Presentation speech of the 2013 Johannes van Dam Prize by Louise O. Fresco

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

The Johannes van Dam Prize is awarded annually by the University of Amsterdam in recognition of an author’s extraordinary achievements in communicating gastronomical knowledge. This year the jury has decided to award the prize to the man who has described the ripening of fruits as an incredible journey, who has made macro-molecules sexy, who has transformed anti-oxidants into a household word, who has put fermentation, that all important process of increasing nutritional value, preservation and taste, in the context of human evolution, and much more… And he has done so in the most elegant and pleasant style of a scholar who masters both his chemistry and his physics as well as his English literature.

Harold McGee is awarded the 2013 Johannes van Dam Prize for his publications on food science and gastronomy, and in particular because of his achievements in making the science behind our cooking and eating accessible to the general public while maintaining the highest scientific standards. His approach is a broad and interdisciplinary one, ranging from chemistry, biology and botany to history and culture. McGee is an influential author known around the world for his books and articles, some of which have appeared in Nature and The New York Times. He studied at the California Institute of Technology and also earned a degree in English literature at Yale University. His first landmark publication was On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, in 1984, thirty years ago (when hardly anybody thought systematically about the subject!). On Food and Cooking received rave reviews around the world, even if at the time the subject of food was in no way as popular as it is today.  In 2004 he published a revised and enlarged edition of On Food and Cooking, which went through five additional printings in six months. The International Association of Culinary Professionals named it the best food reference book in 2004, as did the James Beard Foundation the following year. Dutch translations are published by Nieuw Amsterdam. McGee’s new book on taste will appear soon.

The jury believes that few authors have been as influential in building bridges between science and daily life as Harold McGee and in such an essential field as food science. He is able to answer everything you have ever wanted to ask about food, but did not do so, because it seemed too stupid: why does fruit turn yellow, why does bread become stale, how to cook meat… The name of his blog, sums it up so nicely. His unending curious and joy in finding out how things really work, is a true inspiration to us all. Once you have read McGee, you will never look at your plate or your kitchen or your supermarket in the same way again.

It is therefore my great pleasure to congratulate Dr Harold McGee and to ask him to step forward to accept his prize.

Louise O. Fresco, chair of the jury of the Johannes van Dam Prize.