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Imagine you have to go in outer space without taking any of your usual comforts, any loved one, and most of all any good food you like during your mission. That would be rough, wouldn't it? Now astronauts from the European Space Agency (ESA) can count on Turin's official Argotec company to make their "bonus food" and lift their spirits.
What is the bonus food? Your family Sunday lunch, your mum's cooking, the ultimate comfort food that will make any astronaut forget they are far from home. The first one to try out the sublime gourmet meals is Luca Parmitano: he took Italian lasagna, tiramisù and other delicacies prepared by starred-chef Davide Scabin on his trip roughly a year ago.
The next ones to go will be the German citizen Alexander Gerst and the Italian Samantha Cristoforetti. Their trip will be advised by Argotec in collaboration with chef Harald Wohlfahrt (of the Schwarzwaldstube in Baiersbronn's Black Forest) and Stefano Polato (of restaurant Campiello in Monselice, Padua).
What are the secrets of space food? Will it be the food of the future? Fine Dining Lovers talked with Davide Avino, managing director of Argotec, to understand how they make food for astronauts and what roles do chefs play in it.
How do you decide on a space menu? What did you make for Alexander Gerst and Samantha Cristoforetti?
We do the same for each astronaut: we meet with them as soon as we learn of the mission and ask them their preferences, then we meet again to taste samples and do a sensorial screening. For Alexander Gerst we made the Spätzle: a familiar dish very much part of his culture and culinary traditions. Samantha is very keen on good nutrition: we tried to follow her expectations. We are also working on something that will make her very happy: real Italian coffee.
How does a type of food qualify for space or with Nasa regulations?
First of its duration: food has to keep from 18 to 24 months without con servants. We have to lower bacteria using two methods: dehydration, which means taking out water, or thermo-control to reduce the amount of bacteria (it prevents botulism). To be sure we have to reach a temperature of 121°C. You can do so using classic methods, but you risk affecting all nutrients and taste.
Foods that absolutely don't agree with space?
Those subject to crumbs, for example crackers: we can work around that by making smaller size crackers to eat in one bite. Generally speaking, it's better when the molecules of the food are tight to avoid spilling over machinery. Salt and pepper have to be liquid to avoid the possibility of getting in the astronauts' eyes.
Is space food the food of the future?
We are working on it, many asked to try our food, but for now we only serve astronauts. Our technology could be successful in canned food. The canned food you find in markets is full of conservants and food coloring: we are trying to prevent that. Our aim is to make canned food healthy. Research is of primary importance, we are studying how to prevent osteoporosis, something quite common for someone who traveled in space. Missions are a good test lab for us, they help us discover new things when it comes to health and nutrition.