Last week, the whole world came to a standstill to pay tribute to the beautiful mind that is Steven Hawking. Fellow scientist Sean Carroll wrote a wonderful tribute to the theoretical physicist for The Atlantic, sharing anecdotes that shed light on Hawking’s unique personality.
One of the best extracts from the tribute is as follows: “Hawking was a man who steadfastly insisted on living life on his own terms” and some of the writers most amusing examples of this, rather surprisingly, involve around food and drink. One of his strongest opinions, how he takes his tea.
Hawking was fond of taking bold positions, had a legendary sense of humor, enjoyed scotch and was very fond of “proper English tea” – a phrase and food that has caused families in the UK to fall apart, and not speak for years. There’s no one true definition for proper English tea, but people will argue their case to the death, which usually makes for funny Twitter threads if nothing else.
Carroll’s anecdote starts when he was with Hawking and his entourage on the way to a restaurant and the group decided to stop for groceries. He writes: “While parked at a local supermarket, a stream of nurses travelled between the van and the store, bringing various samples of tea bags for Stephen to choose from. Stephen, solid Englishman that he was, was very particular about his tea.”
The caravan later took a meandering route to Hawking’s restaurant of choice. Carroll eventually learned the cause of the detour: Only Hawking knew where the restaurant was, and it took the celebrated physicist some time to give directions via his computer.
Carroll also noted Hawking’s infectious joie de vivre, sharing a memory with readers about the time he attended a scotch tasting with the world-renowned scientist. “At a cosmology conference in England’s Lake District, the organizers had scheduled a tasting of Scotch whiskeys as an evening’s diversion,” he wrote.
“As the group of physicists chatted and sampled the wares, I turned around to see Stephen in the back of the room, his nurses helping him taste the various single malts, one by one. His body may have been frail, but his enthusiasm for living was unmatched.”
Hawking passed away on March 14 at 76 and suffered from ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), a neurodegenerative disease commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. This may not have been the cause of his death, however; his family said he passed peacefully. He has since been remembered by friends, family, colleagues, not to mention a slew of celebrities, including chef José Andrés, who called the Englishman a catalyst for “culinary physics.”
In a tweet to the physicist, he wrote: “Dear Stephen Hawking: as im looking at the stars in the direction of a black hole, I know you are flying there happy to find God and the reasons of our existence.Chefs, @ferranadria and I we teach culinary physics because of you. And please send us a message when you get there. [sic]” I’m sure Hawking will be happy to hear he’s passed on his love for the stars in so many different (and tasty) forms.