Brave new culinary world

Bistro Dom’s Head Chef Duncan Welgemoed recently visited Newcastle to take part in Australia’s first culinary think tank, as well as the Australian Food Symposium.

A chef and a scientist walk into a bar… It’s 9:30pm at Subo in Newcastle and the second round of dirty martinis arrive in the middle of furious discussion, careful analysis and epic piss taking. At the table are passionate scientists and a few half-cut, dedicated food industry professionals. We are here for the Australian Food Symposium and the first Australian culinary think tank. A small group within the attendees feel like anarchists, arguing and jostling about where we stand in food society, science in the kitchen and what it will take to change not only the retrospective direction of the Symposium, but the overall mentality of chefs to encourage them to think outside the kitchen. It seems both chefs and scientists have been called self-serving exaggerators recently. We all got on marvellously. Rage within the machine…Kelie Kenzler, a food scientist based in Nelson Bay outside of Newcastle and founder of the culinary think tank, wants to break the mould of only the best-funded restaurants and chefs being exposed to current scientific research. With this in mind, she has created a platform for chefs and scientists to collaborate on various food related projects and is helping create the dialogue between the two. Just because a chef doesn’t know the term ‘Maillard effect’ doesn’t mean they don’t know what caramelisation is. There are plenty of professionals on both sides that would like to work on developing new ideas, products and techniques so that we can all share them regularly and widely, benefiting both industries and the wider public. From Copenhagen with love… Josh Evans, a researcher from Nordic food lab founded by Rene Redzepi and gastronomic entrepreneur Claus Meyer, co-owners of the restaurant Noma, came along for the ride to share his knowledge about some of their current projects. Noma has created a space where chefs and researchers can come together to investigate raw materials, traditional processes and modern techniques more deeply than the pressure of daily service would allow. An interdisciplinary facility for experimental and investigative research, all of their works and findings are open-source. This is extremely cool… however don’t expect mad scientists and chefs to work on anything as controversial as gene splicing for interesting menu items, however, 100 legged chicken centipedes or animals that excrete meat, just to give vegans a pause for thought, certainly would be interesting. Keep on Keeping on… This work is ultimately an exploration into our eating habits, with the vision to change them through developing new flavours and processes from existing techniques. It is about, as Josh Evans would say, “cultivating an edible consciousness”. In the long run we hope to link up our databases with the Nordic food lab and Momofuku lab in New York City, helping to share our part of the world with the global community. Current projects include: Studying the Adelaide Hills’ microbial terroir, growing and cultivating bacteria that are used in curing, pickling and fermentation and discovering what makes them unique. An edible native fungus and mushroom guide, the findings of which will be sent to various mycologists and toxologists, apart from the magic variety which will be used as bargaining tools within the kitchen fraternity. Introducing cultivated seaweeds onto menus around Australia, something Dr Pia Winberg from the University of Wollongong is heading up. An exciting project, especially for chefs in Australia. Dr John Prescott, Director of TasteMatters research and consulting and Dr Leif Lundin from the CSIRO are conducting research into consumer behavior and how it can be utilised to increase customer satisfaction. Do consumers eat for sensory pleasure or nutritional intake? How are food preferences determined? Brave new world (kinda)…This is just the beginning for the culinary think tank and Kelie. And while it would be easy to dismiss this concept as elitist, I think that if more chefs get involved on the open forums, watch the live feed discussions and have direct contact with the scientists, micro and marine biologists, these figures will become as important in the everyday kitchen as the butcher or the veg man and the dining public will reap the benefits. To get involved, or if you just find this interesting and want to stay updated, follow @culinarytankau on twitter, or check out nordicfoodlab.org/blog and gastronomers.org. The information is out there. It’s yours now. Duncan Welgemoed is Bistro Dom’s Head Chef bistrodom.com.au  

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