Creative Methodology

  by Ben Reade.

As NFL recognizes cooking food as a creative occupation, but at the same time one which occupies space in the scientific sphere, a conscious effort is made to occupy the grey area in the middle, between science and creativity. By taking inspiration from both scientific and artistic disciplines, NFL manages to achieve things which other research facilities, based on only one side of the science/creativity divide, would not be able to attempt. The research which is made available on request, on this webpage, or through direct contact, aims at inspiring industry, restaurant chefs and home cooks alike, and to have a multi tiered and profound effect on the culinary threads of the Nordic fabric.

At NFL chefs drive creative processes forward. Chefs over years of experimentation have a good idea of what may and may not be successful in terms of deliciousness. By practicing techniques repeatedly day after day, chefs master large numbers of (primarily) simple techniques.  Combining these techniques in certain orders, chefs create systematic or ‘algorithmic’ processes’ which, in their nature as algorithms can have many different ‘inputs’ (ingredients) fed into them[1]. With the ingredient input, these become recipes, which with practice and refinement may create delectable results. In the words of Hervé This  “A chef who envisions a dish that melts in the mouth, yet arrives [with a dish resembling cardboard], deserves no praise. He must therefore achieve what he sets out to do” (This and Gagnaire, 2008).

However in the experimental kitchen, there must be no inhibitions of the creative faculties, no fear of failing. In creating new and exciting foods, some failure must be expected. Much of NFL’s creative method works on a ‘sawn-off shotgun approach’[2]. As the idea leaves the proverbial gun barrel, it is sprayed wide. By using a chef’s experimentation mentality, we are able to push out ideas quickly, much like hurried chefs finalizing the menu five minutes before service.  For example, with a desire to try to make vinegars – we wanted to have new flavours from interesting sources. By looking around the Noma kitchen and the laboratory stores we were able to make huge lists of potentially exciting flavours, which we believed, might work well with the distinctive acetic sourness of vinegar fermentation.

After compiling this list we are then able to concoct as many as 20 or 30 individual and combinations of flavours per day.  Some of these will work in terms of their deliciousness, most will not. Of the many brews only a few will interest us, and it is these which enter into a second round of development, that of fine-tuning and refinement.

Our research methods for creating new recipes were based on a chef’s creative intuition for good taste, which experienced chefs, spend their lives developing. Combining this intuition with scientific knowledge and accurate measurement we were able to work with ingredients for which we found no previous record of combining with these techniques.

There is a childlike innocence in the joy of uninhibited experimentation as we attempt to learn about our culinary surroundings through playful exploration. Simultaneously we are modern day alchemists, drawing from philosophy, technology and mythology: striving to attain some hypothetical, and possibly unobtainable level of delicious perfection.

We are evolving as part of a new ‘Age of Discovery’, we are thinking men, guided in what we do by taste, we are Homo saporens (homo = man, saporens = tasting). Through bricolage[3] of taste we build on past experiences, creating new combinations of gastronomic knowledge for the future.

[1] Algorithms are a set of rules or processes that can be followed methodically.

[2] Shotgun approach is a term used in the marketing industry to describe aiming to cover as wide a group of the population as possible. We appropriate this term to the kitchen, we cover as many ingredients, or as many different ideas as possible.

[3] Bricolage, as used by anthropologist Claude Levi Strauss, the way in which people and societies form as yet unknown concepts and ideas by taking parts of old ones, and recombining them in innovative ways to create ‘new’ concepts and ideas, In our context we are taking generations of culinary knowledge, dissecting it, and reappropriating the ideas to new ingredients and/or methods.  

Author information:

My Name is Ben Reade, I’m a chef from Scotland, and for the past 3.5 years I have been studying at The University of Gastronomic Sciences in Italy. For my final thesis, I came to Nordic Food Lab to research many subjects where my varied interests inerlaced with those of the Lab. The research arose out of time spent at the Nordic Food Lab between 29 September and 22 December 2011. The aim is to describe NFL’s current research to both chefs and non-specialized readers, explaining and coding the creative and scientific methodologies employed during the research at NFL, exploring their application in food experimentation and innovation. Over the next month or so I will be breaking down this thesis into manageable blog-style chunks, this is chunk 1 of around 25 I hope you find it interesting.