On some level, we all want to be recognized, make a name for ourselves. Hervé This has done just that. Our man This goes down in history as The Father of Molecular Gastronomy.
Kitcheny folk know molecular gastronomy as the foams, spheres, and emulsifications found in innovative, high-end restaurants. According to Wikipedia, it’s
a subdiscipline of food science that seeks to investigate the physical and chemical transformations of ingredients that occur while cooking.
Culinary physics, if you will.
At its most basic, molecular gastronomy is kitchen sci fi: Making meringue in a vacuum chamber, cooking sausages by connecting them across a car battery, microwaving reverse baked Alaska (hot inside, cold outside). Then there’s the Octopop: a low-temperature cooked octopus fused using transglutaminase, dipped in an orange and saffron carrageenan gel and suspended on dill flower stalks. Huh.
Monsieur This clearly ushered in a new age by opening the molecular gastronomy door. Born in 1955, he graduated from École supérieure de physique et de chimie industrielles de la ville de Parisand (whew!) and earned a Ph.D, titled “La gastronomie moléculaire et physique,” from University Paris VI. He’s written oodles of scientific publications, as well as several books on the subject, which are said to be understood even by those not fluent in chemistry.
As French physical chemist at Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique at AgroParisTech, This and research partner Nicholas Kurti (now deceased) coined the term “Molecular and Physical Gastronomy” in 1988. More recently, it was shortened to molecular gastronomy.
This’s resume is mind-bogglingly impressive and if French academic name dropping isn’t your thing, you’d best skip down a paragraph or three. But for those who want it all, know that This is a busy man. He collaborates with Pour la Science, a magazine that introduces scientific concepts to the general public. He’s also a corresponding member of Académie d’agriculture de France and scientific director of Food Science & Culture. In 2011, he was elected as Consulting Professor of AgroParisTech and asked to create science and technology courses at Sciences Po Paris.
Some of This’s discoveries include the perfect temperature for cooking an egg and smoking salmon via electrical field. Every month he adds one new “invention” to the Art et Science section of Chef Pierre Gagnaire’s website.
He also partners with Chef Gagnaire in Note by Note cuisine, a concept where molecules composing ingredients become raw ingredients for a dish. “If you use pure compounds, you open up billions and billions of new possibilities,” says This. “It’s like a painter using primary colors or a musician composing note by note.”
Although his main focus is physical chemistry, This also greatly credits the emotional aspect of cooking, hence his book Cooking: The Quintessential Art.
So much more can be said about this extraordinarily brilliant man, but I’ll leave that to those who want to dig further. For our purposes, we’ll leave it at thanking Hervé This for his lovely French name and for having so much molecular fun in his kitchen laboratory.