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PhenomeNOMS: Neil deGrasse Tyson

Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson

By Erin Parr

Welcome to the third edition of PhenomeNOMS, a look at famous geeks and the food that has either inspired them, or is inspired by them.  This week’s edition features one of the sexiest astrophysicists of all time, Neil deGrasse Tyson!

Neil deGrasse Tyson, possibly most famous for demoting Pluto’s planetary status, is an incredibly popular and influential modern astrophysicist. Known for his matter-of-fact delivery and sharp sense of humor, Tyson has not only influenced the world of science, he has also become a modern science-celebrity. He has influenced comic books, television shows, comedians, artists and writers, as well as becoming a popular subject of internet memes and the ever-famous Songs of Science.

Carl Sagan himself tried to recruit Tyson to Cornell as an undergraduate, but Neil decided to attend Harvard instead. Even though Neil turned down that opportunity to work with Dr. Sagan, he will be filling his shoes by hosting the new sequel to Cosmos. Tyson has had quite a bit of experience hosting podcasts, radio shows, and even a streaming video cast of his radio show featuring current scientists, professors, and even actors and comedians. The radio show, StarTalk, features a range of educational subjects and interesting personalities. The Nerdist’s YouTube Channel now features episodes of StarTalk to enjoy with guests ranging from Anthony Bourdain, Kristin Schaal and Sarah Silverman. Neil deGrasse Tyson is also the director of the Hayden Planetarium in at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, NY.

Tyson has been the subject of dozens of memes, the most famous (and personally the most hilarious) one being a cartoon of Neil with his hands up, and a caption, “Watch out Guys, we’re dealing with a badass over here,” meant to deal with the awesome array of self-importance on the internet. Of course, I feel deGrasse Tyson’s importance cannot be overstated, and of course that’s shown in a lot of his interactions with his colleagues, such as Bill Nye.  In 2011, Nye and Tyson appeared together on a panel to discuss the future of humanity in space.

Not only is Neil a brilliant scientist, he’s also a brilliant dancer and wine connoisseur. His sophisticated edge, sense of humor and great work with astronomical societies, publications and programs earned him the title of “Sexiest Astrophysicist Alive” in the year 2000. Tyson’s love for the finer things in life inspired today’s recipe, a simple but sophisticated pasta dish that will go great with a fine wine.

Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Chicken with Pasta in a Balsamic Cream Sauce

Serves 4

I realize the name isn’t catchy this week. Bear with me on this, though, because this is a delicious dish.


3-4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Good olive oil
1 tablespoon of butter
2 large shallots, chopped fine
2 cloves of garlic, chopped fine
1/3 cup good balsamic vinegar
1 cup heavy cream
½  cup chicken stock
½ cup shredded Parmesan, Romano, or other strong, hard cheese
About ¾ to 1 box of bowtie or penne pasta
¼  cup chopped parsley
Salt and pepper to taste

Bring heavily-salted water to boil in a large pot and follow directions for boiling the pasta. When done, drain and set aside.

Using a large pan, heat about two turns of the pan worth of olive oil on medium high. Season the chicken breasts liberally with salt and pepper. Cook each chicken breast for 5 minutes on each side, or until cooked all the way through. Remove chicken breasts to a plate and set aside.

In the same pan, add additional tablespoon of olive oil and butter on medium heat. Turn the heat to low and add the garlic and shallots and cook until caramelized and translucent, about 10-15 minutes. Add balsamic vinegar and stir, getting up any browned bits, and turn the heat up to medium. Cook until reduced by about half, stirring constantly. Once the balsamic vinegar has a thick, almost syrupy consistency, add your chicken stock and a pinch of salt and fresh-ground pepper. Stir again and cook down for another 6-8 minutes, until the sauce is reduced again.

While this is cooking, slice your chicken breasts. Once the sauce is reduced, add your cream and stir. Add your sliced chicken breasts back to the sauce and carefully stir in the cooked pasta.  Warm everything through on low heat for about 2 minutes.

Serve topped generously with shredded cheese and top with parsley. And remember, the good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it, and the good thing about food is that it’s tasty as long as you follow my recipe!