As part of my ongoing quest to learn more about food science I was advised by renowned French chemist Herve This to attend seminars organised by London Gastronomy Seminars. Having previously attended two seminars (the first on Neurogastronomy, the second on Fermentation), I was particularly interested in their latest one entitled: Texture Across Cultures.
The speakers highlighted some key aspects about texture and the different perceptions based on culture, mainly Eastern vs Western pallets. It would seems that in general there is a more diverse vocabulary which exists in eastern countries such as China to describe and appreciate different textures. It was also highlighted that some cultures value and appreciate certain foods based on their textural qualities rather than solely basing their decision on the ingredient’s flavor. A good example which was mentioned is the sea cucumber; the preparation process aims to rid the ingredient of its undesirable fishy flavor (by soaking and cooking it in several batches of fresh water) so that the final product is relatively flavorless but offers a unique and highly desirable texture for some. It is then used in dishes where sauces and glazes add the flavor element to the dish while the sea cucumber adds the textural element.
A final point which has to be mentioned is the difference between cultures who take pleasure in eating fiddly, slightly hard to tackle foods (such as meats and fish on the bone, chicken wings, even rabbit heads were mentioned!) versus cultures which prefer their foods pretty simple and straight forward (like fish fillets and chicken breasts).
Apart from some great insights there was also an opportunity to sample a selection of Chinese delicacies (including Duck tongue and pig’s ear) which truly gave a practical insight into what it was that the speakers were talking about. The following is a synopsis of what the event was about and a brief biography of the speakers:
Is gristle delicious, or is it revolting?
What is a pleasing texture?
In Europe and North America, processors of food—whether multi-national corporations or Michelin-starred restaurants—favour the silky, the smooth, and the creamy. This predilection structures everything from our attitude towards vegetables to our choices of cuts of meat: tenderness is everything.
However, this is not universal. In this seminar, we will explore and taste the textural side of gastronomy. We are excited to be joined by Fuchsia Dunlop, the preeminent Western authority on Chinese cuisine, as well as Dr Dominique Valentin, whose research focuses on the cross-cultural elements of food and wine appreciation.
Fuchsia Dunlop is an award-winning food-writer specialising in Chinese cuisine. She trained as a chef at the Sichuan Institute of Higher Cuisine, has travelled widely in China, and is the author of four books about Chinese food, including ‘Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of China’ and her latest, ‘Every Grain of Rice: Simple Chinese Home Cooking’.
Dominique Valentin is a cognitive psychologist by training, and has worked in the field of sensory evaluation for the past 8 years. She holds a PhD in Cognitive Science from the University of Texas at Dallas. She is currently a senior lecturer at AgroSup Dijon, a food science engineering school, and a researcher at the European Center for Chemical Senses (CESG-CNRS), France. Dr Valentin has published many papers on odour and visual perception.
For more information on London Gastronomy Seminars and their upcoming events visit http://www.londongastronomyseminars.com