Posts Tagged ‘Hervé This’

Ten tips for practical molecular gastronomy, part 10

Wednesday, July 30th, 2008

Finally it’s time to round up my ten tips for moleceular gastronomy with the shortest of them all:

10. Have fun!

I sincerely believe that whatever you do, you do it better if you enjoy it. This isn’t a very scientific statement, but I’m sure there are bunches of scientific papers proving this, and my excuse is that I wouldn’t know where to start searching for them 😉 (perhaps anyone can help?)

If you had fun preparing the food it’s definitely going to taste better when you eat it. And if you enjoy the company of good friends it’s going to taste even better (as pointed out by Hervé This previously). In his elaboration of what molecular gastronomy is (or should be), Hervé This emphasizes that the social phenomena linked to cooking and eating are among the topics that should be studied scientifically. In the first post summing up the 10 tips I mentioned the research done at Grythyttan in Sweden which has resulted in the “Five Aspects Meal Model” which captures a little of this. And I also stated that

average food eaten together with good friends while you’re sitting on a terrace with the sun setting in the ocean will taste superior to excellent food served on plastic plates and eaten alone in a room with mess all over the place

Perhaps this is what Paul Bocuse was touching upon as well when he was interviewed by a local newspaper in Stavanger where the Bocuse d’Or Europe final recently was held. Being questioned about what his greatest culinary experiences were he answered (my translation):

– I’ve travelled a lot and been lucky to taste delicacies from many different countries, but nothing compares to simple dishes were the pot is placed in front of you on the table and where you have the opportunity to help yourself several times until the food gets cold.

Hey – I’d be happy to invite him over for dinner. He sounds like an easy guest to please 😉

One of my intentions with the “10 tips” series has been to move the focus a little bit away from what too many have come to associate with molecular gastronomy – foam, alginate spheres and cooking with liquid nitrogen to mention a few. For me it has been a great oppurtunity to research a number of topics and I’m very thankful for all the feedback from readers! And in case it sounds as if I’m going to quit blogging I can let you know that the number of drafts for future blog posts is steadily increasing… So many interesting topics, so little time … But I’ll try to finish some of them soon.


Not only do I have fun cooking – blogging is also great fun! Here’s my blog as viewed on an OLPC (shown in tablet mode) obtained through the G1G1 program. Notice the screen which in the picture shown operates in a reflective, high-resolution black and white mode that is sunlight readable!

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There is a summary of the “10 tips for practical molecular gastronomy” posts. The collection of books (favorite, molecular gastronomy, aroma/taste, reference/technique, food chemistry) and links (people/chefs/blogs, webresources, institutions, articles and audio/video) at khymos.org might also be of interest.

10 elements of basic kitchen knowledge

Tuesday, May 13th, 2008


Salt in oil. According to Pierre Gagnaire, this is Hervé This’ main discovery. It allows him to sprinkle salt on dishes without the salt dissolving in water from the dish. Thereby the “crunch” of the salt is retained.

Rob Mifsud, perhaps best know for his Hungry in Hogtown blog has interviewed Hervé This. At the end of the interview Hervé lists 10 elements of basic kitchen knowledge. Some may seem obvious, but they are not, according to Hervé. Here’s the list so you can judge by yourselves:

  1. Salt dissolves in water.
  2. Salt does not dissolve in oil.
  3. Oil does not dissolve in water.
  4. Water boils at 100 °C (212 °F).
  5. Generally foods contain mostly water (or another fluid).
  6. Foods without water or fluid are tough.
  7. Some proteins (in eggs, meat, fish) coagulate.
  8. Collagen dissolves in water at temperatures higher than 55 °C (131 °F).
  9. Dishes are dispersed systems (combinations of gas, liquid or solid ingredients transformed by cooking).
  10. Some chemical processes – such as the Maillard Reaction (browning or caramelizing) – generate new flavours.

It’s all about love

Tuesday, March 4th, 2008

Hervé This was touring California in February to promote his latest book. He flew in to San Francisco late at night and found most restaurants closed, so he and his wife dined at a randomly chosen Chinese restaurant. Hervé:

“Everything was in Chinese, there was no English. Don’t ask me what we ate because I have no idea, but I was there with my wife, fully in love, and so it was the best meal of my life.”

So true!

I’m tempted to say that this is Hervé in a nutshell. According to him a meal has three components – love, art and a technical component. Molecular gastronomy should investigate all three of them. More about how Hervé This defines and looks upon molecular gastronomy can be found here.

[quote via Times-Herald]

Look out for “The Gastronomer”

Wednesday, February 13th, 2008

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(Photo: Mette Randem)

The Norwegian journalist, writer and food lover Andreas Viestad, known to many abroad for his books “Kitchen of light”, “Where Flavor Was Born: Recipes and Culinary Travels Along the Indian Ocean Spice Route” and two seasons of “New Scandinavian Cooking” on television (DVD of season one and two is available), has his debut today in The Washington Post with a new column dubbed “The Gastronomer”. Andreas has let me know that “It will be about food and science – as seen from the kitchen rather than the lab. It is an attempt to create a sort of maverick gastronomy, with recipes”.

The first column entitled “Like Water for Chocolate” is about chantilly butter and chocolate chantilly. Elaborations of Hervé This’ classic recipe in other words!

Andreas is not a scientist, but he has a remarkable capacity for absorbing the writings of Hervé This et al. and transform this into practical advice for the amateur home cook (and my guess is that many pro’s could learn a lot as well). So if you’re looking for extreme cooking á la Adrií , Andreas is not your kind of guy:

Spending hundreds of dollars on sous-vide equipment or ordering stuff weeks in advance and toiling for two days to make a “very interesting” side dish is for people in search of a hobby, not for people who want to make something nice for dinner.

A couple of years ago Andreas invited me to proof read one of his books from a chemical perspective. The book entitled “How to boil water” (only available in Norwegian) had a similar approach as his new column – it was about how the results of food science and molecular gastronomy could be applied to “normal” cooking at home. It was quite interesting, but also challenging, because as a scientist I’m used to a different level of precision when science is involved. But then on the other hand, what Andreas writes is much more readable and entertaining than what most scientists write!

Andreas has attended several of the Erice meetings (the International Workshop of Molecular Gastronomy) and he’s frequently in contact with Hervé This and Harold McGee from whom he gets a lot of inspiration. Although the chantilly is not exactly science, Hervé has told Andreas that:

From a scientific point of view it is nothing, a mere detail, but Pierre tells me it is one of the most useful things I have ever come up with.

In my opinion the chantilly is indeed a very good place to start! Hereby his new column is recommended! And if you have never made a chantilly, why not give the chocolate chantilly a try? I’ve posted a very short recipe previously, whereas Andreas has published a very comprehensive recipe in today’s column. Enjoy!

TGRWT #8: White chocolate soufflé with caviar

Wednesday, January 30th, 2008

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As a late (but just in time for the deadline) response to TGRWT #8 which was announced by Chadzilla in December last year – here is finally my write up on a recipe and a little on the background of this flavor combination which has become a classic in molecular gastronomy.

Heston Blumenthal introduced it around 2002 at The Fat Duck. It’s well worth reading what Heston wrote about this combination back then. He describes how salt can help bring out the flavor of many desserts. At one point he tried caviar and white chocolate – the effect was stunning. He then wanted to find out why this combination was so successful:

I gave some caviar and chocolate to Franí§ois Benzi, who works for Firmenich, the flavourings and perfumes company based in Geneva. He was so surprised at the way that the caviar and chocolate melded together that he excused himself for half an hour while he tried to discover the reason behind the success of this union.

When he returned, the response was that both the chocolate and caviar contain high levels of amines. These are a group of proteins that have broken down from their amino acid state but not so far as to become ammonia. Amines contribute to the desirable flavours that we find in cooked meats and cheeses, among other things.

Some might object to using caviar but remember that there is no need to turn to sturgeon caviar as this species is endangered. I used caviar from Capelin which costs less than $4/€3 for a box of 50 g. As I have never tasted the “real” stuff I’m not the right person to judge about similarity or difference in aroma. And in case you also wondered about the terminology – roe is the fully ripe egg masses of fish whereas caviar refers to processed, salted roe. I decided to make a soufflé and based the recipe loosely on one of the soufflé recipes in my Larousse Gastronomique.

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White chocolate soufflé with caviar
40 g white chocolate
30 g flour
1 dL milk
35 g caviar
3 eggs, separated
nutmeg

Melt chocolate on very low heat. Add 1/3 of the flour and stir, heating gently. Add a 1/3 of the milk and mix thoroughly. Add another 1/3 of the flour, then more milk and so on. Add finely ground nutmeg. Add 3 egg yolks and heat until right before the mixture sets (yeah – I admit – this is not very precise…). Then add the caviar. Beat egg whites stiff and fold them in. Pour into greased soufflé dish and bake at 220 °C for about 15 min.

Verdict: Aromas blend well together, but when eaten alone it’s perhaps a little bland. But I’m quite sure that it could be succesfully incorporated into a menu together with something acidic. The texture was nice, but the soufflé quickly falls together once it’s removed from the oven (I’ll have to post more on the chemistry of soufflés some other time – Hervé This has written a lot about this).

If you try to make this – note that white chocolate doesn’t behave excately like butter when you add the flour. It all got very thick, very fast – that’s why I started adding milk early. I also guess you have to be really careful when heating the whtie chocolate, but I didn’t do any stress tests here.

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This is what the mix looks like before I folded in the egg whites.

For my first attempt at this recipe I used 20 g flour and 15 g caviar. The result was that the caviar sedimented before the soufflé had set, besides the fact that one could hardly taste the caviar at all. On my second attempt however, there was enough flour to keep the caviar suspended until the soufflé set. And one could actually also taste the caviar.

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And now on to the chemistry behind:
I promised that I would come back with more information about the chemistry behind this pairing, but there isn’t very much information out there. There is one paper on aroma development in block-milk which used in the production of white chocolate. This paper lists a couple of volatiles, but only with their relative peak areas. Turning to caviar (or roe), there is a recent paper on flavor characterization of ripened cod roe, and this paper includes qualitative information about odor intensity.

Comparing the list of volatiles, the following volatiles which contribute substantially to the odor of ripened cod roe are also found in block milk (followed by odor thresholds in water, given in ppb, taken from this page):

2-butanone (50000 ppb)
2-methylbutanal (1 ppb)
3-methylbutanal (0.2-2 ppb)
pentanal (na)

Of these, the first has a high odor threshold, so it’s not likely to be an impact odorant in block-milk (and white chocolate). The methylbutanals however probably contribute to the overlapping aroma of roe and white chocolate. I didn’t find any threshold value for pentanal.

One group of compounds which was not mentioned in the paper on cod roe odor from 2004, but which was mentioned in a Russian paper from 1967 are amines (Golovnya: “Gas-chromatographic analysis of amines in volatile substances of salmon caviar”). Considering the fact that trimethylamine has a threshold in the range of 0.37-1.06 ppb, and that trimethylamine is found in block-milk suggests that it might contribute significantly to the odor of both white chocolate and roe. I guess the reason trimethylamine (and the whole range of other, closely related amines) is not found in the odor analysis in the 2004 paper has to do with the analytical method used.

The fact that amines are crucial is further supported by the Guardian article I quoted from in the beginning where Heston Blumenthal describes how he turned to Franí§ois Benzi, a flavor chemist at Firmenich, to find out why white chocolate and caviar is such a good match. Benzi concludes that it is due to the presence of similar amines in white chocolate and caviar.

Finally in English: Kitchen mysteries

Thursday, September 6th, 2007

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Following the success of the English translation of Molecular gastronomy – Exploring the Science of Flavor (original title: Casseroles et éprouvettes), Hervé This book Kitchen mysteries (original title: Les secrets de la casserole) will appear in October 2007, and is already available for pre-order. As far as I know this book has already appeared in German as Rí¤tsel der Kochkunst (and I guess in Spanish with the title La Cocina y Sus Misterios). As you can see from the list of foreign language books on molecular gastronomy, there’s still a whole number of books to be translated. Exciting times to come!

Molecular gastronomy at EuroFoodChem XIV

Sunday, September 2nd, 2007

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The conference venue was right next to the Eiffel tower

I’ve just returned from the conference Euro Food Chem XIV which took place in Paris from August 29th to 31st 2007. One of the topics was “Molecular Gastronomy: objectives, development, international collaboration”, which as you might have guessed, was the reason I went there. There were several oral presentations and a whole number of poster presentations of interest to molecular gastronomists. It was great meeting again people who attended the 2004 Erice meeting. I also had the pleasure of interacting with several of Hervé This’ former and present students who share the same enthusiasm for molecular gastronomy and the application of scientific thinking to home cooking.

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Hervé This and myself at the conference dinner (Photo by Daniel Kalnin)

Molecular gastronomy was only one of four topics at the conference, but fortunately Hervé This had arranged a special “Chefs meet scientists” session on the second day of the conference which attracted a large number of people in addition to those attending the EuroFoodChem conference.

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The auditorium was packed for the “Chefs meet scientists” session

Following an introduction by Hervé This, there were presentations of molecular gastronomy activities in France, Spain and Portugal. These activities are directed towards both chefs and the general public. Representatives from Air liquide, a manufacturer of liquid nitrogen, had a presentation of various uses of liquid nitrogen for “cooking” purposes, followed by shorter presentations of tools, techniques and ingredients. The molecular gastronomy blogging community was well represented, and I was delighted to meet the people behind Food for design (Bernard Lahousse from Belgium), Jocooking (Joana Moura from Portugal) and Lamargueritaseagita (Jorge Ruiz Carracal from Spain) – their blogs are hereby recommended!

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Hervé This fills in on Joana Moura’s presentation

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Representatives from Air liquide demonstrating liquid nitrogen applications. In the picture a stainless steel disk has been cooled and is then used as an “inverted griddle”

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Anne Cazor from Cuisine Innovation explains clarification of stock using traditional organic chemistry glass ware

All in all the conference and in particular the “Cheefs meet scientists” session and talking to people was truly inspiring and an excellent opportunity for me to catch up on what is moving in molecular gastronomy these days!

Ten tips for practical molecular gastronomy, part 7

Monday, August 27th, 2007

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Click here for full size image

7. Question authorities and learn from the experts

A thick, nicely bound cook book with marvelous pictures and a professional layout signals quality and authority. But unfortunately the nice wrapping is no guarantee that the contents is scientifically sound. I would guess that the searing/sealing myth and adding salt to water used to boil vegetables are among the most ubiquitious of the myths. The challenge for everyone is to question the procedures and explanations given in cook books and those that are inherited from your parents and grand parents. Most of them are fine, but some are not. In fact Hervé This has collected more than 20.000 so called “precisions” from French culinary books that he wants to test.

My seventh tip for pursuing molecular gastronomy in your very own kitchen is to question the cook book authorities, but also to learn from the experts in the field. The site Khymos originally started out as a listing of books and web pages that could be useful for anyone interested in molecular gastronomy and popular food science. When giving presentations it was more convenient for me to refer to a webpage than to have people taking notes of all the references. My own collection of books is constantly growing as you can see from the picture (I justed crossed the 100 cm mark), and I am more than happy to share with you my favorite books. Most of what I know about food chemistry and molecular gastronomy is from these books.

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Molecular gastronomy should of course never become a theoretical practice only, so remember that “the proof is in the pudding”, as Nicholas Kurti, one of the pioneers of molecular gastronomy often said. Let taste guide your cooking and learn how to conduct simple blind tastings (more on that in part 8). If possible, do an experiment: if there are two or more procedures, follow them and compare the end result.

Despite the many books and articles that have appeared on food chemistry and molecular gastronomy there are still many questions that remain unanswered. Scientifically, molecular gastronomy is tremendously complex. The science of deliciousness lies in the cross section of analytical, biological, inorganic, organic, physical, polymer and surface chemistry. But even though describing and understanding what happes is difficult, everyone is able to judge the end result! This is quite intriguing and because of this it is possible to become an excellent cook – even if you don’t understand the chemistry behind in every detail. This makes me confident that there will always be an “art” and a “love” component in cooking, as Hervé This puts it in his definition of molecular gastronomy.

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Check out my previous blogpost for an overview of the 10 tips for practical molecular gastronomy series. The collection of books (favorite, molecular gastronomy, aroma/taste, reference/technique, food chemistry, presentation/photography) and links (webresources, people/chefs/blogs, institutions, articles, audio/video) at khymos.org might also be of interest.

Upcoming molecular gastornomy events

Monday, January 22nd, 2007

Here’s some of the upcoming molecular gastronomy events. The field is really exploding and this list is far from complete. Feel free to add other events in the comments section.

  • The Euro Food Chem XIV takes place in Paris from August 29th to 31st 2007. One of the topics is “Molecular Gastronomy: objectives, development, international collaboration” and a discussion will be lead by Hervé This and J. Ventenas Barroso on the 1st day of the congress in the afternoon.
  • On Friday March 16th, 2007 there will be a seminar in Belgium (a follow up to their last seminar) entitled “A world of Pinot Noir”. It’s a co-organized by food for design and the The Contemporary Flemish Wine Institute.
  • On Wednesday March 26th, 2007 Peter Barham talks about “Molecular Gastronomy: What is it and Why Should a Physicist Care?” at a physics colloquim at Washington University in St. Louis.
  • Not to forget, there is also the monthly INRA seminar (new + old page) in Paris (third Thursday of every month, from 4-6 pm). The reports from each seminar can be found here (last addition is from October 2005 though).
  • On April 10th, 2007, Hervé This will speak at The New York Academy of Sciences. He will discuss “how a scientific understanding of the chemical processes of cooking and the physiology of flavor can inform the culinary experience at various levels”. BTW, you can take a look at Hervé This’ complete conference itinery here.
  • Blumenthal: “Molecular gastronomy is dead”

    Tuesday, December 19th, 2006

    As a follow up to last weeks statement from Adria, Blumenthal, Keller and McGee (article, my comments) The Guardian have interviewed Heston Blumenthal. He now says that MG creates artifical boundries: “Molecular makes it sound complicated,” he says. “And gastronomy makes it sound elitist.”. And Heston isn’t keen on either (at least not anymore…).

    According to Hervé This, there’s still some 25.000 cooking instructions left to test! And when it comes to the understanding of how the sense of smell works, we’ve just got started. So sorry Heston, I think it’s a bit early to dismiss molecular gastronomy already now.