biografia of herve this

BIOGRAPHY OF Hervé This Hervé This was an editor of Pour la Science, the French edition of Scientific American magazine, from 1980 to 2000. His interest in food led him to collaborate with Nicolas Kurti, Harold McGee, and Elizabeth Cawdry Thomas to create the first International Workshop on Molecular and Physical Gastronomy in Erice, Sicily (see previous page). This is a prolific author and has written or coauthored many books, including Kitchen Mysteries (2007); Cooking:  

The Quintessen ial Art (2008); Molecular Gastronomy: Exploring the Science of Flavor (2008); Building a Meal: From Molerular Gastronomy to Culinary Constructivism (2009); and The Science of the Oven (2009). For his part, This claims to care little for food, except as a topic for scientific inquiry. Although he grew up in a family of gourmands, he once told a journalist, “I have no interest in food.” Apart from the necessity of food for survival, he said, “I wouldn’t care if I ever ate again.”

lar gastronomy. Chefs such as Adrià, Blumenthal, Grant Achatz, Wylie Dufresne, and anyone else who practices what in this book we call Modernist cuisine are alımost invariably labeled as practitio- ners of molecular gastronomy. They are often de- scribed as “disciples” or “followers” of Hervé This. Sometimes Adrià or Blumenthal is called the “dean” or “leading proponent” of molecular gastronomy. It is an odd state of affairs. Hervé This argues that tive work of those chefs is not molecular gastronomy. The chefs argue exactly the same thing. In fact, the food produced by Modernist chefs has very little, if anything, to do with the academic vision of molecular gastronomy es- poused by This. Chefs also don’t like the moniker because it seems too scientific. Many chefs also believe that it fails to capture the creative aspect of what they do. They view themselves as chefs, not scientists, and their interest in science is motivated primarily by their drive to invent new dishes, not the other way around. Finally, many chefs bristle at what they feel is Hervé This being unfairly credited with their innovations. They see his work as unrelated or even irrelevant to their cuisine. Meanwhile, This often claims not to be very interested in Modernist food (or food of any kind, according to some quotes). Indeed, as of this writing, he has never dined at either elBulli or The Fat Duck, which would be strange if they really were his followers. The one thing both sides can agree on is that they are doing different things that should not be lumped together. Yes, they are both about food, and both involve some input from science, but that’s about as far as any similarity goes, Unfortunately, that’s not the way the story has usually been told. Part of the reason for this miscommunication is that no one has been able to give a good name to the differing styles of modern cuisine represented by Adrià, Blumenthal, and others. Journalists generally don’t take the time to appreciate the differences between these chefs’ culinary styles. Once what they do starts to sound like science and cooking brought together, writers often jump for the only name out there-molecu- lar gastronomy. And the more the term is used and disseminated, the more difficult it is to replace. The difference between This’s definition of molecular gastronomy and the media’s is al the more pointed thanks to an underlying fact: This’s research primarily addresses long-standing prac- tices and old wives’ tales in traditional cooking quite the opposite kind of cooking that interests Modernist chefs, He has accumulated some 25,000 examples of these customs and traditions, which he calls “culinary precisions.” He has investigated numerous claims from cookbooks, confirming some and refuting others. He often works by doing his own research; to test a clainm from a medieval

cookbook, This roasted whole suckling pigs and confirmed that cutting the head off after cooking keeps the skin crisp, because it allows steam trapped under the skin to escape. In addition to examining “precisions,” This created a formal notation for cooking čalled the CDS/NPOS system. (CDS stands for “coniplex dispersive system” and NPOS for “nonperiodical organization of space.”) Similar in spirit to formal mathematical notation or chemical formulas, This’s system serves as an abstract description of the processes and techniques used in cooking. He believes this notation will be useful to chefs in. creating new dishes, although few chefs seem to agree. The notation is so abstract that it has not been widely adopted by either chefs or main- stream food scientists. In some cases, however, This has invented or researched techniques that could be used as a point of departure for new dishes. This and Pierre Gagnaire have collaborated to come up with many new recipes, which are featured on Gagnaire’s website (, some of which are featured in this book. In a 2010 paper in the journal Chemical Reviews, the physicist Peter Barham and his coauthors

present an excellent summary of the key scientific findings of molecular gastronomy to date. They argue that it is an emerging scientific discipline. Whether that assertion is true is an intriguing question, but the answer is still unclear, at least to as. Conventional food scientists, not “molecular gastronomists are responsible for many of the scientific findings reviewed in the paper. Food science has origins that stretch back at least a century (see Food Science, below), and the discipline has been a major focus for thousands of researchers in recent decades, What distinguishes “molecular gastronomy” from other forms of food science? Is there something really new here, or is. this just a case of applying a trendy new name? The principal answer seems to be that what Barham and his colleagues call molecular gastron- omy is focused on home and restaurant cooking. Previously, food science tended to be applied almost exclusively to large-scale commercial and industrial food processing. Indeed, the birth of food science as a discipline was driven largely by the emergence of the packaged- and canned-food industries in the early 20th century. During most of its existence, food science was all but invisible to restaurant chefs and the general

public. That’s because food science was mostly funded by industry or by government agriculture departments that wanted economy on a large scale. Most of the findings ascribed to molecular gastronomy were discov- boost the agricultural ered in the course.of those activities. There are also many issues that food science has simply not investigated, because they are not important to large-scale food manufacturers. Nicholas Kurti is famous for saying, “It is a sad reflection on our civilization that, while we can and do measure the temperature in the atmo- sphere of Venus, we do not know what goes on inside our soufflés.” Nobody in industry cared much about soufflés; you couldn’t make them in bulk to put on supermarket shelves. And if nobody in industry cared, food scientists tended not to investigate. It’s not like the U.S. Department of Agriculture or the National Science Foundation, both major funders of academic research, care much about soufflés either. Starting in the mid-1980s, the situation changed dramatically, as MeGee, This, Barham, and others shined the light of science on problems of home and restaurant cooking. The main distinguishing feature of molecular gastronomy is that it does care about all types of food, including home and restau- rant food (and, yes, soufflés). In asking scientific questions about these foods, Barham, This, and their colleagues are performing a great service.