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Cooking Helps Surgeon Cope with COVID

A Scripps OB-GYN surgeon masters molecular gastronomy during the coronavirus lockdown 

Like many a quarantined chef, Ronald Salzetti, MD, Scripps Clinic department chairman of obstetrics and gynecology, turned to his kitchen during the pandemic to brush up on his skills and try out new recipes — though his may be a bit more complex than those of the average Joe. 


Dr. Salzetti is drawn to molecular gastronomy, or the scientific side of cooking. It’s a branch of food science that explores the physical and chemical transformations that ingredients undergo.

A Creative Kitchen Chemist 

Dr. Salzetti’s impressive repertoire already included cooking sous vide, in which foods like meat or fish are vacuum sealed, then submerged and slow-cooked in water to achieve a doneness impossible to reach through other methods; and inventive takes on classics, like a caprese salad with gelified tomato confit noodles and a mozzarella balloon. 


More recently, he went all-in on one of the biggest pandemic cooking trends.


“I made my own sourdough starter and a bunch of different types of sourdough bread, which was one of the popular things going around the internet at that point,” he says.


Another hobby that Dr. Salzetti picked up in quarantine is making smoky beverages. 


“I have a smoke gun, which burns wood chips and pumps them through a tube under a glass dome called a cloche, imparting some of the smoke into the drink itself,” he says. “If the drink is cold enough, the smoke will hold on the surface.”

Fewer Family Gatherings During COVID

Although Dr. Salzetti has been preparing more kinds of food and drink lately, not many people have been able to indulge in his concoctions. The pandemic has limited entertaining to just close family members. 


“It’s been frustrating not to have friends and family over as easily and frequently as we used to in the past,” he says. “We’ve had to scale that back, and I’ve missed that.” 

Clinician by Day, Chef by Night

But at work, his cooking has become a point of conversation among both his colleagues and his patients — he estimates that he’s probably been responsible for the sales of at least 10 sous vide machines. 


“When I’m in the operating room, colleagues will ask what I’m making or what technique I’m working on, and I enjoy sharing pictures with patients,” he says. 


At its core, molecular gastronomy primarily serves him as an artistic outlet. 


“The food, the presentation, the techniques — it’s all a chance for me to challenge myself and express myself creatively.”

This content appeared in San Diego Health, a publication in partnership between Scripps and San Diego Magazine that celebrates the healthy spirit of San Diego.