American food doesn’t have a great reputation abroad, but an MIT alumna and academic is aiming to change all that. Liberty Vittert ’10, who teaches statistics at the University of Glasgow, launched her own cooking show on Scottish TV (STV) this month.
"I can’t wait to prove to Scots that American cooking is so much more than the stereotypically fast food that the world associates with the US,” she says. “I love that American food is a melting pot of every other cuisine; Indian, Mexican, Portuguese, Italian, French—there is always an American viewpoint. I want to show that when you cook the American way you are never limited to 'one type' of cuisine.”
Vittert, who first began cooking with her mother and grandmother, moved to Paris after completing her MIT degree in mathematics. She graduated from Le Cordon Bleu Paris in 2011 and completed her PhD at the University of Glasgow in 2015 and then began teaching as a Mitchell Lecturer in statistics.
“I wanted a break from academia so I moved to Paris and cooked for a year. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It was stressful, overwhelming and the chefs were crazy but it was also one of the greatest years of my life.”
Why did she start her TV career? “As I was finishing up my PhD, I did what all PhD students do, procrastinate. My way of doing that was giving STV a call and begging them to let me come cook! After I received my position as the Mitchell Lecturer, I just kept going. It has been a spectacular opportunity and I have loved every minute of it.”
After appearing as a regular guest chef on STV’s Live at Five, she got the opportunity to launch Liberty's Great American Cookbook this summer. The show’s initial run in Edinburgh and Glasgow is six weeks.
And Vittert is as enthusiastic about statistics as she is about cooking. She promotes public interest in statistics and her research focus is on facial reconstructive surgery, a topic she learned about during an internship at MIT.
“When I discovered that facial reconstructive work had a large mathematical and statistical element to it, I was interested in pursuing research in the area through a PhD,” she says. “My work has been in creating automatic methods of facial analysis using statistical principles with Professor Adrian Bowman. My personal interest is in helping children with facial deformities have a better life, but there are varied applications of the research.“
Vittert says MIT has been a huge influence, especially the role of Professor Daniel Kleitman, who was her inspiration to go into academia and who, coincidentally, had a tiny role in Good Will Hunting.
"MIT was hands down the greatest experience I have ever had,” Vittert says. “Nothing has prepared me in life like MIT did. While it wasn't particularly cooking, maybe all the burritos from Anna's rubbed off at some point!"