‘Father of molecular gastronomy’ explores solution to world hunger – The Boston Globe

“Food has always intersected with science — since antiquity” – Michael Brenner, Professor, Harvard

Food and chemistry are commingling in many ways right now, as scientists and chefs rethink how we conceptualize cooking. In Cambridge’s Kendall Square, the new restaurant Cafe ArtScience, where science fuses with cuisine, is generating considerable interest. Cafe founder David Edwards is creating WikiFoods, including WikiPearl, ice cream in its own edible skins, so no packaging is required. Natick’s Army labs are testing 3-D printers to produce high-tech meat for the military.

Michael Brenner, a Harvard professor and director of the university’s successful Science and Cooking Lecture Series, says the public’s current

fascination is exciting. “Food has always intersected with science — since antiquity,” he writes in an e-mail. “Scientific advances in the modern day, such as the development and understanding of gelling agents and other [natural] food additives have enabled chefs to create entirely new foods.”

At a Boston University seminar during [Herve] This’s visit from his residence outside Versailles, he whisked powdered egg whites with water, sugar, bacon flavor (not real pork), and other flavorings, and a healthy dose of vegetable oil. He poured the batter on a paper plate, ran an ordinary (clean) hair comb across it for texture and put it in a microwave. The result, a thick, firm white product (in his own lab, This would have added red coloring), might one day replace steak. It was all part of a demonstration on how to cook using pure compounds, which are molecules like sucrose (sugar), proteins, lipids (oils and fats), acetic acid (the compound that gives us vinegar), colors, and flavorings (vanillin in vanilla and piperine in pepper).

Some will understand this from a basic chemistry class they once took, others will think they need a doctorate.

This’s book has just been translated into English. The “note-by-note” of the title likens the techniques he uses to those in synthesized music, where elementary sound waves are combined to create new sounds. His food is what he describes as “cooking from molecular scratch.” By that he means that instead of using traditional ingredients like meat, fish, fruits, and vegetables, food will be made only with pure molecular compounds, or mixtures of compounds.

Herve This, 59, is the man many call the “father of molecular gastronomy,” though he insists he is one of two. The other is his friend, the late Hungarian-born physicist Nicholas Kurti. Molecular gastronomy, the study of culinary phenomena — or the reasons souffles rise in the oven and Hollandaise curdles with too much heat — is now nearly 30 years old. “Molecular gastronomy is science, not cooking,” says This, who works at the Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique at AgroParisTech.

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