The Flemish Primitives 2011 (part 1)

The Flemish Primitives aims to bring together chefs and scientists to promote culinary innovation. The last two editions held in Brugge focused on food pairing and new technologies. This year the event had moved to Oostende and the more spacious Kursaal (a good choice!). The event had also been stretched over two days, starting with 10 master classes in five parallel sessions on Sunday followed by a Gala dinner prepared by 13 Belgian chefs. The second day followed the format from previous years. The focus was on a group of Belgian chefs, the so-called Flemish Primitives as well as specially invited guests from abroad including René Redzepi and Michel Bras. All chefs prepared food live on stage. In between the chefs there was also time for two sessions with researchers from KU Leuven and a presentation of Modernist Cuisine by Chris Young.

Bruno Goussault, Sang-Hoon Degeimbre and Thomas Bühner busy giving their sous vide master class

As a scientist the master classes were of greatest interest to me, especially since the science played a less central role on the second day of TFP. I attended one master class about sous vide by Bruno Goussault, Sang-Hoon Degeimbre and Thomas Bühner and one by Quico Sosa on his range of flavors, extracts and condiments. Expect separate blog posts about these master classes.

Quico Sosa passionately advocated the use of pure flavors in cooking. -We don’t know the flavor of a fresh product anymore because we can’t buy it!, he claimed.

For the first time this year a number of awards were handed out. The “TFP Research award for the researcher or lab that has done remarkable work with importance for chefs” (only papers by Belgian scientists published during the last year were considered for this price though) went to a group from the Catholic University of Leuven who studied the flavor of a ripening banana: Instrumental based flavour characterisation of banana fruit (DOI: 10.1016/j.lwt.2009.05.024). The “TFP award for an international personality for supporting chefs in culinary solutions for go-between science and gastronomy” (how can anyone remember that name?) went to Bruno Goussault, the grandfather of sous vide who has more or less thaught all the major chefs most of what they know about sous vide.

Bruno Goussault receives the award for his life-long dedication to promote sous vide cooking from Bernard Lahousse

All in all it was once again a fascinating event. I admire TFP for bringing together science and cooking. It’s done in a very subtle way, the emphasis is always on the cooking and the chefs. Personally I could have wished for a little more focus on the science this year, but given that there are mainly chefs in the audience it’s a difficult balance. But with the delicate “wrapping” that TFP provides I’m sure the chefs could have taken a larger dose of science 🙂

René Redzepi won the Culinary Linchpin award of the year, and a bit startled he asked: What award was this? What did I win? (I admit that I didn’t know what a linchpin was either…)

Gene Bervoets holding one of the TFP awards which also deserves a mention: the prizes were 3D reproductions of the tiny air channels inside pears and apples as studied by Bart Nicolaí¯ and his team using the ESRF synchrotron facility in Grenoble. Quite fascinating!

René Redzepi cooking on stage with Michel Bras and Sergio Herman

Swedish chef Magnus Nilsson lit a fire on stage to grill white cabbage. Good thing the smoke alarm didn’t go off!

With the risk of totally missing the point of his presentation: Kristof Coppens handled liquid nitrogen in a glass container without wearing safety goggles (yes – it was pyrex glass, but still…). This is stupid! Everyone: Please don’t learn from his example! Learn how to handle liquid nitrogen safely: Always wear safety goggles. Glass can easily shatter due to the extreme temperature differences involved.

And last but not least: Dominique “Shock-o-latier” Persoone left no one disappointed! Here his “Brazilian lips” (in co-operation with Sergio Herman and Alex Atalla) from the Gala dinner. When served a droplet of liquid was added to the sigarette, generating smoke!

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