made us some great cartoon pictures for the introduction, and of course a big part of the art will come through the music.

The Music of Cooking with Frank N. Foode™

A show like this needs the right kind of music. Something whimsical, cheerful, and curious with an air of comedy. Some old royalty-free music track just won’t do. So we enlisted the help of a composer!

Thomas Lang, who recently graduated from UW Madison’s school of music, joined the project and wrote some really great music that was exactly what we needed. He wrote theme music, some action and background music, and short themes that we can use in each episode to bring out Frank’s character and add depth to the story. The music will be played by a quartet with piano, cello, clarinet, and marimba. Here are a couple very rough recordings of two parts of the main theme played on a keyboard (and recorded via skype). The piano and cello parts of the main theme:

This forms the backdrop for the clarinet which takes the melody. Imagine the next piece being played over the last! The clarinet part:

These are just samples of the music, there have been some changes to the score since the recording, and you haven’t heard the marimba – but this should give you an idea of what it will sound like. Finally, there will be a dark, villainous theme, and I bet you would like to know what that will be used for!

What we need and what you will get

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“When I said no check is too big – this isn’t exactly what I meant!”

Like I said at the beginning of the post, we need your help to make this happen. It costs money to make good music, from the composition, to the performers, studio rental and sound engineer, and green room refreshments for our artists. Not only that, but if we want to showcase the first complete episode at the Wisconsin Science Festival complete with food samples for our audience, it will take a little more. Our estimate for the costs for all of this together comes to about $1400.

That may not be a lot compared to what we raised during our Kickstarter campaign, but it is still a good chunk of change. Luckily, we have some help. The UW Madison New Arts Venture Challenge gave us a $500 grant for Cooking with Frank N. Foode™, and with additional money that we have that we can devote to the project, we’re already $750 of the way there! We only need $650 to make this all happen.

There are many ways that you can contribute – whether by direct donations or by getting yourself that Frank N. Foode™ or Papaya plushie you’ve been putting off. There are still a few books and other things left over from our Kickstarter campaign for whoever claims them.

Now I know what you are thinking – what else do I get for pitching in? Well we’ve got a few more things that everyone will get when we reach our goal:

  • A video of the music recording session
  • A video of the Wisconsin Science Festival presentation
  • Photos of the whole process
  • Satisfaction and excitement about science literacy
  • Remember that ultra-spicy chili I said I would eat? The donation counter is still ratcheting up since the Kickstarter. Once we hit 20k – I’ll eat it!
  • Any funds raised over our goal will go toward a citizen science experiment that you can be a part of!

In the coming days, we’ll tell you more about the music and the composer, the musicians, and what else we’re going to do at the science festival! I hope you will consider supporting us in this project! Spread the word.

Contribute Here. Or Here.

Follow Karl Haro von Mogel:

Karl earned his Ph.D. in Plant Breeding and Plant Genetics at UW-Madison, with a minor in Life Science Communication. His dissertation was on both the genetics of sweet corn and plant genetics outreach. He recently moved back to his home state of California. His favorite produce might just be squash.