Ferran Adrià, food science, and Nova

By Cathy Huyghe

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We all know WGBH viewers love food — hence outstanding programs like Simply Ming and Lidia’s Italy.  And we know you love science, à la Nova. So for a “taste” of how WGBH brings together food and science, check out Nova scienceNOW: The Science of Picky Eaters.

Food and science are a natural combination for chef Ferran Adrià, too. When Adrià came to Boston, it caused quite a stir, not only because of his professional fame – as the father of molecular gastronomy, he is often mentioned as one of the best, most innovative chefs of the world – but also because of the people who brought him here. That would be a team of researchers and faculty at Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Adrià’s kitchen is the equivalent of a scientist’s laboratory, where he runs experiments, calibrates equipment, and tests materials and ingredients.

This year, Adrià has released Modern Gastronomy A to Z: A Scientific and Gastronomic Lexicon. Organization, apparently, is high on the list of things that make this chef tick. The entries are in alphabetical order, and each listing is subdivided into the following categories as possible:

    * What is it?
    * Where does it come from? How is it obtained?
    * Form (i.e., crystallized product, liquid, etc)
    * Additional information
    * General uses (in the retail food industry, in restaurants)
    * Quantity and instructions for use (maximum/minimum amounts, basic quantity in cooking, instructions for use)

Since professionals cooks, and Adrià in particular, wrote the book, the text has a very practical quality to it. For example, I thumbed to the “T” section of the book and looked up “tannin,” the science of which I know a little something about through my experience with wine. Here’s how that entry reads:

What are they?

A set of compounds from the group of polyphenols (associated with flavonoids) that are characterized by giving a certain color to some vegetables and for their astringency.

Additional information:

    * They are abundant in nature, present in many vegetable products, especially fruit (grapes, etc.), as well as in cocoa, coffee, and tea.
    * Tannins are responsible for the astringent nuance in wine as well as in tea, cocoa, and coffee.
    * In fruit the astringency caused by tannins reduces with ripening.
    * Because they are associated with flavonoids, they are considered antioxidants.
    * In addition to the retail food industry, tannin extracts are used in tanning to turn animal skins into leather, and in medicine to prepare astringent substances and to treat burns.

General uses:

    * In the retail food industry: wines, tonics, etc.
    * In restaurants: in experimentation

That last bit — experimentation in restaurants as a general use — really speaks to the brilliance of this book. The motivation and the freedom to experiment, and having those experiments win critical acclaim, is the driving force and lifelong goal of the author — and, perhaps, readers as well.

Cathy Huyghe writes for the WGBH Daily Dish blog. Read new WGBH Daily Dish posts every weekday, where you can explore myriad ways and places to experience good food and wine.

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