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O[10-5, 10-4] / W[d > 6 x 10-7]
The above formula is not a scientific equation for a complex mix of chemicals, it's not something that requires a four year degree to understand and no, it's not the meaning of life.
The above formula is in fact a simple recipe for Aioli - a traditional Provence dish made by mixing olive oil and garlic to form an emulsion - similar to mayonnaise.
In the above equation O stands for oil and W stands for water (in this case the water comes from the crushed garlic). On a basic level O/W is the dispersion of oil and water with the / referencing the act of random dispersion. The numbers in brackets reference the size of the oil droplets, in this case the oil's droplets range from 0.01 to 0.1 millimetres. The D>6x 10-7 refers to the minimum size of the considered structures.
This is a basic breakdown of a Disperse System Formalism (DSF) - a technique of molecular gastronomy used to describe a dish and its parts. Rather than ingredients, dishes are looked at on a colloidal level - a colloid being a substance that is microscopically dispersed through another. For example milk is created through butterfat dispersed in water, making milk an emulsified colloid.
Colliods in cooking can be broken down into a number of categories.
Emulsions: Oil is whipped into a liquid phase
Foams: Air bubbles are dispersed into a liquid (« water » or « oil »)
Gels: Liquid is dispersed in a solid
Aerosols: Tiny water droplets dispersed in a gas (air)
Suspension: Mineral particles are dispersed into oil
Hervé This is the scientist behind the DSF system and also one of the men credited with founding the scientific discipline of molecular gastronomy. He helped to develop DSF as a way to approach cooking from a more scientific angle and claims that it has helped to create and imagine entirely new dishes.
After creating, what is often described as a chef shorthand, Herve went on to apply DSF to analyzing over 451 traditional French sauces. From sauce africaine to sauce zingara, He discovered that they are all, no matter how different they may taste, developed from just 23 formulas. Herve claims that this microscopic understanding of food systems is invaluable in opening up the possibilities for new culinary creations and has proved as much working with the French chef Pierre Gagnaire.
Using the DSF system Herve generated a random formula and created a new recipe called Faraday or - ((G + S1 + O)/W)/S2. Herve then worked with Gagnaire to make the faraday with lobster. The O is a lobster oil, S1 is lobster meat, W is smoked tea soup and S2 is the gel created after gelatin is added to the entire mix.
Herve argues that this one formula can be used in an infinite number of ways - replacing lobster with carrot, nut or any desired flavor - he goes onto say that to show the usefulness of DSF to chefs he often generates formulas entirely at random just to show that they will work, although they don't always taste so great.
Rather than the complicated process it may first appear, Herve argues, "It's very easy to use in the kitchen, and we have had many opportunities to work with chefs in order to help them to create new textures and new systems. Even better, the formalism was introduced in French pastry textbooks for beginners. The idea is simply that if you choose a formula at random, you can make it. Moreover, it is useful to help people understand what they do in the kitchen...instead of just repeating as in the Middle Ages."
It's significance in understanding cooking and the process involved in foods is unquestionable but Herve claims that it may have stronger implications on the industry - especially when looking ahead to the rise of Note by Note Cooking - another movement credited to the research of Herve.
Note by Note is the idea of composing odors, tastes and consistencies produced entirely from the mixing of raw compounds (water, ethanol, sucrose, amino acids, lipids...). Much like synthesis allowed musicians to compose music with new sounds - the idea of note by note cuisine allows chefs to create new sounds using compounds. Chefs should design the flavor, the colors, the various shapes of the dish, the consistencies and even the nutritional values of each ingredient.
The first ever Note by Note dish was created by Gagnaire in 2009 and used jelly pearls that tasted like apple, iced granite with a lemon-like taste and a wafer thin ‘glucose caramel’ strip. However, no apple, lemon or caramel were used to create the dish.
With DFS now being used by a number of chefs, it's an obvious step to take these formulas to build dishes, not ingredient by ingredient, but compound by compound. An exciting development that will surely lead to new culinary discoveries and trends in the industry. Something we'll wait for eagerly at FDL HQ, infact, it's something we'll wait for while eating a nice slice of S1/S2)(((W/O)/S) (S1/S2)729.....with fresh fruit and cream of course.
Herve's Book, Cuisine: Note by Note, is Currently being translated into English and is expected to be available around the end of September 2012.