EVER since Heston Blumenthal first hit the headlines with his snail porridge, bacon and egg ice cream and mock turtle soup, our appetites for the weird and wonderful have been well and truly whetted.
No longer is it good enough to just serve up a perfectly cooked meal – it has to be perfectly cooked AND presented on a bed of edible petals engulfed by liquid nitrogen.
Our obsession with food has hit an all-time high – you can’t turn on the TV without one foodie show or another blaring back at you.
It’s this desire to do more than just consume food and drink that’s led the organisers of the Edinburgh International Science Festival to create a whole mini festival dedicated to what fuels us.
“We have been doing food events as part of the festival for years,” explains Eilidh Dunnet, events developer for the Edinburgh International Science Festival. “It’s always been popular and last year we decided to put it together as a mini festival of its own.
“It’s something everybody can relate to – food and drink is part of our everyday life.
“There’s so many fascinating scientific stories in the way meals are put together and cooked. There are so many foodies in Edinburgh. There’s something for everyone in this festival and it will really appeal to all appetites.”
GastroFest, which kicks off next Saturday, has a packed menu featuring producers, artisans, scientists and chefs with activities, workshops, demonstrations and talks all taking place during the two-week festival.
For a sip of something surprising, Give in to Fermentation and enjoy a series of beer and fermented food pairings, or take a mouth-watering journey into the science of gin in Gin-omics for Generation Gin. Pick up some tasty treats as you explore a farmers’ market with a scientific twist at SciMart, discover the links between your senses and taste buds in Sensory Experimentation or investigate whole animal eating in Nose to Tail: The Not-So Offal Truth.
“We are going to take over Summerhall [arts centre] for the science farmers’ market,” says Eilidh. “We will fill it with a great selection of produce and each stall has a bit of a twist. There will be demonstrations by [Edinburgh chef] Paul Wedgwood who has quite an experimental style. Cooking in itself is a big science experiment and things you might not think of as being scientific actually have lots of scientific processes going on. For example, Paul is going to make cheese – there are a lot of chemical processes involved in that.
“There will be a mini restaurant for children which will be a chance for them to try out foods that they might not have tried before, and learn about what happens to their bodies when they eat.
“The foods will be unusual smells and textures and they might look a bit weird – there will be a few food surprises for them.”
Eilidh says a lot of the events which make up GastroFest will be “hands-on”.
“One of our events is about sensory experimentation,” she says. “It’s a series of five experiments which show how our other senses influence our eating decisions; how presentation, for example, helps or dissuades us from eating something.
“Most of the events give opportunities for eating and drinking, but there’s also more serious discussions taking place such as looking at the role sugar plays in our lives and a talk asking whether we will recognise the food on your plate in 2050.”
Highlights of GastroFest
A farmers’ market with a scientific twist, SciMart is a fantastic Easter day out for the family which brings together food producers, researchers and chefs to reveal the fascinating science behind some of our favourite foodstuffs. With demonstrations, talks and tasty treats, SciMart brings you a packed menu and food for thought.
Sunday, April 5, 11am-4pm, Summerhall
Mad Hatter’s Tea Party
Take a trip down the rabbit hole and join in a unique and enlightening tea party with the father of molecular gastronomy Hervé This and hosted by food writer Alex Renton. Once described as “the world’s weirdest chef”, Hervé is a physical chemist who brought gels, foams and innovative flavour infusions to the masses. Having deconstructed cooking into chemical and physical principles, he now wants to reconstruct the very nature of flavour. He is on a mission to liberate cooks from the constraints of traditional ingredients and methods, creating entirely new taste experiences by cooking with pure molecular compounds and pushing the idea of what food is to a new frontier.
Wednesday, April 8, 5pm, Summerhall
Give in to Fermentation
Humans have been experimenting with fermented food and drink since Neolithic times, starting with beer and followed by breads, cheeses, yoghurt, pickles and a host of other foods and alcoholic beverages. Fermentation is a magical process that can make food more flavoursome and digestible, increase storage life, turn waste into tasty products and even reduce flatulence. Enjoy a series of beer and fermented food pairings with short presentations from experts including Graeme Walker, professor of Zymology from Abertay University, and Ben Reade, former head of culinary research and development at the Nordic Food lab.
Wednesday, April 15, 8pm, Summerhall
GastroLab: Molecular Mastery
Molecular mixology uses the scientific equipment and techniques of molecular gastronomy to create cocktails with greater intensities and variety of flavour, unexpected combinations of tastes and textures and new ways of presenting drinks. Join Professor Andrea Sella and a top local mixologist as they demonstrate how the art of cocktail making has become a science and show you the tricks of the trade that will help you experiment at home.
Saturday, April 11, 3pm, Summerhall
• GastroFest runs from Saturday, April 4 until Sunday, April 19. All events can be booked in advance either from the Festival Fringe Shop on the High Street or by calling 0844 557 2686, or by visiting the website at www.sciencefestival.co.uk.