All aboard the food lab – a boat based research post examining the building blocks of Nordic cuisine
When the epicentre of international gastronomy shifted north, introducing the world to new Nordic cuisine, the assembled technocrats of Molecular Gastronomy from Spain to Chicago were left blinking in the dust. One of the key driving forces behind this movement is the Nordic Food Lab in Copenhagen. Founded in 2008 by Noma head chef René Redzepi and entrepreneur Claus Meyer, the non profit, self governed organisation explores the building blocks of Nordic cuisine through research into traditional and modern food production and preparation.
Housed in an unassuming houseboat anchored on a canal opposite Noma, this is where chemists, chefs, scientists, anthropologists and academics work together to push the boundaries of new Nordic cuisine and share their findings with the world through various platforms.
We met Michael Bom Frøst, the laboratory’s director and associate professor of Sensory Science at the University of Copenhagen; Josh Evans, correspondent of the Yale Sustainable Food Project; and Ben Reade, who has accepted the mantle of Head of Culinary Research and Development this past summer from Lars Williams, who now heads up the Noma test kitchen.
Inside the lab, it’s bright and open, and the large industrial kitchen kitted out with gadgets. Prints of various roots and vegetables complete with their Latin names grace the walls, and sticky yellow notes litter the windows. Rows and rows of glass jars and plastic containers are filled with samples, some of them in various stages of fermentation. We arrive on the same day as a delivery of plums destined to help Ben create his own version of umeboshi.
BR: OK, try this …
CEREAL: [looks doubtful] What is it?
BR: It’s a seaweed called dulse [palmaria palmata]. It’s really interesting because it’s rich both in umami and sweet tasting amino acids.
MF: We’ve discovered that to overcome barriers to new foods, there has to be a balance between novelty and familiarity. Ice cream is the perfect gateway food because it’s so comforting, even with a novel flavour like seaweed.
BR: Ask someone ‘do you want ice cream’, the answer is almost invariably ‘yes’! It’s like a reflex. Do you want ice cream?
JE: We tried this with kids. Some refuse, some wait till other kids try it first, others jump straight in. Those that do try it usually love it. The first taste is the hardest … after that it gets easier…