The Original Chemist in the Kitchen

Wired has a short-but-sweet profile of the father of molecular gastronomy—and no, it’s not El Bulli’s Ferran Adrià or Alinea’s Grant Achatz. Frenchman Hervé This (pronounced “Tees,” but still, what a great name) got his start as a physical chemist. But he soon became intrigued by the little tricks of cooking that have their roots in scientific law.

Working together with Oxford physicist Nicholas Kurti, he conducted experiments in his spare time to collect “cooking precisions”—scientifically verified rules about cooking. One dramatic example: Slicing the head off a suckling pig right after it’s roasted really does make the skin crackle more.

In 2001, This came up with a formal system of classification for what happens when foods are mixed, baked, whipped, fried, sautéed in lime juice, and so forth. It shows, for example, how the 451 classical French sauces break down into 23 distinct types. More important, the system allows the creation and pairing of billions of novel, potentially tasty dishes.

The Wired piece is a beautiful profile, and not because it wallows in pop science. It’s less a precise documentation of the field’s evolution or even This’s contribution to it than it is a celebration of a stubborn man who is determined to exhaust himself in pursuit of the truth. Or, in this case, 25,000 tiny truths that—added together—represent quite a lot of interesting knowledge.