So I finally broke open my copy of Best Food Writing 2006, and came across a great article The Egg Men, by Burkhard Bilger (from The New Yorker). This segment absolutely fascinated me, and I thought you might find it interesting as well:
Whenever a cook sets a pan on a griddle, Meck says, a burst of dopamine is released in the brain’s frontal cortex. The cortex is full of oscillatory neurons that vibrate at different tempos. The dopamine forces a group of these neurons to fall into synch, which sends a chemical signal to the corpus striatum, at the base of the brain. "We call that the start gun," Meck says.
The striatum recognizes the signal as a time marker and
releases a second burst of dopamine, which sends a signal back to the
frontal cortex via the thalamus–the stop gun. Every time this neural
circuit is completed, the brain gets better at distinguising that
particual interval from the thousands of others it times during the
course of the day. An experienced cook like Joel, Mech believes, will
have a separate neural circuit set up for every task: an over-easy
circui, an over-medium circuit, a sunny-side-up circuit, and so on,
each one reinforced through constant, repetitive use.
Meck has yet to put a short-order cook in a brain scanner, as he
has done with musicains, but he suspects that the results would be
similar: their oscillatory neurons will have grown far more synapses
than those in the averages person’s brain. If they are asked to time
certain events, more of their brain will light up. HIs description
reminded me of something that Michael Stern, the co-author of Roadfood, had told me about one of his favorite short-oder cooks: "It’s like part of his brain is developed that I don’t even have."
Marinade on that for a minute. That, and this picture of suan la chow show.