The Flemish Primitives: Chefs and Scientists Gather in Belgium for a Summit
In an impressive effort to earn its place among the global culinary cutting edge, Belgium hosted its second symposium focused on the collaboration between scientists and chefs this February to unveil new kitchen technology and set culinary standards for the future. Funded by the Flanders Taste Foundation, chefs from all over the world combined forces with scientists and academics to explore how technology and scientific process continue to impact professional kitchens. Presentations included everything from machines that infuse, cook, and preserve foods in high volume to the methodology behind fermentation and translating designer fragrances into pastries. For the chefs, mixologists, sommeliers and restaurateurs attending, this congress offered a sneak peak at the technological and science-based trends soon to be found across international kitchens.
The Benefits of High Pressure Processing
Belgian chefs Rudi Van Beylen of Hof ten Damme and Filip Claeyes of De Jonkman (Belgium) worked with Scientist Stefan Topfl on a High Pressure Processing (HPP) machine that exerts 6000 bars of pressure, the equivalent of being 60 thousand feet under water. Designed primarily to extend the freshness of seafood and fruit, the benefits of HPP included killing bacteria, infusing flavors, improving texture, and heightening natural flavors, all in about one minute! The presentation included seafood platters featuring clams, oysters and algae.
Harnessing Lactic Fermentation
Chef Sang-Hoon Degeimbre of L’Air du Temps (Belgium) in collaboration with Institut Meurice discussed the importance and benefits of approaching fermentation with a scientific methodology. By understanding the process and applying certain principles consistently, including the impact of environment temperatures, preparation of vegetables and concentration of salt, a chef can achieve and consistently reproduce predictable results. Degeimbre’s presentation focused on a study of Kimchee, a traditional fermented condiment from Korea.
|Chefs and Scientists gather in Belgium for a summit|
Joan, Joseph, and Jordi Roca, the brothers behind El Cellar de Can Roca (Spain), Joseph, and Jordi, teamed up with Heloise Vilaseco of the Alicia research center to study new ways of extracting and blending flavors. Joan’s demonstrations included a langoustine dish enhanced with Sherry wine and a Mediterranean vacuum-cooked fish that used freshly juiced bergamot and fennel. Jordi used flavors such as vanilla, jasmine, lychee, rose, and ginger to construct pastries that emulated the aromas of designer perfumes such as Miracle by Lancome and Eternity by Calvin Klein.
Chef Sergio Herman of Oud Sluis (The Netherlands) is known for incorporating theatrical elements into the dining experience. Working with Professor Jeroen Lammertyn, the chef used an electronically wired table and plate to move sauce from the outer edges of the plate to the center, reaching the other components of the dish. This technology allows liquids to follow a pre-designated path on a plate, creating dramatic effect and a feast for the eyes.
Based on surveys and forward thinking the Flanders Taste Foundation developed 10 principles to serve as commandments of Belgian gastronomy. The principles emphasize the use of high quality fresh, local, and sustainable ingredients; communication between chefs and consumers as well as purveyors; and the importance of the overall wellbeing of diners and the environment. These guidelines were designed to ensure the success of Belgian chefs in the culinary arena.
Determined to find an alternative to traditional freezing—which causes cell damage to ingredients often destroying color, structure and flavor—Chef Kristof Coppens of Apriori in Belgium worked with KULeuven research center to develop a new nitrogen-based freezing technique. The resulting machine uses liquid nitrogen and a vacuum chamber that allows an even and consistent application of liquid nitrogen to freeze ingredients without disrupting their form. The machine also infuses and combines flavors. To demonstrate this, Campari was poured into the chamber with a peeled apple. The apple re-emerged with a fine coating of Campari, taking the appearance of a whole, unpeeled apple.
The Collaboration between Science and Food
The overlap of science and art within the realm of food is a close-to-heart topic for both food scientist Chris Loss of The Culinary Institute of America and Chef-Consultant Alexander Talbot of ideasinfood.com. They teamed up to present a roadmap for invention and innovation fueled by the fruitful collaboration between scientist and chef. Though their tools differ, Loss and Talbot emphasized, the functions of scientist and chef are remarkably similar. They both aim to apply principles, be they cooking methods or scientific theories, in order to achieve a desired result, and they both apply their knowledge within a controlled setting – be it the lab or the kitchen – to achieve a consistent outcome. And when they combine their knowledge, they form a mutually beneficial relationship: science can help articulate culinary experiences and recipes can essentially serve as models in demonstrating the chemical interaction of ingredients. This evolving field promises an exciting future for the culinary world.
By taking advantage of the natural pectin in fruits and vegetables, Chef Jean-Yves Wilmont and Professor Marc Hendrickx of the Catholic University of Leuven designed a process to make gel without gelatin. An analysis of naturally occurring enzymes, along with temperature control, allowed them to eliminate unproductive pectin and exploit good pectin for culinary purposes. Included in their presentation were gels flavored with fruit and vegetable combinations.
Chemistry and Cocktails
In an attempt to understand how to perfect a cocktail, and what makes it perfect, New York Mixologist Audrey Saunders paired with chemistry expert Harold McGee and London Mixologist Tony Conigliaro. Together they demonstrated how cocktail challenges can be overcome. Through step-by-step troubleshooting, they were able to understand, chemically, how to achieve the desired result. For instance, Saunders had conducted side-by-side experiments to achieve a perfect foam to top her Earl Grey Martini. While a whipped egg white foam lasted until after the drink was consumed, a gelatin-based foam did not. McGee then explained the reason for this phenomenon: egg proteins are fairly small, and as a result, they move into place in the bubble walls, denature, and bond together permanently. This is not the case for gelatin proteins, which are longer, less mobile, and do not form a permanent bond.
Conscious of how physical surroundings pick up positive and negative energy, Bart De Pooter takes physical and psychic space equally into account in his restaurant, De Pastorale (Belgium). His presentation was a discussion on how to improve ambience by focusing on functionality, presentation, and renewal of psychic energy via physical objects.
The creative spirits of Chefs Dave de Belder of De Godevaart (Belgium) and Jonnie Boer of De Librije (The Netherlands) came together to create surprising chocolate confections to keep the diner entertained. They infused chocolates with different spices such as star anise and cinnamon and then shaped the infused chocolate into the forms of the spices. The resulting chocolates had both the essence and appearance of star anise and a cinnamon stick. is something that looks exactly like a piece of star anise or a cinnamon stick made out of the infused chocolate.
Borrowing a technique used in the cosmetic industry, Chef Roger Van Damme of Het Gebaar (Belgium) brought a magnet-based emulsion machine, EmulsionFire, to the culinary world. Chef Van Damme demonstrated how, in a matter of mere minutes, high volume emulsions can be created and sustained, a technique that previously would have taken hours. This technology is specifically useful to hotels and catering companies that need to produce emulsions on a grand scale.
Flights of Fantasy
Belgian Chocolatier Dominique Persoone of The Chocolate Line and Scottish Pastry Chef James Petrie of The Fat Duck teamed up to present a series of whimsical sweets for an arresting finale. Golden spheres of chocolate were formed from 64% Peruvian cacao to create floating disco balls. Persoone’s whimsical UFO white chocolates, flavored with mint and Szechuan pepper, were shaped to resemble flying saucers. A distillater then passed mint-infused smoke through a glass tunnel filled with salt, Valencia orange and fennel blossom powder. The subsequent pressure propelled the confections into the air. Other fantastical creations included a cloud of frothy chocolate bubbles, and a Roald Dahl-inspired chocolate river worthy of Willy Wonka, which with the aid of liquid nitrogen, transformed from liquid to solid to powder in under a minute.