The momofuku team, led by chef/owner David Chang, swung through town during our week on microbes. David Chang and Peter Meehan produce the literary magazine Lucky Peach. Dan Felder and Veronica Trevizo are chefs who work in the momofuku kitchen lab. For LA Weekly’s rundown of the public lecture, see here. For more photos, see here

momofuku chef Dan Felder before class begins

Microbial fermentation is one of the oldest cooking techniques in the world. In the past two years, the momofuku team has been working to understand fermentation and apply it in innovative ways. When the team visited, we first tasted pistachio miso and MSG. Miso is traditionally made by inoculating soybeans or barley with Aspergillus oryzae, or koji in Japanese. Koji is a mold that is also used in making sake and soy sauce. The momofuku team took this idea a step further, experimenting with inoculating untraditional ingredients with A. oryzae. The resultant pistachio miso is a mildly salty paste with a subtle note of the nut. It tastes like dou fu ru, a fermented bean curd from China, of which, incidentally, some varieties are also made with A. oryzae.

The momofuku team took this pistachio miso another step further, by centrifuging it. The miso separated into 4 layers, one of which is the “pistachio tamari” pictured below. We also sampled cherry and rhubarb vinegars from the lab.

In making these fermentation products themselves, the momofuku chefs are putting an American spin on foreign products. Yes, they are Japanese in tradition, but they are made with a unique microbial community that is found nowhere else in the world except at 10th St and First Avenue in NYC. A deeper knowledge of science is valuable not only for understanding how each step of fermentation modifies the flavor and texture of the ingredients, it is also vital for safety. For a couple of years now, the chefs have been working with our friends Rachel Dutton and Ben Wolfe at Harvard who identify the microbes on momofuku samples and let the team know whether it is safe to eat them.

Further reading:

Felder, Dan, et al. “Defining microbial terroir: The use of native fungi for the study of traditional fermentative processes.International Journal of Gastronomy and Food Science. 1.1 (2012): 64-69.

Speaking of letting things rot, see here to learn more about artist Heike Leis’ photographs of food rotting way beyond edibility.

René Redzepi and Lars Williams on Deliciousness

René Redzepi and Lars Williams of Noma and Nordic Food Lab finally made it to UCLA!

We had quite an adventure leading up to their lecture, which involved mole crabs, sand fleas, live crickets, lost luggage, liquid-nitrogen-seaweed ice cream, and much more.

René Redzepi spoke about the pursuit of ‘deliciousness’:

“It’s not about creating dishes, but understanding deliciousness…to provide knowledge and scientific concepts for chefs.”

René’s ideology was born when he had a eureka-moment while grating and preparing horseradish.

“Some days the horseradish was sweet, some days it was acidic, some days, spicy to the point where I had to walk away. Sometimes the shape was short, sometimes long. How is it that we’d be able to create a consistent menu, with such variable changes week by week, season by season?”

He voiced what he thought was the answer.

“A chef’s intuition, combined with scientific know-how.”

Hence, the birth of the Nordic Food Lab. This is Redzepi and his team’s solution to creating a medium between food and science. Here, his talented team delves into the concept of deliciousness: how can they create and optimize using the ingredients that natures provides? (Remarkably, a good deal of their experimentation happens inside a houseboat shored in the picturesque Copenhagen harbor).

Head of Research & Development at Nordic Food Lab, Lars Williams, introduced a sampling of their recent experiments including how to modify and generate unique flavors using local and natural ingredients. One of the team’s favorite recent topics is fermentation, and a delicious example they shared was barley koji. The procedure is as follows.

  1. Crickets are blended up and mixed with barley
  2. The mixture is left to incubate, during which time, enzymes (such as amylases and proteases) in the barley and cricket guts, as well as microbes, take action.
  3. The resulting moldy mass is transformed into a nutty sweet delectable treat. (They did state they wanted to increase the amount of critters on the menu).

Nordic Food Lab also experiments with native Danish ingredients, such as seaweeds: a delicious example was their seaweed ice cream, which was created by extracting flavors of dulse into ice cream. To determine the optimal conditions for flavor extraction, they did a series of experiments to quantify levels of glutamate, aspartate and alaninate. You may be familiar with glutamic acid as a flavor enhancer, monosodium glutamate or MSG, more commonly known as small, powdery white crystals at the Asian market, or heavily-dosed out in Chinese food.

These are just a couple of examples of cutting-edge work emerging from the Nordic Food Lab; the possibilities are endless, and it will be exciting to follow their progress as they explore and share these exciting new innovations. Check out their recent publication to learn more about Seaweeds for Umami Flavor in New Nordic Cuisine.

For those you who didn’t get to taste the cricket sauce (or just can’t get enough), hit up LA Weekly’s Squid Ink for an additional recap of last night’s lecture.

Nathan Myhrvold and The Science of Barbeque

Last night, Nathan Myhrvold, of Modernist Cuisine, kicked off our inaugural Science and Food Public Lecture Series with a succinct and entertaining lecture on the science of BBQ.

After the lecture, the eloquent Evan Kleiman moderated a panel discussion and Q&A session with Nathan, Amy Rowat, Jon Shook, and Vinny Dotolo.