Davide Cassi
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It certainly happened to some of you to try to follow a diet. The bold among you, raise your hand. (Laughter) All right. Then maybe a part of you did not see it through, because, at some point, you can't take it anymore, because the food it's not so good, let's face it. And then it's always the same dull dishes. The bold ones still raise their hands. Here is the good news: It's not your fault. I'm here to convince you. These diets are "perfect" from a nutritional point of view, but they are completely wrong from the gastronomic point of view. What does this mean? It means that humans are more than organisms to be fed. We do not have only a stomach and a gut that digest and assimilate food. When they set a plate in front of us, we look at it with both eyes, maybe drawn by colours and shapes, we have a nose to smell, we have a mouth to taste flavours, perceives the textures, and even two ears that hear the crunchiness when we chew. All five senses are involved in eating. When we eat, these senses transmit sensations to our brain, generate emotions, arouse memories. All this happens in us while we eat and it's beyond us, because we must eat. Everyday, many times a day, all the days of our life, we must undergo this experience. And this experience can be positive or negative, can be a source of joy, can be boring, it can also be disgusting, but it is a problem that we must solve. Because it can even lead to major depressions. Now, I won’t ask you to raise your hand, but this happens to me: if I eat badly, I feel poorly and cannot work properly. Instead, if I eat well I can prove a theorem. It happened to me. It happens. Well, what have humans done historically to solve this problem? We invented cooking. Because no animal cooks, but us humans. If we cook, it is because we are forced to face this problem of sensoriality, because we can live very well with no television, no electricity, even without reading or without speaking, in extreme cases. But we die without food. Cooking was born, and cooking is so important that even today in many hospitals, we are studying the so-called "meal therapy". Because eating well, from a sensory point of view, favours and speeds up healing. For instance, you've all seen those typical, sad hospital trays, brown or pale white, dirty trays with the cooked apple on top, the yellow soup and, if lucky, a white cheese. Now imagine a nice coloured tray, with colorful, fragrant foods on top, in fanciful shapes. You will want to eat them and enjoy the experience. You are happier and heal sooner. I then expect science to help me solve this problem. It is not so simple, actually. Science is very good at telling us what is good for our body. But the same approach won't work for gastronomy: if science has to tell us what is good to eat, we have already lost our game, because the concept of "good to eat" is not an objective one, nor a scientific concept. “Good to eat” varies from culture to culture, country by country, person by person - and also, throughout your day, morning to evening. You like to eat different things. So, we must change our approach. We do not want humans for science, we want science for humans, a science that meets humans. Thus, humans must tell science what they like, and then help humans design the food they like. But how can science do this? It all comes down to innovation. Since it early days, cooking calls for constant innovation. If you take Apicio's cookbook, the first in ancient Rome, you’ll notice that they ate cow udders, dormice, used lead as a sweetener, and seasoned everything with a rotten fish sauce. In the Renaissance, they spiced everything, while tomatoes and potatoes only hit our tables at the end of the 18th century. So cooking changes all the time. Cooking must keep up with changes in the world and society. The problem is that these changes, in the last few years, have become so fast that cooking must evolve even faster. So back to innovation. But why is innovation needed? There are several reasons. Now, watch and have a laugh with this 1950s poster. There is also an Italian version; but this is wonderful because it is international. Butter is good for you and good for your health. Nutritional advice: butter is slippery, eat as much as you can so you can lubricate veins and arteries. It was as recently as the 50s, okay? Let's say that now, if we saw a child eating those big sticks of butter, we would remove his/her parents’ parental authority on the spot. (Laughter) Now, maybe we want to reduce the saturated fat content, make a shortcrust pastry with no butter, but maybe with oil; it's very difficult, I will tell you. Therefore, our nutritional knowledge changes, and it does so consistently. Medicine evolves. But it's not just this, changes also involve the ingredients available. I have already mentioned the example of ancient Romans. I can mention my grandparents, who lived peacefully without knowing, for example, what a kiwi was. Now, however, you use it to decorate your cakes with greenery. And then there's more, because tastes change, Along with the body, we also feed the mind. The great anthropologist Lévi-Strauss said that food, rather than good to eat, had to be good to think. Tastes change, and this is something we’ve always known. Take a look at this page from a French calendar of 1760. This is before the French Revolution and before Parmentier introduced potato consumption. That's where we are. There is a nursery rhyme that tells about the cook's job and says: "Every year, a nouvelle cuisine", “nouvelle cuisine” was used even then, “Because tastes change every year, and a new ragu every day. So become a chemist, Justine", which is the cook's name. In 1760, everything was already clear. It was already clear that science had to contribute to innovation. At that time, Chemistry was the dominant science. But what's so difficult, you may ask, about innovating? Basically, I take three ingredients, throw them together, and I've innovated. No, it's not that easy. It's not even a question of chemistry. Chemistry is a science that governs flavours and aromas, and partly also colours. Adjusting flavours and aromas is not hard to do. Not sweet enough? Add sugar or a sweetener. Not acid enough? Add vinegar. Not to mention salt, of course. The real deal, the hardest thing to innovate in the kitchen are structures, textures. Just try to make a pastry replacing butter with oil. Even just using fructose, which seems a healthier sugar, in place of the ordinary sugar, the pastry gets soggy, it never dries properly, and never gets crunchy. Meringues get sticky, if you put fructose in it. The problem of structures it's a very hard one to crack, and, not surprisingly, it's modern cooking great revolution, contemporary rather, starts precisely by dealing with the problem of new structures. The revolution begins with this historic dish: 1994, Ferran Adrià, poised to become the greatest cook of his time, invented this soup of textured vegetables. He deconstructed minestrone. What is the idea? Minestrone is healthy, it contains good vegetables, but it lacks an elegant consistency, you would never find it on the menu of a three-star haute cuisine restaurant. By changing its consistency though, the whole thing becomes more pleasant. Just imagine: floury potatoes, fibrous beans, deconstructed basil. He added basil jelly: but above all, he added one major innovation: that violet froth which you see on the right it is a beet foam he produced with the siphon, which is the instrument at the centre. The siphon was invented by Austrians to whip cream faster. He's in a sense the first hacker of modern kitchen, as he used the siphon to do something completely different from its intended function. He prepares a foam that tastes like pure beetroot. Mousses already existed, but eggs and cream were added later, so they tasted like beetroot, but also eggs and cream. He attains a pure taste. He keeps on exploring, but realises cooks are at lost with no backing from science. In 1997, therefore, he published a book which is a milestone in the history of cooking and it's called "The secrets of El Bulli", where he writes this prophetic statement: “If we manage to start a collaboration between cooks and scientists, borders open up and the possibilities are unlimited for the new culinary art ". It's 1997. Slowly but surely, in the early 2000s the first collaborations take place. In fact, the development of science had arrived just at the right time, because, in those years, a new discipline was born that the English call "soft matter", and the French "Matière molle", all of Europe calls "soft matter". In Italy, we call it "materia soffice” (soft matter) because it disgusts us a little calling it “materia molle” and my university course is called “Fisica della materia soffice”, but in fact it is “materia molle”. Just two words to tell you what it is: at school, they teach you that matter has three states, solid, liquid and gaseous. The solid is rigid, non-deformable, with its own shape and volume. The liquid has a given volume, but fills the shape of the vessel. The gas expands freely instead. Well, this taxonomy is useless in the kitchen. Besides salt and sugar, there's no real use for it, because a jam is neither solid nor liquid, let alone polenta and whipped cream. But, look, it's not just a question of cooking. Materials of our everyday life do not fall under this classification either. Look at the clothes you are wearing, are they armor? Are they diving suits? (Laughter) They are jackets, they must fit with your body’s shape. So, they are not solid, but are hardly liquids. They are soft matter. There you go: this is soft matter. Soft matter becomes the battle instrument, the creative tool of this new kitchen and we now get back to Adrià who made it to the cover, in 2003, of New York Times Magazine with one of his creations based on these studies. It's an air. But what is air? It is a thin, beer-like, cappuccino-like foam, which plays a very interesting gastronomic role, by conveying into our mouths aromas and flavours without filling it with matter, as the gas evaporates soon after. Airs let me get you eat tobacco on ice cream. If you get to the kitchen, take lemon juice, some soy lecithin, whip it with the blender, and serve it on a fish, on a sole. Instead of killing the sole’s taste with lemon drops that corrode your mouth, give a slight hint of lemon to your fish and don't even add calories. What's better than this? Let’s move on. Folks, Adrià is a true genius. Melon caviar. This is a first example of the innovations brought about by this great revolution. Using a new substance, already used by the food industry, which is called sodium alginate, he prepares these balls that are soft, chewy on the outside and stuff them with a very tasty, concentrated lemon juice inside. Melon caviar. With another ingredient that is called xanthan gum, Andoni Luis Aduriz, another great Spanish chef, makes this cake which is called Vanity. Vanity is made up of chocolate bubbles that vanish when you eat them. But sponges are a recursive theme in the kitchen of Aduriz. Look at this beautiful sponge, made by imitating a natural form. There are new ingredients. Now you buy agar agar at the supermarket; 20 years ago, I bet you didn’t even know what it was. Then, there are new tools: this is liquid nitrogen. Let's make an ice cream in ten seconds by uncorking a bottle of Moscato and creaming it instantly. During the lunch break, you will taste a creation prepared with liquid nitrogen, namely whipped cream popcorn with coffee and vanilla. Let’s push on. Iconic dish of contemporary cuisine: on the right "Marimontagna", that is, Joan Roca's "seas and mountains", a raw oyster served on woodland distillate. But how you distil woodland? With this strange contraption which you see on the left. It's called rotovapor, and it is a low-pressure distiller which boils water at 40 degrees. Distil without cooking, preserving the raw aromas of everything you have, even forest moss. The same technology is behind this depression pot. We remove the air. Why, you may ask? Because that’s how water boils at low temperatures and can fry at low temperature, that feel extremely crunchy but never burn. They won't brown, and they're less harmful than normal fries. But there's more to new kitchen than just new tools. Take a look at this creation by our own Carlo Cracco. These are pure yolk spaghetti. He made them with his "marinated egg" technique, which is typical of Italian molecular cuisine. It's a kitchen that leans on traditional ingredients, absolutely traditional tools, but used in a new and creative way. Carlo took an egg yolk, set it on a bed of sugar and salt, and covered it with sugar and salt. After a few hours, the yolk thickens, dries up, and becomes workable, and we have spaghetti with only yolk. With similar techniques years ago, we invented frying in glucose: we fry in melted sugar, which is grease-free, and offers a whole series of other advantages. I’d like to give you another dish for homework: the egg curd. Take a pan, and break two, three, four eggs inside - your choice. Then, instead of cooking them, pour in ethyl alcohol for liqueurs. Stir, it coagulates instantly like when making cheese. It looks almost cooked, the albumen becomes white. Then squeeze it, before you get drunk, remove excess alcohol. You can also wash it with a little cold water - indeed, we better wash it. Squeeze everything and you have a ricotta, egg curd. You can eat it in endless ways. The last experiment I did it is seasoned with a little honey and trust If I tell you it's fantastic, but indulge yourself. It is a neutral raw material, you can do whatever you want. Well, all the things I told you, have finally taken shape now. As you can see, gastronomy is a science. So, all of us in the field in recent years, we told each other at some point: "It is good that these works don't get lost. It's fair to point out, we should create a new discipline, which is called scientific gastronomy". We met in Barcelona in March, at the University, in an extremely official setting, to produce this Barcelona Manifesto, which is now travelling around the world. This document states exactly what I just told you in this fifteen minutes: that humans need to eat well for their psycophysical well-being. That cooking is a cultural trademark of the human species. That gastronomy must be a holistic discipline, you can't reduce everything to physics, chemistry or biology. There are psychological, emotional, philosophical, and cultural aspects. This is the Barcelona Manifesto. But the most beautiful thing is that this Barcelona Manifesto, perfectly realizes a kind of dream, a prophecy, left to us by the first gastronomist of the modern age, a gentleman called Brillat-Savarin, in the early 19th century. He wrote an treatise entitled “The physiology of taste". The treatise starts with a series of aphorisms and there is one in particular which was truly prophetic. He said: “The discovery of a new dish is more beneficial to human happiness than the discovery of a new star". Thanks. (Applause)