Mad French Scientist in the House


The French play hard, or at least some French do. I have firsthand experience: our scuba instructor who on the first lesson just had us pitch ourselves overboard while he conducted a learn while doing lesson at a depth of 30 feet; a ski guide who was horrified that there were orange fences marking the crevasses on a glacier, he felt it marred the landscape. I thought a crevasse marker was a charming addition to my overall safety.
Last Friday morning, at the IACP conference, I met a new time of mad Frenchman: the Mad Scientist.
Herve’ This  is the ‘father’ of molecular gastronomy; he is the only person to hold this doctorate. Google him up, his resume is endless.
On Friday, I believe his mission was to have us ask questions about how we cook, to be inquisitive, to be open to debunking or proving old wive’s tales and to always cook with love. Speaking in heavily accented English, he was a whirlwind of ideas, tossing them into the air and seeing what would happen next. Each concept led down the road to more and more questions.  His only book that is available in English is “Molecular Gastronomy Exploring the Science of Flavor.”  While you will learn some hard facts, like how to cook an egg, it’s more valuable as a tool to help you think about your cooking, and to understand why things happen.
Here are some of the ‘bon mots” that he tossed at us:
-He microwaved some eggs, which solidified them. As he held up the solid whites, he declared, “This is a miracle, better than the changing into the body of Christ.”
-“I trust nobody but the facts”
-“Is all this science useful? We are not beasts!”
-“Even chemists can smile”
-Regarding the current use of chemicals for altering natural food properties: “Should we use such products? Are we killing the guests?”
-“If a chef cannot make a stock, what can he make?”
-“Chocolate is fat! If you want to be slim with fat and chocolate, forget it!”
-“In the kitchen, flavor is the saint.”
-Debunking an old wives tale, “The mayonnaise will break if it is made in the presence of menstruating women. Is this true?”
-“Cooking. It is first love.”

His mind works so fast, it was difficult to keep pace. I had visions of harried assistants racing behind him, trying to catch his ideas, before he moved on to the next.
If you are interested in the science of cooking, taste, flavor, then make the effort and read his book.
The slide show at the top of this post are some of the slides used  at the presentation. For a thoroughly committed scientist, he apparently felt that proofreading was not as important as the concept…but, I’m sure you get the point!

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