A top New York chef teams up with Harvard scientists to explore the role of bacteria in fermentation. He hopes to better understand and tweak the process to create new and unique flavors to entice the palate. Sharon Reich reports.
STORY: There isn't much time for talking when you're eating at one of David Chang's restaurants. The aromas and delectable flavours demand your full attention. What's made the chef and icon of the Momofuku empire legendary is just that - his innovation when it comes to creating unique flavours. But while Chang's team spend a lot of time whipping up new items in their test kitchen, they don't go it alone. They turn to Rachel Dutton, a Harvard University microbiologist and consultant to some of today's top chefs. (SOUNDBITE) (English) MICROBIOLOGIST RACHEL DUTTON, HARVARD UNIVERSITY, SAYING: "The conversations we're having with chefs like David Chang and Dan Felder at Momofuku is more thinking about the processes of fermented foods. If you have a basic understanding of the process, what the microbes are doing, what they care about then you can start to manipulate it in interesting ways." Fermentation in foods usually involves bacteria feeding on sugars and carbohydrates which forms lactic acids that create and sometimes enhance flavour. Dan Felder runs the Momofuku test kitchen. He has been fermenting vinegars and sauces for years, but says that thanks to Dutton he now has a better handle on how these processes work on a microbial level. And with that knowledge, he says, comes a new level deliciousness. The latest …. pistachio miso, cashew tamari and this smoked soy bean creation that tastes like cheese. Felder says the possibilities are endless... (SOUNDBITE) (English) DAN FELDER, HEAD OF R+D AT THE MOMOFUKU CULINARY LAB, SAYING: "For us we don't have the ability to grow food here, but we want to make food that is representative of where we are and who we are." When the test kitchen produces an item, Felder brings Dutton a sample. Dutton analyses it and takes a "fingerprint" of each organism in the tasty concoction. (SOUNDBITE) (English) MICROBIOLOGIST RACHEL DUTTON, HARVARD UNIVERSITY, SAYING: "The microbes are completely transforming food. In the process of growing on the food they are eating the food, making a living off of it. And as a product of that they are producing all of these compounds that we perceive as aromas and flavours in the different foods. So it's a really direct relationship, the types of foods you have and they types of foods they are eating, that is what is giving you the interesting combination of flavours and food." Felder is confident that a combination of knife skills and microbiology will ultimately lead to a perfect combination of taste and aroma. He says Science never tasted so good.