We caught up with Hervé This, the leading figure in the field of molecular and physical gastronomy, and President of the Teaching Committee of the new HEG programme.
Mr This, could you tell us about your involvement in the “Gastronomic Sciences” component of the new HEG programme?
The most important aspect of my role on the Teaching Committee is to ensure that those teaching the programme are internationally recognised for the outstanding intellectual quality of their work and who can, therefore, attract an international audience. We must also ensure that those taking the programme are taught in the most modern, lively, and original way possible.
I obviously apply the aforementioned to my teaching. I am recognised around the world for having created molecular and physical gastronomy and the way in which it is applied, in molecular or synthetic cuisine, for example. My role is to introduce students to molecular and physical gastronomy, in other words to the scientific discipline which explores the mechanisms of chemical and physical phenomena which occur when making food. Why, for example, do soufflés rise? Why do pears sometimes turn red when making pear compote? Why does grilled meat turn brown? The primary aim of molecular gastronomy is to test what I call “culinary precisions”. Firstly, to find out if they are true (as approximately 90 % are false), but, above all, because experimentally proven precisions can lead to phenomena which science can explore.
What is the relationship between cuisine and science?
This is a very broad question, and a distinction must almost certainly be made between natural sciences, and human and social sciences, all of which feature in our programme.
As far as natural sciences are concerned, the “only” purpose of cuisine is to extend the phenomena which can be explored. And, conversely, there will never be any natural sciences “in cuisine”. Many have made the mistake, either confusing “natural sciences” with know-how (technique, for example), or confusing natural sciences with precision. For Carême, Urbain Dubois, Jules Gouffé, or Auguste Escoffier, for example, confusion results from precision and mastery in cuisine: this is not sufficient to transform cuisine into a natural science! Precision is not enough to be scientific. The word “science” can be found in myriad old cookbooks such as the “Science du maître d’hôtel” or “La Science du cuisinier”. However, this is not a reference to “natural sciences” but “mastering know-how”. In this sense, cuisine is indeed a science, but has nothing to do with chemistry, physics, or biology. Consequently, from this point of view, there is no relationship because the end result of cuisine is the food we eat, whereas natural sciences result in theories which describe mechanisms of phenomena. In my personal work on molecular gastronomy, I use phenomena which take place in cuisine, as I hope that they will lead to scientific discoveries. I want to create an innovative understanding that between cooking on the one hand and the natural sciences on the other, especially molecular gastronomy, there can be “technology”, a bridge which helps to renew culinary techniques. This is how, from 1980 onwards, molecular cuisine and more recently, note by note cooking, amongst others, came into being. For the past 21 years, I have been providing famed French chef, Pierre Gagnaire, with an invention every month. An invention is not a discovery, it is technology. I am motivated by my desire to demonstrate just how fertile the natural sciences are!
What is note by note cooking?
Firstly, it is not “molecular cuisine” (you will note that I did not say “molecular gastronomy”!). Let’s go back in time: from the 1980s, we wanted to modernise culinary techniques, by taking equipment from laboratories into the kitchen. For example, siphons for making mousses, or liquid nitrogen for making ice cream. Now, this innovation is so advanced that you can find siphons in supermarkets, and most ovens cook at “low temperature”.
For synthetic cuisine, which I have named “note by note cooking”, the idea I had (in 1994) is very different: instead of cooking with carrots, turnips, meat, or fish, I suggested cooking with pure compounds: water, proteins, sugars, amino acids, lipids… It is to cooking what synthetic music is to music.
How is it represented in the HEG programme?
Every time I teach a class, experiments are carried out either by myself or another person. It is important to note that the culinary component has been reinforced in the new programme. Students will either do note by note cooking themselves or watch a Chef demonstrating it.
What do you want students to get out of the programme?
The teachers are amongst the best in the world in their speciality. Personally, I am always fascinated when I listen to them and discover the excellence of their research, results, and what they produce. I want people from around the globe to be able to share the same wonder.
Moreover, our teachers are not only noteworthy for their results, but also for their humanistic values and their methods: in Greek, the word “method” means “choice of path”, in other words how to go in a chosen direction. It is very “practical” for our students! My colleagues and I have also experienced many diverse aspects of “gastronomy”: we are committed to “passing on this knowledge”, to give our students ideas which they can use. For example, the marketing director of a large food company will be interested in trends in their sector. Industrial groups may see innovation in note by note cooking. Presentations on the history of cuisine will open new horizons for food journalists or bloggers. Teachers will find pertinent information and the means with which to structure their lessons.
A final word to endorse the new HEG format?
Every 10 years, the programme needs to be re-examined from all sides to create something even better. Like a magazine, which regularly changes its layout, a chef who changes their menu or the decoration of their restaurant, there is an obvious need to make changes for the better. The physicist Albert Einstein said, “Life is like riding a bicycle: to keep your balance you must keep moving”. I am glad that we have brought everything into question and created something new... without, however, changing two foundations: providing our students with the very best teachers and original and modern teaching methods. One important change has taken place: cuisine has become more prominent in our gastronomy component. Thanks to Le Cordon Bleu Paris institute and Reims Champagne-Ardenne university, all the ingredients for making this new format a success have been combined.
Are you interested? More information about the programme and online registration: click here.
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