What's cooking in Lavelle's lab?

For over two decades, every October in France, chefs and farmers invite the public to rediscover their sense of “taste”. Initially organised in schools to educate youth in matters of taste, La semaine du gout (Week of Taste) now includes tastings, conferences and workshops centred on eating.

With the same intent, this year, the Alliance Francaise de Bombay is hosting a session at IIT Powai, called Week of Taste: Science and cooking, from physics-biology-chemistry to culinary art, where students can watch as scientist Christophe Lavelle unravels the mysteries of Molecular Gastronomy and Molecular Cooking.

Christophe Lavelle doing a Molecular Gastronomy demonstration

Food fix
Lavelle is a principal investigator at the CNRS (French National Scientific Research Agency) and co-head of the Nuclear Architecture and Dynamics scientific network. Passionate about food, he teaches molecular gastronomy as well as biophysics at many French universities.

As a scientist working in molecular and cellular biophysics, Lavelle’s attempt is to merge physics, chemistry and biology into an interdisciplinary approach, to figure the mechanisms behind gene expression. Speaking about his love for food, he says: “I have always been fascinated by food; I have cooked almost every day since I was born and therefore, it was ‘natural’ to apply my scientific knowledge to understand the mechanisms behind culinary transformations. Also, I was lucky to be able to discuss frequently with Hervé This who is one of the fathers of the discipline; his lab was a 10-minute-walk from mine.”

Lavelle’s talk will focus on the difference between Molecular Gastronomy, which is a scientific discipline dedicated to food ingredients and their transformation, and Molecular Cooking, a modern cooking trend inspired by research. “Molecular Gastronomy is about the physics, biology and chemistry of meal preparation and consumption. One should explore food ingredients and techniques and broaden our gastronomic landscape,” adds Lavelle.

Molecular model
Hungarian physicist Nicholas Kurti and French chemist Hervé This coined the term Molecular Gastronomy in 1988, to lay the foundations for a new scientific discipline dedicated to studying the physical and chemical processes that occur in regular cooking.

Some of the most popular practices in Molecular Gastronomy included the use of liquid nitrogen (to freeze and create new textures), food additives (hydrocolloids used to create new textures), low temperature cooking, ultrasounds (for perfumed liquids and emulsions) and smoke.

Lavelle adds that as a science, Molecular Gastronomy has universal appeal since there will always be a need for more knowledge, and that its expansion should never stop. “It has to adapt to the existing food culture in different countries; new techniques and recipes it brought will, at some point, be abandoned or incorporated into the other existing cooking¬†techniques.”¬†

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