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UCLA Science and Food Lecture Explores Deliciousness with René Redzepi and Lars Williams

Last night marked the Science and Food series’ second lecture, entitled “The Molecules of Food and the Exploration of Deliciousness.” The presentation was hosted by Chef René Redzepi of noma (you may have heard of him) and Lars Williams, head of research and development at Redzepi’s Nordic Food Lab. Both are located in Copenhagen, Denmark.

René Redzepi declares noma's mission to give diners a sense of time and place, which has led him to a few revelations: food and Nordic ingredients in particular must be further explored, foraging is a wonderful way of finding new ingredients (but don’t forget your poisonous plant guidebook!), and chefs need to unlearn everything they know about technique and food. It is only at this point of curiosity and innovation that diners may witness a revival in Nordic cuisine as well as the delight of a complete dining experience. For his astounding résumé (elBulli and French Laundry alum, chef and co-owner of the World’s Best Restaurant 2012), René Redzepi is surprisingly goofy. He refused to linger on noma’s success and instead delved directly into the fascinating science of food, as only a food geek entirely consumed in his vocation would. And he cracked a few jokes, namely about his gastrointestinal illness that caused the lecture to be rescheduled.

Next Lars Williams shared aspects of his research, abiding by the insight that science is critical to challenging our ways of thinking about food. The team at Nordic Food Lab is working on using non-conventional techniques to develop new flavor profiles and give a sense of terroir (the geography, geology and climate that food is born from), which ultimately make food taste good. He gave the example of using mold to speed up the process of making fish sauce from about a year to just a few weeks. Williams believes we are just now learning about food and how to use it to its full potential.

Though the entire lecture was fascinating, the most enthralling moments were when the audience got to sample science at work. Every audience member was given a “Box of Deliciousness,” which carried a small container of green powder and two pipettes filled with liquid, and told to taste each prior to knowing what was inside. The container held a fresh and herby cucumber spice blend, and the pipettes were a floral carrot kombucha and something similar to soy sauce — which was not actually soy sauce at all, but fermented grasshopper juice. Under the audience’s continued gasps and squeals, Williams even demonstrated how these live grasshoppers were blended. Containers of freshly prepared seaweed ice cream (which tasted much like a sweet blueberry ice cream) and barley cakes (think soft tempeh) were also passed around. Needless to say, we received a rather entertaining glimpse into just how the science of molecules can enhance the food we enjoy.

As to the future of noma, Redzepi humbly stated that while the restaurant does not have longevity because it is attached to single person, his project does. He sees real potential in the exploration of science and food, and commends his team for their passionately hard work. Finally, he called for a resurgence of intuitive craftsmanship in cuisine, as opposed to more technique. That’s enough to have me grabbing for my foraging basket.

 

The next lecture, “Microbes in My Ramen?” on May 24, will be hosted by Professor Rowat, David Chang and Peter Meehan. Unfortunately the event is already sold, but we’ll be there to fill you in. More information on the series here.