Peter Barham

The motto of the best restaurant in Poland (Atelier Amaro) is: Where the nature meets science. Do you agree with that way of thinking? Best cuisine creates where the nature meets science?
I agree in so far as combining nature and science can lead to great food, but not necessarily the best food – for that the creativity of the chef is an absolute requirement, science can help by providing novel and improved techniques and even suggest novel combinations, etc. but the flair and spark of a great chef comes from within.

Why do we like some foods and hate others (in scientifically point of view) ?
By far the largest influence on our liking of anything (foods included) comes from our life experiences, especially those of childhood. Pleasant memories will trigger liking of foods that bring them to mind and vice versa foods that trigger unpleasant memories will be disliked. For example, if as a child you mother forced you to eat greens even to the point of serving them cold the following day and giving you nothing else until you eat them (as happened to me!) you will in adulthood find it hard to like those same greens. Similarly if your mother gave you chocolate treats when you fell over and hurt yourself then chocolate will remind you of the comforting from your mother and so you will like it all the more.

There is a big discussion about palate. Do some people (like gourmets) has better developed palate then the others? Can you exercise it somehow?
Generally speaking we all have pretty much the same set of senses and similarly sensitivity to stimuli – so this is not something that is inbred, but something that is learnt. Since I became involved in the science of food I have learnt to be able to detect a much wider range of flavours and aromas than before – with practice I have also learnt to be able to work out fairly well what ingredients are in a given dish simply by eating it – as can most chefs.

How a practical understanding of physics and chemistry can improve culinary performance?
Once you have a good grasp of the science of the kitchen then, in my view, it becomes unusual to have real disasters – for example, once you understand the reasons why souffles collapse it is a simple matter to prepare and cook them so they will not do so; understanding the temperatures at which meats change texture will help to ensure excellent tender meats and so on.

How do you collaborate with chefs? Can you describe your cooperation with Heston Blumenthal?
When I work with a chef it is usually first a conversation about basics: examples include: how heat affects meats and how to control these processes; how proteins coagulate and how to control that; what happens when you temper chocolate; and many more. It quickly becomes apparent what interests the chef and so we then move on to see how the science might be applied in their kitchen – I might introduce them to some new technique such as the use of liquid nitrogen to make powdered vegetables that you can inhale; or maybe simply help them with a specific issue such as clarifying stocks they are having at that time. Once we establish a good relationship of mutual trust and understanding then the chefs will simply call me up from time to time when they want some specific advice, and then we meet up to thrash out their problems (as far as we can) and at the same time talk about other exciting new ideas… This is pretty much how I worked with Heston, he initially called me up to ask about a specific issue (whether or not there is a good reason to add salt to the cooking water when cooking green beans (answer no there isn’t) – but that initial conversation led to lots of further questions some of which I could answer and others I could not – so that I had to investigate a bit further , and so on.

Molecular gastronomy is a pretty fascinating topic but don’t you think that people are a bit tired of that? They search for more simple stuff?
I really don’t know what ‘Molecular gastronomy is!’ if means so many different things to different people – but to me I’d like it to become the science of taste and flavour – answering questions such as the ones you pose above – that is something people shodul never tire of!

How, in your opinion, will look a cuisine of the future? What kind of trends will be the most appreciate?
I don’t have a crystal ball, all I can say is that I never fail to be surprised and amazed by the imagination of the great chefs – I’m sure that somewhere around the corner there is a young chef with some fantastic ideas that will stun the culinary world in the coming years – but who, when and how I have no idea at all.

The interview was published in the Food Service Magazine (www.foodservice24.pl).



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