Turning chicken, spareribs, beef and sausage into Texas barbecue became a science lesson, albeit a tasty one, on Thursday at the Louisiana School for the Visually Impaired.
Petrochemical giant Albemarle Corp. came with both the science and the meat.
Albemarle’s “L’il Taste of Texas” barbecue team, which has won awards in Texas for its brisket, made a five-hour trek from Bayport, Texas, to prepare the feast.
Before the students could eat, they were given a little science lesson.
Sheila de Guzman, who works in strategic communications at Albemarle, started things off by talking to dozens of visually impaired children gathered in a gym about the five basic tastes: sweet, bitter, sour, salty, and umami or savoriness.
At one point, she tried to explain the concept of “bitter.”
“What is yucky? What is absolutely just yucky and nasty?” she asked her audience.
“Broccoli,” cried out several children.
Later, de Guzman discussed how red meat is barbecued, a biochemical transformation process exerted on proteins in meat, a process known as denaturation.
“It starts off all knotted, and as you heat it up, the knots will start to unwind,” de Guzman explained.
Soon, the children stepped outside. Three different small science experiments awaited.
In one, the children learned how to make gelatin. In another, they learned the difference in salt levels in potato chips. And in the last, they learned the difference between sweet and smoky barbecue sauce.
The children divided over which sauce tasted best.
“The sweet,” said 5-year-old Claiborne Constance. “The sweet was the best.”
Leslie Bello, supervisor of administration for the school at 2888 Brightside Lane, said Albemarle agreed to come to the school after it became clear the students couldn’t go to a Science Saturday demonstration earlier in October at LSU.
The Louisiana School for the Visually Impaired is a residential school during the week, but the children return to their homes around the state on the weekends, she said.
Brian Rowan, who teaches science at the school to children in seventh to 12th grades, said he’s gratified Albemarle could come and help the students experience science in real life.
“It’s just a lesson in how everything around them goes back to science,” he said.
Kevin Coppola, a research and development scientist at Albemarle, said he and other scientists tried to think of lessons that favored the senses of smell, taste and touch.
“It’s hard because science is so visual,” Coppola said.
Student Len Ron, 18, found the experiments instructive.
For instance, in tasting the potato chips, he said he could tell that the one with the more fat had more flavor and required less salt.
“I like learning about the chemical reactions to things,” he said.
After graduating, Ron said he plans to take his love of technology, computers and science and get into business. He said he is almost totally blind, but he can still make out shapes.
People unfamiliar with visual impairment are amazed at what he can do, but they shouldn’t be, Ron said.
“I wasn’t raised to be different,” he said. “I pretty much did what every other kid did.”
Coppola and the other volunteers who came Thursday, however, were not wholly concerned with science.
“They said, ‘We’re so glad you came,’” Coppola recalled. “I said, ‘I have an ulterior motive.”
As in food, a lot of food.
Albemarle’s “L’il Taste of Texas” barbecue team, Dennis Lunlay, Stephen Ginn, Wayne Kindworth and Larry Zaborowski, are veterans at barbecuing and jumped at the chance to come and cook at the school.
“We enjoy it and it’s for a good cause,” Kindworth said.
But as much as they love barbecue, after 12 hours of cooking and smelling it, they said they weren’t planning to eat any of their handiwork. The plan instead: pizza. Or maybe burgers.