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Coco Questionnaire… Five Questions with Eugenia Cheng

Eugenias Bach sheet music

Above is a quick water color I did of some Bach sheet music my dear friend and todays subject Dr. Eugenia Cheng posted on her social media after her long awaited piano arrived from the UK. To see her joy reunited with it via Facebook was palpable.

I can imagine to be separated from it must feel like being separated from a loved one or even a limb.  It’s a part of Eugenia. The piano was a part of her, that was across the ocean, as she settled into her new role here in Chicago at The Art Institute of Chicago.I met  Dr. Eugenia Cheng a long time ago. I lost cost count of the years, it’s been over a decade. Eugenia was and is this brilliant mathematician, who loved to bake, listen to opera and classical music. We met when she became involved on an Opera board I was active in at Lyric Opera Chicago. One would normally feel intimidated by a Cambridge educated classically trained pianist and mathematician. But that’s the beauty of Eugenia, you don’t and that’s why book How to Bake Pi: An Edible Exploration of the Mathematics of Mathematics  is an  international best seller.

How to Bake Pi


I admire her dedication , passion and focus. You don’t see that passion exuded by anyone, as you will with Eugenia. She has weekly salon called Liederstube where other like minded souls can congregate and create more beauty through song.

Eugenia inspires you and makes terrifying subjects fun and interesting, whether it be baking or math. Did you catch her on Stephen Colbert breaking down Puff Pastry?

1) What food makes you happy?

Almost all food makes me happy! But especially chocolate, very dark chocolate that I make from unroasted ingredients.  I eat it first thing in the morning every single day – that’s my only food rule.

2) What food makes you cringe?

Tripe. I’m shuddering even just typing the word. Tripe is a specialty of the region my father is from, and when I went to visit as a child everyone kept giving me tripe to eat as a “special treat”. I discovered that if I held my breath while eating it then I wouldn’t taste anything, but that didn’t stop me from feeling the texture on my tongue…

3) What music do you like to listen to or hum when you cook or bake?

I don’t usually listen to music when I cook as I find it distracting, but if I need to do something for a certain number of minutes sometimes I’ll sing a particular song that I know takes that number of minutes. I went through a phase of singing Strauss’s “Befreit” while whisking egg whites, for example.  At Christmas when I’m roasting my goose I will put on Bach’s Christmas Oratorio. I’m liable to gesticulate to the music though, and this can scare my guests when I start gesticulating while wielding a cleaver.

4) Tell me about a culinary goal? A dish you want attempt, a book you want to write?

I still want to perfect the making of macarons! It is driving me slightly nutty that sometimes they come out perfectly and sometimes they don’t, know matter how carefully I control what I’m doing.

5) Where is your favorite place in the world to eat?

Paris. Paris is a magical place for me where I can eat whatever I want and not get fat. I think it’s because everything is so extremely delicious I don’t need to eat so much to be satisfied, and stuffing my face there would seem like a waste of that deliciousness.

 

Like I said , she’s an inspiration. I only wish I had a strong female influence like this in my life as I tackled the subject of math. Check out her You Tube Channel.

Thank you Eugenia,

Coco