Food, Photography and Lifestyle Blog

Molecular Gastronomy Seminar with Dr. Herve This


On 22 April the HITDC had organized a seminar hosted my Dr. Herve This for their culinary students and also invited the Hong Kong Chefs Association members, I was happy to be one of them, but was wondering what to expect, as I knew Herve is a scientist and not a Chef, he is in fact the brain behind the new culinary cuisines created by Ferran Adria, Moto, Wylie Dufresne and others who wow their diners with their foams, emulsions, frozen gases and very slowly cooked creations.

So indeed we did not see much cooking going on, but this Scientists Culinary genius was brought out to share some of his knowledge with us. I have to tell you he gave quite an entertaining performance, and as I am a Chef it was highly intersting to see him also do some experiments.

Dr. This also atributes great importance to the emotional aspect of  cooking, as shown in the title of one of his good books showing: Cooking is Love, Art and Technique.

Dr. Herve This with Chef Andreas Muller

Dr. Herve This with Chef Andreas Muller

Molecular Gastronomy is a scientific discipline involving the study of physical and chemical processes that occur in cooking. It should not be confused with Molecular Cooking, which is the application of Molecular Gastronomy to cooking.

The term Molecular Gastronomy was coined in the 1980’s by a French scientist, Herve This, and a Hungarian born physicist Nicholas Kurti, who was a professor of physics in England. Both men were interested in food science, but they felt that empirical knowledge and tradition were as important in cooking as rational understanding.

Dr. Herve This doing an experiment with eggs

Dr. Herve This doing an experiment with eggs

A classis example of molecular gastronomy is the investigation of the effect of specific temperatures on the yolk and white when cooking an egg. Many cookbooks provide the instructions of boiling eggs 3-6 minutes for soft yolks, 6-8 minutes for a medium yolk and so on. Molecular gastronomy reveals that the amount of time is less important to cooking the eggs than specific temperatures – which always yields the desired result.

There is much more about molecular gastronomy then just the physical and chemical changes during food preparation. One fascinating area involves how the senses play their own role in human appreciation of food. Even one sense of touch can affect our perception of flavour.

The following article is written by Christopher Gallaga, who can be found here: www.achefatlarge.com Thank you Chris for letting me put this here.

Molecular Gastronomy a system of knowledge.

By: Christopher Gallaga

 

I suspect some were disappointed to learn that Dr. Hervé This, would not be conducting a “cooking show” during his seminar on Molecular Gastronomy, presented at the HITDC in Pokfulam. In his clear words he does not pretend to be a cook. I, being a lover of science, food and cooking was delighted that one of the worlds most affable, approachable and readable food scientists would be discussing the science of cooking.

 

Early in his presentation Dr. This, stated unequivocally that he was not here to answer, but rather to ask, questions. He then set about asking several empirical questions about eggs (why do they foam, how does a whisk work, which whisk is better, where is the yolk inside a shell, and so on), to which he always answered, “We don’t [yet] know.” After demonstrating the first fundamental of the scientific method: to explore phenomenon without prejudice, he then demonstrated how we could find out the true answers to all those questions (and more).

 

We delved into both elementary physics and chemistry, and were even presented with several quasi-cooking demonstrations, (a microwave soufflé, a mayonnaise “pudding” and a egg cooked by ethanol) but our professor again quite strenuously noted that he is not a cook, but a scientist. He plainly stated that the scientist and the chef are two distinct and important vocations in the creation of food, and that while they could be the closest of friend, while they both pursued their purpose with equally vigorous passion; they had very different goals. Scientists are in endless pursuit of sublime knowledge, while cooks are in endless pursuit of the more ethereal artistry of creating pleasure through nourishment. The scientists can no more drive the actions of the cook than the cook can force the science against reality. For mutual benefit the two must work in harmony in order to increase the vast lexicon called the art and science of cuisine.

 

Dr. This did provide one clear and important answer to a multi-part question that is currently on a lot of chef’s minds. He stated unequivocally that Molecular Gastronomy is the scientific study of food, while molecular cooking is an adoption of certain new knowledge and modern technology to add to or enhance the established glossary of cuisine. Throughout history we see a steady progression of food knowledge while every generation or so this fundamental knowledge is punctuated by trends and specific advancements. In time the overall food compendium adopts those specifically important features of any trend, discarding the rest. Thus it is really not a choice of either/or; it is simply that the overall encyclopedia is the big picture progress of cuisine and cooking while any trend, including molecular cookery, is the temporary divergence to a small picture specialty. Exciting in the moment, but over all just one of many contributors to a much larger base of knowledge and technique.

 

In the end, what Hervé This tried to do was to teach chefs the scientific method, to teach chefs how to ask questions and how to devise and perform experiments that will yield factual answers rather than more of the same “old tales” steeped in mystical supposition. To that end I found the lecture a value packed two-hours of learning, and will certainly take this scientific approach into improving the understanding the facts behind my chosen vocation. Perhaps in time I can help advance the knowledge contained in the lexicon of cookery, myself.

Should you feel interested to read more about him, you can always buy his book.

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4 responses

  1. Thks for sharing 🙂

    April 25, 2009 at 6:21 am

  2. I’m so jealous, that you actually saw Dr. This! I have read all of his books and would love to see a demo by him! Good for you thats awesome!!

    April 25, 2009 at 1:57 pm

  3. cosmopolitanblog

    he is a real jolly person and high energy, that made it real nice to attend this event, also that he came with more questions then asnwers was great!

    April 25, 2009 at 2:25 pm

  4. As someone who previously worked in biotech, I appreciate his way of thinking although I like it that my kitchen does not look like a labratory.

    April 25, 2009 at 3:28 pm

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