mercredi 28 septembre 2016

In a Turkish newspaper

Wednesday,September 28 2016, Your time is 15:43:00
The future of food: Step-by-step

Aylin Öney Tan -
[The future of food: Step-by-step]
He steps to the stage like a rock star. All the young chefs are on foot applauding. All the young chefs are on foot applauding. He is a hero. Hervé This is a hero for all chefs worldwide and he is not even a chef himself. As the keynote speaker at the World Association of Chefs Societies (WACS) Conference held in Thessaloniki, Greece, he takes over not only the stage, but also the hearts of chefs with his challenging speech. He will be repeating this sentence over and over again: I’m not a chef! Though he stresses this fact, I believe he is a true chef. If being a chef is about creating a dish, about creating an idea about food, thinking about the future of food and about how the planet will feed itself in the future, he is the ultimate chef!

This is physical chemist who works for the Institut National de la Recherce Agronomique at AgroParisTech, in Paris, France, a public institute dedicated to research of agricultural science. Apparently even the institute is not directly related to the culinary arts, but rather agricultural science. So how did he ever get to be the hero of chefs? Well, he coined the term “molecular and physical gastronomy” in 1988 with the late Nicholas Kurti, a Hungarian-born physicist whose hobby was cooking. Kurti was very enthusiastic about applying science to cooking and solving culinary problems with the aid of science. He also liked to play with the newly developed microwave. Back in 1969 at his talk in the Royal Society in London, he amazed the audience with his experimental reverse baked Alaska named frozen Florida, hot inside and cold outside, made in a microwave of course. Over the years he organized several workshops in Italy playing with the idea of molecular and physical aspects of gastronomy. After Kurti’s death in 1998, This shortened the term to “molecular gastronomy” and pursued working on the idea. He created the Foundation of Food Science & Culture and eventually the Institute for Advanced Studies of Taste. That is how a physicist becomes a hero of chefs.

Maybe he was meant to be chef. Listening to him, I cannot help thinking that he also belongs on the stage, a natural-born presenter. He likes shocking people and attracting one’s attention with unexpected comments. He bluntly said, “Molecular cuisine is old fashioned, it was 20 years ago,” amazing all young chefs that still think of molecular gastronomy as futuristic cooking. He likes to create unconventional expressions; he describes mayonnaise as “nanoscopic organization.” However, he trusts the experience of chefs, but prefers to explain what happens in the kitchen in scientific terms, such as: “Raspberry goes blue in a tin pan, it is a molecular organization. Chefs know this, not through their chemistry knowledge, but through experience.” According to him, what we eat are simply gels, liquid trapped in a cell. Whether artificial or natural, food is a simple or complex gel, he said. The audience seems to be a bit mesmerized about thinking of their meat or spaghetti as “a complex gel with dimension,” as he described. But he makes it all very clear and logical. His talk is like a crash course in “science for dummies.” As one of the dummies, I’m convinced that chocolate is also a gel.

As he continued his talk, he started to mix some powders in a bowl naming each powder as protein, casein, capsaicin, sucrose, sodium and so on. Of course all are scientific names of components that make up our food. Added to these components, he says there are 10,000 odor choices that make our food palatable. He makes the president of WACS sniff a flacon to show his choice of flavor: Olive oil. He pours some over his mix of dubious powders, makes a young chef whip the mix a bit, and tucks the whole thing in the microwave for a minute. The president remains reluctant as he tries to make him taste the awkward coagulated thing.
Here is the challenge. A chef can choose the shape, the consistency, the texture, the color, the odor, smell or flavor in his or her mind and create a food making use of compounds instead of using actual food like meat, fish, vegetables or fruit. As the ground keeps silent, he gave a mind-opening example from music. A synthesizer can create any sound in the world without using an actual musical instrument. Analyzing sounds made that possible. It was futuristic science once, now kids play with it. Cooking is like making music. Taste-by-taste, you create a dish, just like a composer creates music note-by-note. He introduced the idea of note-by-note cooking, taking molecules or compounds as raw ingredients, just as notes of sound in composing music: “If you use pure compounds, you open up billions and billions of new possibilities. It’s like a painter using primary colors or a musician composing note by note.” As he said with note-by-note cooking, the possibilities are infinite.

The idea behind the note-by-note cuisine is not to make food like music out of compounds of course. It is the concern about the future of the planet. The planet is facing an energy crisis, water is more precious than we think and it is simply crazy to keep transporting water in the form of food. He said the water content in food is incredible; tomato 95 percent, apple 85 percent, carrot 80 percent and so on and simply asked: Can we avoid transporting water? That is the challenge for cooks to answer. More so, thinking that a lot of this transported food is also being wasted, either on the way, at restaurants, at the supermarkets, or at homes. It is simply crazy!

He gave reasons and he gave hope. By using already extant techniques and knowledge of science, we can improve sustainability. At the 2011 International Year of Chemistry opening banquet they served real meat versus lab-grown meat. But he is not pure science. He acknowledges the emotion; he regards cooking as a unique combination of love, art and technique. He leaves it to the chefs to create the future of food by making use of science in the most responsible way made possible with the aid of science.

I must admit that I was intimidated by tasting the odd protein-casein mix whipped up by This and cooked in a minute in a microwave. It looked rather grim and unappetizing; as the color was not adjusted it was an uninspiring beige. But it smelled good, of pure olive oil, as he had splashed some oil to the mix at the last minute. Then I thought, “What the heck! When can I have the opportunity to taste a unique ‘Hervé This experiment’ ever again?” Putting my prejudice aside, I tasted a tiny bit. It was like an olive oil scrambled egg, actually better than the one I had at the breakfast buffet.

Thank you Hervé This. It will take time to digest this idea. But I’m sure as we enjoy music from our Spotify app, we will come to terms with enjoying a lab-constructed food based on compounds, not on animal or plant tissues; only bite-by-bite, and enjoy its taste note-by-note… It will just be step-by-step to adjust our minds to this new world of cuisine, and of course our cooking techniques and kitchens. Step-by-step, but it will inevitably happen!

jeudi 22 septembre 2016

Questions and answers

  This morning, interesting questions :

# Dear Mr. This,
# My name is XXXX, and I am from Hungary. I am writing to you because I would like to ask for your help. For from whom could I get more information about molecular gastronomy than the person who invented it?
# I need to write a four-page essay this year for my school, and for my topic I chose molecular gastronomy. I decided to write about this since I really like making and eating food, but I am also a huge admirer of chemistry, and also because in the future I would like to study something similar at University.
# I am aware that you are an extremely busy person but it would mean the World to me if you could answer a few question of mine.
# It was always hard for me to imagine how an idea which is so unique comes to a person’s mind. What interests me a lot is what your purpose was behind your research? Like most studies, was it a coincidence that you created a totally different food making line? If it was, then what was it that you were searching for?
# How much time went by between your first experiment and your first success?
# To be honest I am convinced that making food is some kind of an art, especially if you make it in a way you do. What is your opinion about it? How much of molecular gastronomy is art and how much of it is science?
# A lot of people now have restaurants where we can eat a meal cooked by your methods, using not only cooking skills and equipment but science. Is there anyone who you think represents molecular gastronomy better than the others? Who you think made it to the next step?
# At university I want to study Food Innovation and Health. It is my dream to work for an international company who tries to stop starvation in the poor areas of our world. Do you think we can reform molecular gastronomy to be not only a fancy product but a base for a nutritional plan?
# Sincerely,

# My answer : 

# Thanks for your message. If you are in Hungary, it's good that you know that we created molecular gastronomy together with my late friend Nicholas Kurti, who was educated in Budapest before moving to France, Germany, the US, and finallly England (Oxford). He died in 1998.
# Now, I comment your kind email (sorry, I always comment, often with smiles) :
# You like cooking and eating : why ? (for myself, I have found the real reasons... and I am not so sure that I would say that I  like cooking and eating, indeed)
# A  huge admirer of chemistry: do you me an chemistry as a technique, or rather the science of chemical phenomena, which should be called physical chemistry  or even better chemical physics ?
# What was and what is my goal? Since I am 6 years old, I am fascinated by  the fact that equations can describe the experimental facts so remarkably.
# And the 23rd of March 1980 precisely, I understood thaot cooking was a very old fashioned and traditional practice, for which the  three components of technique, art and social were not distinguished, for which bad advices ("culinary precisions") were transmitted, for which the education was outdated, for which a lot of theory could be done, for which technical improvement (technology) could be proposed, and, moreover, for which a science could be introduced, focusing on the wealth of phenomena occurring during culinary processed.
# This science is molecular gastronomy (in the beginning, it was called "molecular and physical gastronomy", but  this was cumbersome.
# Indeed, at the same time, the proposal of transferring new tools from labs to the kitchens led  to  the development of molecular cooking (new technique), which led itself to a new art called molecular cuisine.
# Please,  be careful not confusing molecular gastronomy with molecular cuisine or with molecular cooking, as all this is different : cooking is no science.
# Like most studies, was it a coincidence that I created a totally different food making line?
# Indeed here the confusion above can be observed. When I began my works, it was because I failed making a particular soufflé, and this led me to the analysisof the failure. Is this coincidence? Probably not. I had a scientific mind, and a failure meant that my "theory" (indeed, here, an absence of theory) was wrong. So  that it was obvious that I should investigate further.
# Later, because I recognized that science could apply to some very old and traditional activities, it was obvious to propose the application of lab's tools to cooking... because this was indeed what I was doing, having at home a lab in my kitchen.
# How much time went by between my first experiment and my first success?  Sorry, but I don't understand the question. My very first experiment was the 23rd of March 1980... but the result was obtained immediately. It was about souffles, and it was immediately followed by a collection of culinary precisions, being tested one by one since.
# Cooking and art: this is discussed extensively in my book "Cooking, a quintessential art". Indeed the title of the French version is "Cooking, it's love, art and technique".  But indeed some culinary activities are simply craft, technique, and others are art. Just like for painting: some paint the walls, and some others do paintings for the mind.
# How much of molecular gastronomy is art and how much of it is science? Here it's clear : there is nothing about art in molecular gastronomy as molecular gastronomy is a scientific activity... but I know that the answer is wrong because the question is wrong: you confused molecular gastronomy and molecular cooking/cuisine. And for cooking/cuisine, it is the same for any kind of cooking: craft and art depending on the particular goal of the particular practioners.
# Is there any restaurant who you think represents molecular gastronomy better than the others? Remember the confusion between molecular gastronomy and molecular cuisine: no restaurant does molecular gastronomy, but many (most of them indeed) do molecular cooking. For molecular cuisine, Ferran Adria was important, but René Redzepi also... but again, molecular cooking is everywhere. And this has no interest... because of the next step: note by note cooking !
# Molecular cuisine is the past, and "note by  note cooking" is THE important think. Aund you will see in my book about it that it is the solution to you lask question. 
# Cheers, celebrate Knowledge !