The Aromatic Science of Food and Wine: Francois Chartier at TEDxUdeM

By Brian Lemay 5 comments

Translator: Sue Kronenfeld
Reviewer: Denise RQ I brought dessert, but I’m going
to keep it for myself, right there. Let’s get started; I’ll show you my rule
of molecular harmony in wine-serving so that everyone understands
what is eaten in winter. It’s a rule of the aromatic sciences
of food and wine which I “gave birth” to, figuratively, of course,
because things never come out of the blue. Many people came before me in this field. So [by] 2005, were about 20 years
of reflecting on the harmony between foods and wines,
and on cuisines from around the world, to understand the link between wine, and everything we drink,
and everything we eat. Of course, this meant a lot of research. In 2005, I came with some ideas
that I’ll present to you today. [“The approach generates the product. If the approach doesn’t change,
the same product will be produced.” –Franco Dragone,
director of Cirque Du Soleil] It is clear. Jimi Hendrix understood this. I’ve always wanted to use
a Jim Hendrix slide in my talks. (Laughter) All that’s missing is a guitar riff,
but we can’t have everything, right? Maybe next time. So Jimi Hendrix already
understood this 40 years ago, when he came out with
“Are you experienced”. He completely revolutionized
the music universe by changing the playing style,
thinking about his method, and by changing the techniques,
the instruments, and instrumentation. He revolutionized everything,
and 40 years after his death, virtually all the guitar solos
you hear in today’s rock music are directly influenced by Jimi Hendrix. Pretty impressive, no? As a young sommellier–
– I’m jumping back in time here – at the end of the 1980s, I would take
books on pairing food and wine, and I would read about classic pairings,
like Muscadet and oysters, always made to go together,
it’s a classic, it works. Roquefort and Sauternes,
it’s supposed to be amazing. I have a curious mind, so although they say that
I want to taste it for myself. I tasted it, and it didn’t always work; Roquefort-Sauternes especially,
often the Sauternes was completely ruined, the cheese’s taste overwhelmed the wine’s. My God, how can they tell us–?
Sometimes it works, but not always. Is there a problem with my mouth?
So I went to see a dentist? No. I went to see my friends,
and we did some experiments, among sommeliers, professionals,
and amateurs, but we got the same results. So I kept looking, feeling my way, doing experiments based on what was said
about classic pairings, etc., and quietly discovered
that beyond the piece of meat, beyond the bit of cheese or fish, there was often an ingredient
that emerged from the group – which I called a “linking ingredient” –
which created a harmonious connection. In this case, it’s black olives and Syrah. Here it’s a caribou filet,
but it could’ve been grilled salmon filet, or even Italian pasta sauteed – I’m going to make you hungry.
It’s about lunchtime. – with pasta, some black olives, simply
sauteed with onions in a pan. We add in the pasta,
we serve a glass of Syrah. Which type of Syrah? Doesn’t matter. There will be a harmonious comfort zone. I was completely stunned,
so I thought back to what I had heard that everything is based
on the five basic flavors. Five flavors? Some would say four, but we’ll get
to the fifth one of these days. Salty. Everyone knows salty, right? Add sodium chloride, i.e., salt, to water;
everyone can recognize saltiness. Sour: actually, we have a problem
of vocabulary, of semantics here, because there’s not only one sourness:
citric acid, malic acid, lactic acid. So I see already, there’s a little problem
in the way we talk about it. Bitterness: again,
we always say “bitterness”, but there are different kinds
of bitterness, not just one. There’s coffee bitterness, from quinine.
There’s beer bitterness, from humulone. Everybody knows humulone, right?
No, not really? Well, it’s the molecule that gives beer
both its bitterness and its flavor, etc. Next, sugar; or rather, sugars:
saccharose, fructose, etc., etc. With these four flavors, we return
to what has always been said, very simply. We’re going to differentiate
between things. With those four flavors, we’ve created
an incredible world culinary heritage. In our vocabulary, in our exchanges,
and in the way we work, as well. We’re going to add a fifth flavor: umami. Umami is a flavor that was discovered
in the early 20th century by Professor Ikeda in Japan in 1909. Umami is natural glutamic acid;
it manifests as the presence in the mouth of size, of the distribution of flavor. It can be found in algae such as Boo Nori. We always thought it was only in Japan,
but we also find it in ketchup. Ketchup is a source of umami. Why? Because it’s tomatoes cooked
for a long time, concentrated, and producing a lot of glutamic acid. Bovril, a beef stock, is also a source. In the West, we have umami too,
but are only beginning to understand it. All this to say that we built with this
a world culinary heritage, all our work. Coming back to my olives and Syrah,
I’m sure I wouldn’t buy it. I buy based on aromas.
And what are aromas? We’ll get there. Here they are.
You have to learn them by heart. (Laughter) This is 0.0000001% of all the aromas
present in our daily environment. Aromas that guide us. It could be smoke;
there’s a molecule behind that. You don’t need to know it,
but I’ll tell you its name: it is gayacol. In science, in order to find things you
have to know their names; you’ll see why. In roses, there is some cis-rose oxide,
a little bit of geraniol because foods aren’t made up
of a single molecule. Take pepper, for instance. In pepper, there are some 342 molecules
that make up its aromatic structure. But if you extract the rotundone
– an impossible name, I’ve never got it, I think it’s named after someone called
Rotundone; that’s often the case – from pepper and smell it,
it smells like pepper. If you extract another molecule
from pepper, like beta caryophyllene, it smells like sawdust. It’s not uninteresting; it contributes
to pepper’s DNA heritage and its flavors. But rotundone is what interests me,
because you can actually taste “pepper”. You’ll see where I’m going with this. In spices, carvone comes from caraway,
in eugenol, cloves are dominant. I’m talking about the molecules
that dominate in an ingredient. So what aromatic effect
does this have on the five flavors? It’s clear: when you have a cold,
there’s loss of the sense of smell. When you have a cold,
your nose is congested, right? And what do we say? We say that we can’t taste anything,
“I’ve a cold; nothing has a taste today.” Oh really? But isn’t taste
in the mouth, not the nose? Another vocabulary problem,
another communication problem. The nose does all the work, both in front
and through the retronasal passages. Through the mouth too;
even taste buds can detect things. However, when there’s no loss
of smell, ideal sense of smell, Yum yum! Hey, that smells good. That smells good.
But I’ll come back to that later. Remember my black olive-Syrah pairing, and think of the aromatic synergy of those foods that share
the same aromatic molecules. When we are in good health,
there’s really a synergetic effect, – I just invented a word –
a hyper-powerful aromatic synergy. We receive signals, you know that the olfactory stimulus
is stronger near the olfactory receptors. Back to the 1990s, when I began
to ask myself questions, after my black olives and Syrah, I wanted to understand
the yellow wine of the Jura. It’s a unique wine with an aroma of curry,
nuts, and almost always maple syrup, Not to mention that it is aged
for six years in oaken barrels, where evaporation occurs
because the cask isn’t filled. Okay, yes, the one thing causes the other.
There’s a layer of yeast on top, so– I won’t go into it,
but it’s a specific process. Why does it smell of nuts and maple syrup?
What’s the cause of that? I’m not a scientist; I’m slowly becoming
one, but I wasn’t one then. So I discovered
– is a big word in scientific literature – a molecule called “sotolon”, responsible for the yellow wine’s aroma. Sotolon, wonderful. I had found this. I kept searching over the following years, the early 2000s, 2005-2006. I discovered that sotolon is also present
in roasted fenugreek, in soy sauce, sake, in our maple syrup, in old Sauternes,
in Hungarian Tokaji Aszu, old rums. Wow! The giddy excitement
of it. For me, at least. Maybe it’s the same for you, I hope. OK, this means, going back, that my foie gras there, could be fried with a curry and maple syrup sauce
which I created empirically. My nose led me to this pairing in the 90s
when I had no scientific knowledge at all. I smelled a yellow wine and thought, “Make a curry and maple syrup dish,
as that’s what the wine smells like.” Two discoveries at the same time;
you know what I mean, the dish where I created a synergy
between maple syrup and curry, and the result, which was greater
than the sum of its parts. Then we serve the yellow wine,
and it’s a total oral orgasm. (Laughter) That’s another thing I’ve always wanted
to slip into my presentations. (Laughter) In 2005, fully committed,
I began my second round of research. I visited scientists,
and presented my idea. Since the start of the 1990s, I’d noticed
that anytime fresh mint was in a dish, and I served a Sauvignon blanc,
eureka, it was a winning pair. Whether the Sauvignon was
from Chile, Sancerre, Pouilly fumé, or if it was small, great, expensive,
or cheap, the pairing worked every time. So I did some research
on mint and Sauvignon blanc. I discovered that they share
aromatic molecules, volatile compounds. Aromas of the aniseed family,
smells with an aniseed taste. I kept searching and found
the same molecules in basil, in cicely, tarragon, fennel, and so forth. Let’s put the wine aside for a second.
You may have already figured this out. If I take roots: parsnips, carrots, Jerusalem artichokes, celery roots, and sauté them in a pan with mint,
or with a cicely or tarragon-based oil, I have created a synergy: they share
molecules from the same aromatic family. I’ve made my cooking more complex.
I know the “mayonnaise” will turn out. And by mayonnaise I didn’t mean
actual mayonnaise… You got that, right? Once we have this scientific knowledge
about what goes on, we can go back and understand
what makes classic pairings successful. The Lebanese created a tabouleh
with fresh parsley and mint. Maybe it took decades, or even centuries
before they were able to conclude: Fresh mint plus parsley, bang!
Eureka! Delicious. I can explain it: fresh mint and parsley
are from the same aromatic family. They created an aromatic synergy
between the ingredients. I can serve it with any Sauvignon blanc. I’ve been doing it since the early 1980s,
and it works like a charm every time. Or I can change my tabouleh, substituting
basil or tarragon for mint or parsley, I can twist the recipes we know, staying
all the while in a comfort zone, and not playing too much
with people’s cultures. Okay, I think you get my drift.
This is going to work–there. We could go on like this for hours. I’m going to talk to you about saffron,
the “queen of spices”. It has a countless number
of aromatic molecules, but only seven or eight
dominant molecules, which lets us make great “aromatic maps”,
like those you saw. What you see here is a live map. Octopus is in the same family.
So is pimenton, a Spanish paprika. The Spanish won’t like my saying that,
but it’s just to give you an idea. Lavender, golden raisins, black tea,
all in the same aromatic family, so we can create a recipe;
but do what you like with it. “I don’t like octopus,” I hear
some of you thinking. OK, you can add watermelon, because
from the same family, as spring comes on, we can make watermelon/tomato salad
with pink grapefruit/olive oil vinaigrette and a bit of paprika or pimenton; done. Everyone can use the results;
it’s quite accessible. If you want a drink without alcohol,
make a mushroom cream with lavender. Done here with just a hint of lavender,
and using a chef’s technique, but add in more lavender, and it’s set. If you want to drink beer, use a pale ale,
from the same aromatic family as saffron. Yes, I know; wine is in style,
so you’d rather drink that. Drink a Riesling, which is very closely
related to the saffron family members. You see, this story can go on forever. I should probably start wrapping this up. Shiva, Indian goddess with many arms. What the Indians didn’t know,
but I’ll teach them today, is she used her many arms to juggle curry,
soy sauce, rum, Sauternes, maple syrup. It was just for that. (Laughter) As you heard earlier, fenugreek seeds
and maple syrup are closely linked because they share
the same molecule, sotolon. And how does sotolon appear? With fire. We have to have some fun with all this. Go buy some roasted fenugreek seeds,
they come from fenugreek, an Indian herb, put them in a dry frying pan, and the whole kitchen will smell of maple. Sotolon in fenugreek is so potent that
when roasted, it smells like maple syrup, which is also born out of fire. That was the extent of my fire image. (Laughter) Understanding this, you can have fun
modifying foods like Cracker Jack. What is Cracker Jack? It’s caramel. Caramel popcorn can be made
using maple syrup or curry. We can modify our national whippet cookie
and make a maple curry whippet with roasted almonds and white chocolate
all from the same family. Yes, the picture is a bit suggestive, eh? (Laughter) Seriously now, let’s talk
about the Second World War. No, sometimes intuition and inspiration
come when least expected. It strikes you
if you have prior knowledge– I had found that pork and coconut
are from the same aromatic family, the lactones, for whatever that’s worth. I found something in my reading, talking
about doctors in molecular biology. During the WW II, there was a shortage
of serums to heal wounded soldiers, so they used coconut water, which contains
the same electrolyte as human blood. In my crazy head, it goes: coconut, coconut water, human blood,
pork and coconut– still making sense? Pork and coconut are closely linked, so I figured pork blood
and black pudding could be paired. And with my collaborator, Stéphane Moda, a great chef I’ve worked with for 3 years, we created a sauce
of black pudding and coconut. I called him up the night I saw that.
Whatever time it was, we flipped out. I searched through
the gastronomic literature, but I couldn’t find
a black pudding and coconut recipe. We weren’t trying to be original;
it was science speaking to me, saying, “My boy, you have to combine these foods.” (Laughter) I’m joking, of course, but you see
where I’m going with this. It’s extraordinary: we understand
what we’ve always been doing. And we can go beyond.
And that is interesting. That’s when creativity comes in,
which is very interesting. I have 46 seconds left; I won’t finish,
but I’ll get to the end, anyway. I had the great pleasure of being called
by the people at El Bulli, in Spain, where there’s a great chef,
a creative restaurant, a laboratory, etc. Ferran Adrià was working with Nori algae
to try and turn them into pasta products. I told him raspberries and violets
are in the same aromatic family. So he created a temaki, a sushi, filled
with raspberry puree and violet water, which was served at El Bulli. Raspberry and nori. When you’re home, buy
some raspberries, some Nori algae, wet the algae, wrap it around the fruit,
and eat it like a candy–slurp–there! It’s amazing. That said, I came home asking myself
a bunch of questions. I wanted to create something from this
that could go with Syrah wine because Syrah belongs
to the same aromatic family. Pepper, black olives, and coffee
also belong to the same family. So we created a sushi to go with red wine, made with Nori algae, fried wild rice,
black olive purée, pepper… voilà! There it is, “Taste buds and Molecules”:
that is aromatic science. So have fun, that’s
the only message I have for you. It’s been a pleasure. (Applause)



Oct 10, 2012, 9:38 am Reply

Thrilling….many thanks. What a gift to hear all these.

Ernesto Daicich

Oct 10, 2012, 3:02 pm Reply

Excellent!! Thanks for your ideas

Ja J

Apr 4, 2013, 7:25 am Reply

Thank you a great website to learn more about aromatic science is aromaticscience d0t c0nn. I love the articles and research done by essential oil scientists and doctors!

Jonathan Cheah

Sep 9, 2013, 5:45 am Reply

Rivetingly interesting. Thank you monsieur.

Sylvie Gendreau

Mar 3, 2015, 2:39 pm Reply

Extraordinaire ! Éveille le désir d'inventer des recettes… à ré-écouter plusieurs fois.

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