Hervé This
When Physical Chemistry Meets People: Molecular Gastronomy, its Applications in Education, Technology and Technique
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Hervé This


Today, as there is much confusion between science and technology, it is useful for all parts of society to understand clearly what science is, and how technology is different. This has importance both for funding science, but also for the organization of sound relationship between scientific laboratories and the industry, and also for a better appreciation of the advances of both fields.

In no field is this difference more important than for food, where the situation is paradoxical. In homes, ctitzens cook almost as they would have done conturies ago, spoiling up to 80 % of the consumed energy for processes whose goal was never rationalized. A lot of toxic compounds are consumed with no reluctancy, and even when the public is being told of the risks, no behavior change is achieved. At the same time, when the food industry is using additives which security was extensively studied, in quantities much lower than those consumed at home, consumer fears being poisoned. All this is based on “ilchemiteracy”, the ignorance of the wonderful world of molecules, compounds, processes... Indeed, much has to be done in order to improve this situation, and even among chemists. One should probably make a distinction between chemistry, as a science, looking for the mechanisms of phenomena, and technology, i.e. improving techique using the results of science (not only). It should be explained that there will never be any “chemistry” in the kitchen, or in the plate, as chemistry, producing knowledge, does not produce food!

In this regard, the scientific discipline called “Molecular Gastronomy” should be helpful from many point of views. First, it can produce knowledge on culinary transformations. This scientific knowledge can be used by technology, and technique later on, but it can also change the mind of the public. A new appreciation of food can be the result of scientific explorations of cooking. Then, educational programmes based on Molecular Gastronomy can be introduced at any level of education, general or professionnal. This will certainly lead to new practices.

In restaurants, the culinary trend called Molecular Cuisine is still developing, and a new way of cooking called “Note by Note Cuisine” is being introduced: it means cooking with pure compounds, such as acoustic music is using only pure waves. The first Note by Note meals were produced during the last 3 years, and one Note by Note dinner was even offered to about 150 guests the day before the Opening Event of the International Year of Chemistry. New moves are in progress.

Hervé This - Short Biography#

Hervé This, Chemist at INRA and Professor at AgroParisTech, is Director of the Molecular Gastronomy Group, in the Laboratory of Chemistry, AgroParisTech.

After his degree from the Ecole Supérieure de Physique et de Chimie de Paris (ESPCI Paristech) and graduation in Literature (University Paris IV), he began his studies in the laboratory that he had at home, while he was pursuing a career in scientific publishing, first at Belin Publishing inc, then at Pour la Science, the French Edition of Scientific American. At the same time, he was collaborating to France Culture, and was Scientific Director of the scientific TV series Archimedes (Arte) and Pi=3.14 (France 5).

He created the scientific discipline called Molecular Gastronomy in 1988, with Nicholas Kurti (1908-1998). After his PhD (1995) on La gastronomie moléculaire et physique, he was invited by Jean-Marie Lehn to conduct his studies at the Laboratoire de Chimie des Interactions Moléculaires, of the Collège de France.

He moved to this lab full time in 2000, being appointed by INRA.

In April 2006, while he was moving to AgroParisTech, the French Academy of Sciences asked him to create Fondation Science & Culture Alimentaire, of which he was appointed the Scientific Director. Hervé This has been frequently requested by French Ministries to develop projects: new curricula for teaching culinary practices, new ways of teaching science in schools and in colleges, creating an Advanced Studies Institute for Gastronomy. Member of many committes, he runs monthly Seminars of molecular gastronomy and Courses on Molecular Gastronomy, delivering many lectures. He writes regular columns in journals, and he is the author of several books. Honorary member of various culinary Academies, Member of the Académie d’Agriculture de France; Member of the Académie de Stanislas; Member of the Royal Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters of Belgium; Member of the European Academy of Science, Arts and Letters, he is the recipient of many awards such as the Franqui professorship (University of Liège), the Grand Prix des Sciences de l’Aliment by the International Association of Gastronomy. Hervé This is Officer in the Ordre des Arts et Lettres, Officer in the Ordre du Mérite Agricole, Officer in the Ordre des Palmes Académiques, and Knight in the Order of the Légion d’Honneur.

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