Science News magazine is featuring an article about the history of science in chefs’ kitchens, and the current trend to experiment with unusual techniques and import into the kitchen methods that are already used in large scale commercial food industry.
By the late 1700s, chemist Antoine Lavoisier, when he wasn’t articulating the law of conservation of mass, carried out elaborate experiments on the preparation of meat stock. At about the same time, physicist Benjamin Thompson (later Count Rumford) had made many forays into the kitchen, inventing a double boiler and percolating coffeepot.
But Rumford and Lavoisier’s ilk were exceptions. Early efforts to preserve food by canning, prompted by a need to nourish troops on the battlefield, set the tone for science’s contribution to cooking for the modern era.
"Restaurants and the tradition of preparing elaborate recipes were mostly ignored," says César Vega of the food research company Mars Botanical (an offshoot of Mars Inc) in Gaithersburg, Md. "The focus was on preserving food for long periods of time. And by the way, let’s do it so it tastes the same, batch after batch after batch."
The relationship between scientists and chefs, or lack thereof, troubled the late physicist Nicholas Kurti. At a presentation for the Royal Society of London in 1969 he lamented, "I think it is a sad reflection on our civilization that while we can and do measure the temperature in the atmosphere of Venus, we do not know what goes on inside our soufflés."
More fascinating knowledge from Science News…