An Abstract Symphony of Flavors

As much as [Hervé] This has spent his career chiselling deductions down to the molecular bone of physical chemistry, he is still entranced by the art involved in making something delicious. He talked volumes, veering between the intricacies of the chemistry of emulsions and the delights of a meal prepared with care and served with love. One moment he was frustrated at French chefs who were slow to embrace his Note By Note ideas—“In France people have to move! It is a pity I introduced molecular gastronomy and it was done in Spain; the French chefs said, we don’t need these gesticulations”—at another he described a dish by a chef friend in Paris, “a very simple dish of endive, chestnuts, rosemary and butter and it was perfect.”

With Note by Note cuisine This is attempting to jump (and to get chefs and the rest of us to jump) from the figurative to the abstract, from Rembrandt to Kandinsky. It shouldn’t matter if a flavour is unrecognisable, This argues, you only have to like it or dislike it. This told me that most people cannot differentiate more than seven chemical compounds in a mouthful. Taste is perceived as a chord. After 30 compounds, the mouthful becomes “a white taste, almost like a white noise. In fact, if you have a wine sauce, like my Wöhler sauce, it can be more pure, it is like a single flute or an orchestra. One is pure, the other is richer and harmonic. In my point of view both are beautiful.” His new continent is vast and relatively unexplored. For some time, technicians in flavour companies that create new syntheses of fruit and citrus compounds for shampoo or soft drinks have been working on “white space” flavours, flavours that did not exist before they were manufactured. This pointed out that Coca-Cola and Schweppes tonic water were probably perfect examples of Note by Note that are happily consumed by millions every day. But the food industry is conservative and their confections tend to be marketed as facsimiles of the familiar—lemon-lime, kiwi-strawberry. This believes he must convince chefs—the ultimate arbiters of taste—before the public can widely embrace Note by Note.

Wendell Steavenson, writing in Prospect Magazine about french chemist and molecular gastronomy pioneer Hervé This.

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Photo: Exploratorium, Flickr