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Environment & Science

PHOTOS: Patt Morrison visits Caltech, dines with Stephen Hawking, talks religion and physics

Stephen Hawking and Patt Morrison.
Stephen Hawking and Patt Morrison.
Stephen Hawking and Patt Morrison.
Spinach paneer prepared by Caltech students.
Stephen Hawking and Patt Morrison.
Caltech student Sebastian Navonne helps prepare an Indian dish.
Stephen Hawking and Patt Morrison.
Chandler dining hall at Caltech.
Stephen Hawking and Patt Morrison.
Students from Tom Mannion's cooking basics class pose with Stephen Hawking after dinner.
Stephen Hawking and Patt Morrison.
Stephen Hawking smiles as he prepares to answer a few question from Patt Morrison.

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Ah, Caltech. Its students are all about  logarithms and light years, right? But the class that everyone wants to take is PA 16: Cooking Basics. And basic in this class doesn't stop at mac and cheese — students craft gourmet meals for up to 200 people at a time.  

Tom Mannion has been teaching cooking basics for over 10 years, and just about every year he and his students get to cook dinner for Stephen Hawking.

We followed the scent of coriander and cilantro to the al fresco kitchen to talk to some of the student chefs... and got to pose a few questions to Hawking about the Indian meal they served him.

Patt Morrison: The big question that strikes me is about the idea of science and religion, whether they are at war and why there should be an intrinsic, maybe a zero-sum conflict between the two.

Stephen Hawking: I don’t think it’s a war, except in the mind of Richard Dawkins. Religion is dying out in the first world, but there will always be people who like fairy stories like afterlife.

PM: When you received the Milner prize for fundamental physics, $3 million, what were your first thoughts?

SH: I was very pleased and honored. I thought my work would never be recognized because it would be so difficult to confirm it experimentally.

PM: We did finish an Indian meal prepared and served by Caltech students, so if you were the Michelin Guide, how many Michelin stars would you give to this meal?

SH: One Michelin star is very good. I would give this meal two stars.

A few days later, he was the guest of honor at another dinner, this one with Caltech faculty and friends. On the menu: lamb chops and an ice cream dessert called "the solar system." Brain food — because afterwards, Hawking packed them in for his speech about the origin of the universe at Beckman Auditorium, where he got a rock star welcome.