The delicious taste of science

The delicious taste of science

Foodpairing, or the marriage of science and gastronomy

Flemish gastronomy excels in innovation. It not only comes from the creative minds of the chefs, but is also scientifically underpinned. A trendsetter in this scientifically based gastronomy is Foodpairing, a data-science and food tech company that describes itself as “the flavour intelligence company”.

This company from Ghent is aimed at stakeholders and consumers in the food sector. For industry, Foodpairing offers an AI platform to develop better products faster. Professional chefs can get ingredient pairing inspiration for new menus. And the consumer can discover personal flavour preferences and get tips on healthy eating.

Bernard Lahousse, Science Director of Foodpairing, tells the company’s fascinating story that features famous names like El Bulli, Sergio Herman and Heston Blumenthal.

Launch of Young Kitchen Rebels 2016 ©Kris Jacobs

Why kiwis smell like the sea

“Why do some ingredients pair especially well together, while others do not? This is a question that has undoubtedly kept many of us in the culinary and food industry up at night. It was my keen interest in food science and gastronomy that led me to bioengineering. In 2005, I began asking around to see if any chefs in Belgium were interested in partnering with a food scientist to expand their culinary practices. My first collaborator was Michelin-starred chef Sang-Hoon Degeimbre of L’Air du Temps. We met regularly to brainstorm. It was during one of these sessions that Sang-Hoon asked, “Bernard, why is it that when I smell kiwis, I also smell the sea? Is that possible?”

Fortunately, a fellow bioengineer by the name of Jeroen Lammertyn at KU Leuven had access to gas chromatography-mass spectroscopy (GC-MS) equipment. Together, we ran an aroma analysis and found that, in addition to fruity notes, kiwis also have marine-line scents similar to that of oyster. The aromatic link between these two seemingly unrelated ingredients formed the basis of our very first foodpairing and so the kiwître, a raw oyster served over diced kiwi, was born.”

El Bulli, Sergio Herman and chefs in 140 countries

“As word spread within the chef community about the kiwître and my collaboration with Degeimbre, others sought out my advice, including chef Ferran Adria of El Bulli and Sergio Herman.

That same year the first version of the Foodpairing website was launched, reaching over 100,000 hits during its first month. Clearly, there was a lot of interest in my research, not only from professional chefs, but also from the food industry. Shortly after the launch, in 2009, the Foodpairing company was co-founded with Johan Langenbick and Peter Cocquyt, a former Michelin chef. Ten years later, the Foodpairing chef app is used by chefs in 140 countries around the globe – including Heston Blumenthal – and our technology is used by the world’s largest food companies to develop better products faster.”
Assisting chefs at crucial moments

Foodpairing, or the marriage of science and gastronomy

“If you ask chefs what they like best about their job, the most likely response is “creating recipes”. We assist chefs during their most crucial moment: the creativity phase. We strengthen and reconfirm their intuition, while simultaneously discovering uncharted flavour territories.

The value of Foodpairing lies in the knowledge transfer and in saving time while creating. We offer science-based inspiration in seconds. A chef can gain valuable time using our tools, instead of endless trial and error.

Furthermore, the market is looking for new experiences. So, as a chef, it’s a challenge to come up with new ideas constantly. 40 per cent of younger diners choose something different each time they go out to eat. Unexpected ingredient combinations will become the norm.

But maybe the biggest value is “sparking ideas” for novel concepts. The Foodpairing tool has catalyzed numerous young entrepreneurs to develop new food concepts, like food trucks with inspiring popcorn flavours and cocktail & food bars.”

Future trends in gastronomy from a food scientist

“We’ll be 9 billion people in 2050; the only way we will be able to feed everybody is by changing the way we consume and, more importantly, the way we produce. We’ll never manage if we continue our current consumption and production patterns. By changing the way we produce, we can bring back flavour to our tomatoes, strawberries, and all the other fruits and vegetables that have lost taste.

Restaurants should use digital solutions and the data they unleash not only for more informed decision-making and improved operational execution, but also for personalizing and sharpening their services to build stronger customer loyalty. The personalization of food will help us to consume more healthily and tailor tastes to our needs and preferences.

Restaurants also need to expand their services to more than just dine-in options. Digitalization has made that possible. A lack of qualified personnel will mean automation becomes more important. Robots will take over repetitive tasks, improving the productivity of restaurants.”

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