Michelin-starred chef builds his own lab and funds a new PhD

Michelin-starred chef builds his own lab and funds a new PhD

Tired clich?s about chemists being glorified chefs are about to be turned on their head. Heston Blumenthal, chef-proprietor of the Fat Duck in Berkshire, UK, the restaurant famed for dishes like sardines on toast ice cream, is looking for a student with an appetite for the science behind the flavours and perceptions of food, to take up a PhD place with him in his newly built lab.

Blumenthal, the proud owner of three highly coveted Michelin stars, admits to being ’somebody with no academic training [in science]’ but this hasn’t stopped him from amassing a whole string of academics across the globe from psychologists to physicists, to help him in his quest to understand the true nature of food.

One of these academics, Andy Taylor, is based at the University of Nottingham’s division of food sciences. Speaking to Chemistry World, Blumenthal said that between them the chef and the scientist have cooked up ’pages and pages of ideas’. For him, travelling to and from Nottingham to discuss ideas such as how hydrocolloids can change flavour perception, or how collagen fibres in meat change at differing temperatures, was becoming impractical. Blumenthal could only spend a short time in the Nottingham labs before he would have to head back to the Fat Duck ’in time for lunch service’.

Blumenthal’s solution is to build a lab at the restaurant and embark on a new academic venture with Taylor, which has led to the PhD studentship being advertised. The lab, big enough to house five or six chefs/scientists has just become fully operational and is fitted out with sinks, granite worktops and of course round-bottomed flasks and rotary evaporators. Taylor, who works with flavours and is trying to untangle the complicated relationship between flavour chemistry and flavour perception, is excited by the opportunity. ’This is both exciting and intellectually challenging. Working with Heston will give us insight into unusual food preparation methods and a very wide scope for developing novel products with interesting flavour properties,’ he said.

Blumenthal seems slightly surprised that world-leading scientists would want to listen to him, but concedes that although they may be brilliant academics, ’they don’t cook . We’ve got a unique situation combining science with contacts in gastronomy’. Not only that but his development kitchen-cum-laboratory will mean the latest discovery on the intricacies of blackcurrant-flavoured beetroot jelly can be transferred with ease straight from the lab to the kitchen, and eventually onto the plates of customers at the Fat Duck.

Katharine Sanderson