Attention food science nerds: Foodpairing.com’s Bernard Lahousse brings taste into the lab in two talks this week

Attention food science nerds: Foodpairing.com’s Bernard Lahousse brings taste into the lab in two talks this week

Lahousse in the lab (Image: Sense of Taste) 

Chefs often speak of perfect pairings, particularly in food and wine. While most accept that certain flavour combinations just work, a team from Belgium has developed a popular tool based on the principle that foods combine well with one another when they share major flavour components (the working philosophy of The Fat Duck’s Heston Blumenthal). The Foodpairing database features 1,000 ingredients, along with their corresponding flavour profiles, and is beloved by food science nerds the world over. We spoke to Bernard Lahousse, science research director at parent company Sense for Taste (who was in town this week to present at the Pangborn Sensory Science Symposium) about how these innovative tools are used by professional chefs, home cooks and, increasingly, bartenders and mixologists.

Foodpairing’s methodology, Lahousse told us, proceeds from the fact that our sense of smell is responsible for 80 per cent of our taste experience. Aromas are chemical compounds made up of various components, each having distinct volatility and concentrations that can be broken down and analyzed. These flavour components can then be paired with other foods with similar flavour profiles (e.g. blue cheese, strawberries and chocolate, or coconut, bacon, mustard and ground coffee). Lahousse and his team have made these abstract relations visual by presenting food-pairing trees. The shorter the branch, the better the match to the central ingredient (see below for a tree for salsify). As newfangled as all this sounds, classicists might appreciate the fact that Foodpairing has also shown that strong flavour relationships exist in Escoffier’s recipes, providing scientific validation to pairings that are now canonical.

Initially working with Michelin-starred chefs (Ferran and Albert Adrià, Blumenthal and René Redzepi), Lahousse has now extended the analyses and pairings to other commercial collaborations and even has a site devoted to chocolate. Next stop: the ever-growing world of cocktails. Access to the basic information is free, thanks in part to the financial support from the food-development industry.

Lahousse himself will be giving a pair of talks in town this week. The first, focusing on flavour pairings in drinks, will be held at Barchef tonight at 7:30 p.m. There is a $20 cover (which covers the cost of the alcohol that will be served as part of the demonstration). The second, on flavor pairings in food, will be at Humber College this Friday at 4 p.m. Both sessions are open to the public, but space is limited, so call ahead.

Barchef, 472 Queen St. W., 416-868-4800, barcheftoronto.com.

Humber College, 205 Humber College Blvd., Rm. E 143; contact program coordinator Rudi Fischbacher to reserve space


The food tree for salsify: