The Kitchen as Laboratory

The Kitchen as Laboratory: Reflections on the Science of Food and Cooking

César Vega
Job Ubbink
Erik van der Linden
Foreword by Jeffrey Steingarten
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/vega15344
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  • Book Info
    The Kitchen as Laboratory
    Book Description:

    Eating is a multisensory experience, yet chefs and scientists have only recently begun to deconstruct food's components, setting the stage for science-based cooking. In this global collaboration of essays, chefs and scientists advance culinary knowledge by testing hypotheses rooted in the physical and chemical properties of food. Using traditional and cutting-edge tools, ingredients, and techniques, these pioneers create, and sometimes revamp, dishes that respond to specific desires and serve up an original encounter with gastronomic practice.

    From the seemingly mundane to the food fantastic -- from grilled cheese sandwiches, pizzas, and soft-boiled eggs to Turkish ice cream, sugar glasses, and jellified beads -- the essays in The Kitchen as Laboratory cover a range of creations and their history and culture. They consider the significance of an eater's background and dining atmosphere and the importance of a chef's methods, as well as the strategies used to create a great diversity of foods and dishes. This collection will delight experts and amateurs alike, especially as restaurants rely more on science-based cooking and recreational cooks increasingly explore the physics and chemistry behind their art. Contributors end each essay with their personal thoughts on food, cooking, and science, offering rare insight into a professional's passion for playing with food.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-52692-0
    Subjects: General Science, Chemistry

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-x)
  3. FOREWORD
    (pp. xi-xvi)
    JEFFREY STEINGARTEN

    Are we in the midst of a culinary revolution? Will cooking ever be the same? The answers are, respectively, yes and no. But what kind of revolution is this anyway? We cannot even agree on its name. We do not know who started it or when. And we do not know where it is heading or what the world will be like when it has run its course.

    The previous revolution was launched in 1972 by Henri Gault, a French journalist and critic. In an article, he called it “nouvelle cuisine” and the name stuck, although by today’s sophisticated branding...

  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xvii-xxii)
  5. INTRODUCTION: The Case for Science Inspired by the Kitchen
    (pp. 1-6)
    CÉSAR VEGA, JOB UBBINK and ERIK VAN DER LINDEN

    This book is a culinary anthology, a dream come true. In it is a collection of carefully selected stories that relate to food, its preparation, its perception—and how we eat it. However, what distinguishes this collection from others is the fact that it is infused with science. Our objective is to help the reader better understand how food is transformed during cooking and eating. The essays are as diverse as the foods they aim to describe: from simple foods, such as chocolate chip cookies, grilled cheese sandwiches, pizzas, and soft-boiled eggs, to foods of a higher level of complexity...

  6. one THE SCIENCE OF A GRILLED CHEESE SANDWICH
    (pp. 7-10)
    JENNIFER KIMMEL

    Why do certain varieties of cheese make great grilled cheese sandwiches? The secret lies in understanding how the molecules within cheese influence the ooey-gooey melted goodness that is the essence of a perfect grilled cheese sandwich.

    It all begins with the cow (or goat or sheep). After all, cheese, no matter the variety, gets its start from milk. Even though milk is made of 80 to 90 percent water (in most hoofed species), it is still a very good source of proteins (casein and whey), carbohydrates (lactose, or milk sugar), and minerals (especially calcium). These three components, along with milk...

  7. two SOUND APPEAL
    (pp. 11-17)
    MALCOLM POVEY

    French fries, or chips in Britain, are an evocative and ubiquitous aspect of life in many parts of the world. The most delicious french fries combine a crisp exterior with a soft and light interior—texture in this case is a defining characteristic. A mealy pear or a soggy apple will disappoint: crispness is expected of an apple, whereas more of a crunch is expected from a pear. Certainly, a stick of celery is expected to be crunchy; wilting and soft celery will find few takers. Crisp lettuce is definitely preferable to the flaccid variety. Carrots, when cooked, are transformed...

  8. three MEDITERRANEAN SPONGE CAKE
    (pp. 18-24)
    CRISTINA DE LORENZO and SERGIO LAGUARDA

    Sponge cake is not easy to make. A typical recipe calls for the beating of egg yolks and sugar until fluffy. Flour is added to the beaten yolks and sugar. Then stiffly whipped egg whites are very carefully folded into the flour mixture. All this manipulation puts at risk the airy, fluffy, and spongy character of the cake. Yet, of course, the difficulty of making a sponge cake does not detract from its popularity. The cake’s airy, springy texture is most certainly the key to its broad appeal. Giving a Mediterranean twist to this classic recipe, by substituting olive oil...

  9. four SPHERIFICATION: Faux Caviar and Skinless Ravioli
    (pp. 25-32)
    CÉSAR VEGA and PERE CASTELLS

    Water immobilization is a cool thing! The simplest way to accomplish it is by freezing. But can you think of how water might be immobilized (so to speak) at temperatures above freezing, say at 50°F (10°C)? Think Jell-O and a new process that mimics caviar and you have two methods that nearly stop water in its tracks.

    Scientists refer to the phenomenon that creates Jell-O as gelation and to the process that produces mouth-popping liquid-filled beads as spherification (much more on that in a moment). To understand gelation, visualize water molecules being trapped in time and space—they can no...

  10. five KONJAC DONDURMA: Designing a Sustainable and Stretchable “Fox Testicle” Ice Cream
    (pp. 33-40)
    ARIELLE JOHNSON, KENT KIRSHENBAUM and ANNE E. MCBRIDE

    Around the world, culinary artisans and innovators alike use myriad ways to manipulate sweet frozen cream. Different preparations yield distinct flavors. But what can perhaps best distinguish one ice cream type from another is its texture. From granita to gelato, ice cream can take on a range of traits, from granular to velvety. Ice cream producers seek to create a deliciously flavored, creamy, and pliable cold dessert by freeze-thickening a liquid until it reaches a semisolid state. Churning a sweetened cream mixture as it freezes prevents large ice crystals from forming, as in Philadelphia-style ice cream. The addition of egg...

  11. six STRETCHY TEXTURES IN THE KITCHEN: Insights from Salep Dondurma
    (pp. 41-44)
    TIM J. FOSTER

    As nicely described in chapter 5, salep dondurma is a fascinating Turkish ice cream. It has an unusual thick and stretchy consistency, which makes it chewy—and yet it also smoothly melts in the mouth. This chapter explores the molecular origins of this stretchy texture and postulates how such textures can be produced in the kitchen using alternative ingredients away from the restrictive confines of ice cream machines.

    Novelty in food production, either on a commercial scale or in the home kitchen, often involves changes in product texture, as this is one of the factors controlling the organoleptic quality (taste,...

  12. seven MOUSSAKA AS AN INTRODUCTION TO FOOD CHEMISTRY
    (pp. 45-51)
    CHRISTOS RITZOULIS

    Popular culture portrays the chemist as a frantic robe-clad individual surrounded by (occasionally exploding) test tubes, beakers, and flasks filled with boiling green liquids, constantly preoccupied with the transmutation of one material into another. Is this far from the truth? Well, most of the time, the research chemist conforms pretty well to this description. Chemistry has to do with changing existing materials into new ones: iron into steel, petrochemicals into plastics, and certainly, raw into cooked food. The primeval manifestation of the research chemist is nearly synonymous with the frantic robe-clad cook surrounded by (occasionally steaming, boiling, even exploding) saucepans,...

  13. eight THE STICKY SCIENCE OF MALAYSIAN DODOL
    (pp. 52-58)
    ALIAS A. KARIM and RAJEEV BHAT

    Malaysia is a melting pot of ethnic backgrounds, which is reflected in the diverse food culture. Its cuisine stems from the unique combination of Malay, Chinese, Indian, and Thai influences. Eating out is a gastronomic adventure. One can find an immense variety of dishes ranging from spicy Malaysian and Indian to even Portuguese! Apart from the ubiquitous savory and spicy dishes, Malaysian cuisine has an alluring array of traditional sweet delicacies. In this chapter, we describe one of them—dodol, a sticky, sweet rice-based dessert—and the basic science involved in its preparation.

    Dodol is a popular delicacy in Malaysia...

  14. nine THE PERFECT COOKIE DOUGH
    (pp. 59-64)
    AKI KAMOZAWA and H. ALEXANDER TALBOT

    Our web site, ideas in food (www.ideasinfood.com), is all about improvisation and experimentation in the kitchen. We believe in the marriage of science and creativity as it pertains to cooking and to all aspects of life. People who visit our Web site are sometimes baffled by the wide-ranging topics, from the origins of ramps and the use of hydrocolloids, to serving a beautiful piece of meat or fish as simply as possible, to making kimchi cracklings and our signature combination of caviar and ice cream. People sometimes have trouble assimilating these seemingly schizophrenic combinations. The unifying thread is that food...

  15. ten TO BLOOM OR NOT TO BLOOM?
    (pp. 65-72)
    AMELIA FRAZIER and RICHARD HARTEL

    In the kitchen, we often take for granted that seemingly simple culinary projects will go off without a hitch. Take, for example, chocolate chip cookies. For most of us, making ordinary chocolate chip cookies is not much of a challenge. Just follow the simple recipe on the bag of chocolate chips and even the novice cook can make delicious cookies. But there’s more to these cookies than just scooping and baking. Upon closer examination, some fairly complex physical chemistry occurs within a cookie (some of it shown in chapter 9). But why is it that the chocolate chips in cookies...

  16. eleven BACON: The Slice of Life
    (pp. 73-82)
    TIMOTHY KNIGHT

    Bacon is magical. It can transform an ordinary meal into an extraordinary delight. With just one bite, you get an irresistible crunch, a distinctive smoky flavor, and an unmistakable sense of deliciousness. This chapter takes you through the finely honed mandatory steps that turn a humble piece of pork into the mouth-watering slice of “meat candy” that we know and love. So hang on tight. You are about to embark on a journey behind the magical bacon curtain, where you will learn how a lowly pork belly becomes the meat that makes your life complete.

    For more than three thousand...

  17. twelve SCANDINAVIAN “SUSHI”: The Raw Story
    (pp. 83-90)
    PIA SNITKJÆR and LOUISE M. MORTENSEN

    Although sushi is a new concept in Scandinavia, we have a long tradition of eating raw (non-heat-treated) cured fish. Sushi is the traditional way of serving raw fish in Japan, which spread to many parts of the world during the late twentieth century. When sushi arrived in Denmark in the 1990s, there was some skepticism because of food-safety issues but, apparently, also because of a cultural aversion to raw meat. However, most Danes forget that Denmark and the other Scandinavian countries consume great quantities of raw cured fish as well as other raw meat products. Since most Danes nowadays buy...

  18. thirteen MAXIMIZING FOOD FLAVOR BY SPEEDING UP THE MAILLARD REACTION
    (pp. 91-99)
    MARTIN LERSCH

    An idea that struck me once was to add baking soda to browning onions. I chopped an onion, melted butter in a frying pan, and added the onions together with a pinch of baking soda. And voilà (as Louis-Camille Maillard himself would have said): the color of the onions changed faster than without the baking soda. The taste of the browned onions was remarkably sweet and caramel-like, and compared with conventionally browned onions, they were softer—almost a little mushy. By the addition of baking soda, I had changed the outcome of an otherwise trivial and everyday chemical reaction, and...

  19. fourteen LIGHTEN UP! The Role of Gases in the Culinary Experience
    (pp. 100-107)
    MATT GOLDING

    Speaking from experience, food scientists can make for unfortunate dinner party guests, having a tendency to draw excessive and unwanted attention to the structure, composition, and nutritional value of the foods being served. Hosts tend not to appreciate explanations, no matter how scientifically informative, as to why a particular dish or course did not turn out as expected. Yet, without the application of scientific disciplines such as material science, microbiology, and processing, there would not be a modern food industry capable of feeding millions of people. While this fact admittedly does not stop some of us from being food bores...

  20. fifteen THE MERINGUE CONCEPT AND ITS VARIATIONS
    (pp. 108-116)
    PETER WIERENGA, HELEN HOFSTEDE, ERIK VAN DER LINDEN, SIDNEY SCHUTTE and JONNIE BOER

    During a discussion about foams and meringues in our laboratory, two of us (Peter Wierenga and Erik van der Linden) noticed that meringues are usually made with egg whites—quite the revelation for a scientist! We concluded that if we understood foams the way we thought we did, we should be able to make a foam, or derived product, that provides new culinary opportunities. For example, we should be able to make a meringue based on milk alone. At the same time, two others of us (chefs Sidney Schutte and Jonnie Boer) wanted to make a savory meringue. Experience taught...

  21. sixteen WHY DOES COLD MILK FOAM BETTER? Into the Nature of Milk Foam
    (pp. 117-122)
    JULIA MALDONADO-VALDERRAMA, PETER J. WILDE and MARÍA J. GÁLVEZ-RUIZ

    Have you ever tried to make a real cappuccino with espresso and steamed milk? If you have, you probably know that getting the milk to foam properly is a precise art. In other words, creating the perfect foam for your coffee is not as easy as it sounds.

    Foaming milk in a controlled way is essential for creating a genuine cappuccino drink. A proper cappuccino requires a pourable, virtually liquid foam that tastes sweet and rich and stays in the cup. The composition of the milk and the method by which the foam is created will ultimately determine the quality...

  22. seventeen ICE CREAM UNLIMITED: The Possibilities of Ingredient Pairing
    (pp. 123-133)
    ELKE SCHOLTEN and MIRIAM PETERS

    Ice cream is a popular frozen dessert consumed the world over. It is typically enjoyed as a cool warm-weather treat, and a range of varieties can be found across many cultures. Although everyone loves ice cream, Australians and New Zealanders, who eat the frozen treat all year long, seem to have the largest annual per capita consumption, with 18 quarts (17 L) and 17 quarts (16 L), respectively.

    Ice cream is essentially milk, water, cream, and sugar. But change the ingredients slightly and standard ice cream can become gelato (custard-based ice cream), sorbet (nondairy, fruit-based frozen dessert), frozen yogurt, or...

  23. eighteen EGG YOLK: A Library of Textures
    (pp. 134-141)
    CÉSAR VEGA

    According to some, egg yolk is the best sauce in the world—I could not agree more. Who does not love the silky, salty, warm taste of a runny egg yolk? More people than I would have thought, regrettably (for them). What are the reasons behind the polarizing attitudes toward runny egg yolk? Texture? Taste? Food safety? Ignorance?

    Runny yolks find their way onto our tables in one of three ways: as poached, soft-boiled, or sunny-side-up eggs. In these preparations, the culinary objective (or more correctly, my objective) is to cook the white long enough that it sets, while warming...

  24. nineteen KETCHUP AS TASTY SOFT MATTER: The Case of Xanthan Gum
    (pp. 142-147)
    THOMAS VILGIS

    Most people love tomato ketchup. It is tangy, sweet, and mouth pleasing. Our love for ketchup transcends flavor. It is loaded with nostalgia—the ultimate secret ingredient. I would venture to say that ketchup has gastronomic appeal. To make a case for this, let us look at ketchup in more detail. Specifically, let us analyze the particular sensations ketchup’s ingredients evoke and explore their culinary possibilities. Simple as it looks, ketchup has a complex bouquet of aromas and an intricate mix of flavors, stimulating the salty, sour, sweet, and umami (or savory) taste receptors on first contact with the tongue....

  25. twenty TASTE AND MOUTHFEEL OF SOUPS AND SAUCES
    (pp. 148-154)
    JOHN R. MITCHELL

    In traditional cuisine, soups and sauces are thickened with starch-based ingredients, such as wheat flour. In today’s highly evolved culinary world, the use of hydrocolloids for texture development is more the rule than the exception (chapter 4). Although it is possible to obtain a similar degree of thickening¹ in soups and sauces with nonstarch polysaccharides—such as guar gum, xanthan gum, locust bean gum (LBG), and carboxymethylcellulose—the mouthfeel and flavor are often not as good as traditional starch-based ingredients. I believe the key to these differences can be found in the way the food mixes with saliva in the...

  26. twenty-one PLAYING WITH SOUND: Crispy Crusts
    (pp. 155-165)
    PAULA VARELA and SUSANA FISZMAN

    According to the quiche recipe by Dorie Greenspan (2009), “as soon as the crust comes out of the oven, lightly beat an egg white with a fork and brush the white over the inside of the crust… . [I]t will provide a kind of waterproof lining between the crust and the quiche filling. Quiches are so much nicer when you can pair their soft, creamy custard with the slight crunch of a crust.”

    The fact is that baked dough products, like quiche and pizza, deteriorate rapidly after they are removed from the oven. Absorption of water into the crust is...

  27. twenty-two BAKED ALASKA AND FROZEN FLORIDA: On the Physics of Heat Transfer
    (pp. 166-175)
    ADAM BURBIDGE

    Have you ever watched chefs in a Chinese restaurant prepare a meal? Impressive, is it not? A couple of minutes of frantic stir-frying in a wok on a fierce gas flame and—presto—a delicious meal! Wish you could achieve the same effect at home? Dinner in three minutes would be a cool trick and really impress the kids! To accomplish this and similar feats, and gain some knowledge of kitchen science in the process, it is necessary to understand a little bit about the physics of heat transfer, which I provide here in the form of a brief introduction...

  28. twenty-three ON SUPERB CRACKLING DUCK SKIN: An Homage to Nicholas Kurti
    (pp. 176-185)
    CHRISTOPHER YOUNG and NATHAN MYHRVOLD

    Crispy golden duck skin is a glorious thing—pork crackling, superb. And for many, the best part of roast chicken is also the skin. But cooks face a real dilemma: How can the skin be perfectly crisped without overcooking the meat? The skin must be cooked until dry while the meat stays juicy.

    A similar conundrum haunted Nicholas Kurti (1908–1998),¹ a professor of physics at Oxford University who studied ultra-low temperature phenomena. Cooking was a passion of Kurti’s and he was troubled by the fact that scientists deemed cooking unworthy of serious study. His book But the Crackling Is...

  29. twenty-four SWEET PHYSICS: Sugar, Sugar Blends, and Sugar Glasses
    (pp. 186-195)
    NATALIE RUSS and THOMAS VILGIS

    Table sugar is ubiquitously used in desserts, baked goods, drinks, and countless other food items, mainly to make them sweet. However, sugar shows properties—not easily visible—that go much beyond sweetness. For example, sugar molecules bind water molecules in a “hydrate shell”; in so doing, they increase the viscosity, especially at high concentrations, of the liquids that contain them. Also, sugar depresses the freezing point of water, a property that is exploited in the making of ice cream (described in chapter 17). In simple terms, sugar serves many more purposes in the kitchen than the ones we know best....

  30. twenty-five COFFEE, PLEASE, BUT NO BITTERS
    (pp. 196-205)
    JAN GROENEWOLD and EKE MARIËN

    In 2004, we decided to organize small-scale courses on molecular gastronomy for cooking enthusiasts. In addition to being a professional caterer, one of us was teaching many cooking classes—the perfect venue for gleaning what is of particular interest to the enthusiastic home cook. There were questions like, Why does a béarnaise split? What is the logic behind prescribed oven temperatures? Each time a theoretical topic was treated by the “chemist” (Groenewold), the “cook” (Mariën asked about its practical use: What can you do with it? What kind of story would be relevant to someone actually cooking it? A few...

  31. twenty-six TURNING WASTE INTO WEALTH: On Bones, Stocks, and Sauce Reductions
    (pp. 206-216)
    JOB UBBINK

    One of the things that immediately captivated me when, as a student, I started working part time in the kitchen of a French restaurant was the hectic pace in which a ten-person kitchen brigade worked to get the food out on time during the evening service. The restaurant was located in a small village near the university town of Leiden, where I was pursuing my studies in physical chemistry. At that time—the end of the 1980s—interest in food, cooking, and gastronomy was rising very rapidly in the Netherlands, a country that was still commonly seen as a gastronomic...

  32. twenty-seven RESTRUCTURING PIG TROTTERS: Fine Chemistry Supporting the Creative Culinary Process
    (pp. 217-223)
    JORGE RUIZ and JULIA CALVARRO

    Nose-to-tail eating is a sort of culinary philosophy based on the premise that nearly every part of the animals we sacrifice, in the hands of patient and talented cooks, can be made into a rewarding eating experience. Nose-to-tail eating is nothing new, however, as it is common around the globe. For instance, Mediterraneans, such as the French, Italians, and Spanish, as well as the Chinese and Mexicans are known for eating the ears, hearts, livers, cheeks, tails, brains, and feet of pigs, cows, lambs, and other animals.

    This story is about pig trotters—stuffed pig trotters.

    Boiled pig trotters (pig’s...

  33. twenty-eight INNOVATE: Old World Pizza Crust with New World Ingredients
    (pp. 224-232)
    THOMAS M. TONGUE JR.

    As a third-generation american of Italian heritage, one of my favorite meals was my mom’s homemade pizza. The dough was thick, chewy, and topped with my favorite ingredients on one half and my brother’s on the other. Mom was in the kitchen all day preparing the dough for the crust. The wonderful aroma of fresh-baked pizza that filled the house quickly brought everyone to the table for dinner.

    Today, when I cook my mom’s pizza recipe for my family and friends, thanks to new technologies that yield novel ingredients, I can produce her Old World culinary delight with a new...

  34. twenty-nine EATING IS BELIEVING
    (pp. 233-241)
    LINE HOLLER MIELBY and MICHAEL BOM FRØST

    Unsicht-bar was suggested to us in connection with a sensory conference we were attending in Hamburg. We made reservations several weeks in advance. Normally, the restaurant is closed on Mondays, but with thirteen excited Danes as prospective diners, Unsicht-Bar flung wide its doors to us. A nice gesture: our expectations were rising. At the conference, rumors spread that we were going out for a special meal. Thus, we ended up being a party of thirty-four sensory scientists. Sensory scientists will generally go far out of their way for anything having to do with extraordinary food. As for the literally dark...

  35. thirty MOLECULAR GASTRONOMY IS A SCIENTIFIC ACTIVITY
    (pp. 242-253)
    HERVÉ THIS

    Many terms, such as molecular cooking, molecular cuisine, science-based cooking, scientific cooking (an oxymoron), and culinary chemistry (another oxymoron), contain references to science and to cooking. There is much confusion as to their meanings, however, and clear definitions are needed.

    Science aims to look for the mechanisms of phenomena, whereas cooking is all about preparing food. In other words, science and cooking can never truly meet, and only technology or education can bring results from applied science into the kitchen. For technology transfers, scientific results are needed, which means the chemical and physical phenomena of food processing must be analyzed....

  36. thirty-one THE PLEASURE OF EATING: The Integration of Multiple Senses
    (pp. 254-263)
    JUAN-CARLOS ARBOLEYA, DANIEL LASA, OSWALDO OLIVA, JAVIER VERGARA and ANDONI LUIS-ADURIZ

    Some years ago, an interesting collaboration was conceived between the Spanish restaurant Mugaritz, near the city of San Sebastián and scientists from Azti-Tecnalia Food Research Institute in Bilbao to investigate some of the factors that make the experience of eating so unique.

    The collaboration was motivated by a desire to better understand the events surrounding our everyday eating activity. Our main objective was to examine exactly what goes into the construction of pleasurable culinary experiences. But what is pleasure? Although the challenge of exploring the concept of pleasure from a theoretical and practical point of view presented itself as an...

  37. thirty-two ON THE FALLACY OF COOKING FROM SCRATCH
    (pp. 264-272)
    CÉSAR VEGA and DAVID J. MCCLEMENTS

    While making a cake for my niece and nephew’s birthday, I (Vega) realized that even though everybody thought I had baked the cake from “scratch,” this was indeed far from the truth. Taking a closer look at the list of ingredients that made up the delicious clementine cake (eggs, sugar, cream cheese, butter, whipping cream, flour, corn starch, and, of course, clementines), it must be obvious to the reader that, beyond the eggs and the clementines, all the other ingredients—sugarcane, milk, wheat flour, and corn starch—are the result of a complex transformation of the original raw materials. But...

  38. thirty-three SCIENCE AND COOKING: Looking Beyond the Trends to Apply a Personal, Practical Approach
    (pp. 273-288)
    MICHAEL LAISKONIS

    I have been cooking professionally in a variety of capacities for nearly fifteen years, as a baker, line cook, sous-chef, and pastry chef. Though I fell into the business quite by accident, my own passion for cooking developed just as the arc of “foodie” culture and the celebrity chef began to shoot upward. I never planned to make a career of it, but looking back, I cannot imagine doing anything else. And as I say to any young cook starting out, it is truly an exciting time to be a chef.

    In the past decade and a half, we have...

  39. CONTRIBUTORS
    (pp. 289-298)
  40. INDEX
    (pp. 299-314)