July 29, 2016

No matter how much of a foodie you are, no matter how much Anthony Bourdain you watch or organic, cruelty-free honey you eat, you still probably haven’t been to the best restaurant in the world.

That restaurant, according to so many lists and articles, is Noma, in Copenhagen. And since it’s turning into an urban farm soon, you probably won’t ever have a chance to go. Sorry to disappoint.

But, if you want to hear about the future of food from Noma’s head of research, Arielle Johnson, then we’ve got you covered. Here are some highlights from our recent conversation:

How to turn waste into delicious food:

“With a lot of shellfish and fish scraps, like squid entrails, which you normally wouldn’t get all that excited about eating, we’ve made a very delicious, almost Thai-style fish sauce. [We took] hundreds of kilos of stuff that would never make it to a plate, but were the product of squid swimming in their natural environment and very careful fisherman fishing them.”

And it’s not just squid entrails, Johnson’s team has also had success turning bread scraps into miso. It's all about...

Finding new ways to look at waste:

“Thinking about every single material as an opportunity and then using whatever knowledge we can, whether it be from botany, or biochemistry, or microbiology, to take a different view on those materials. You can think of stale bread as bread that’s no longer good to eat. You can also think of it as an excellent source of starches, which, if you mix with the mold aspergillus oryzae can ferment into soy sauce. And you can think of squid guts as a source of really nice proteins.”

Though sometimes, not every experiment works out:

“I tried to make blood garum, a type of fish sauce… ‘Hey, blood has a lot of protein, so why don’t we just take some blood, take some protein, and koji?’… Whereas usually some of these protein-heavy fermentations will go through a phase where they smell a little bit dodgy, and that’ll resolve into this deep, rich caramelized thing, blood garum kind of slid into this danger/death horror - that I never hope to repeat.”

But all these experiments have one thing in common, a search for flavor.

Because when you look at the future of food, there’s one thing that comes above everything else:

“I think flavor is the ultimate driver of behavior. So fortunately as humans we’ve evolved to have a varied and broad sense of flavor. If you look at the genetic level, the receptors that are responsible for our sense of smell - which actually makes up most flavor - comprises 2% of our genome, which is the largest family of genes. So what we’ve conserved and evolved over millions and millions of years is precisely the hardware to sense and enjoy a wide variety of flavors. And I think the best way to expose ourselves and enjoy this wide variety of flavors is eating a wide variety of things. This biodiversity - and care for biodiversity - is going to play a huge role in making sure sustainability stays sustainable.”

innovation hub, pri, Arielle Johnson, Kara Miller, WGBH

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