Yesterday I moved to Copenhagen, Denmark to begin work with the Nordic Food Lab, a non-profit r&d group that fuses ecology, traditional knowledge, and food science to create innovative products and processes that speak to the Nordic region and disseminated for public use. They work closely with Noma as well, some of their work being used in the restaurant.
The lab is on a houseboat moored outside the restaurant on the harbour. I’m staying in a room on the boat and it is great. I love being right on the water and the gentle rocking lulls me to sleep.
There are a five or six others who work at the lab: three full-time employees and a couple interns visiting for research. The culture at the lab is great — we all work at big tables in one big room with the kitchen and other lab equipment, with lots of natural light from big windows that look out across the harbour. We cook lunch together too.
I’ll be here for at least one year, helping with various aspects of the lab’s work: planning and running experiments, writing up results, and maybe even going on some expeditions.
Things I’ve learned/tried only within one day:
– elderflower lemonade made by Michael, the lab’s director
– soy sauce sunflower seeds (highly addictive)
– ants. They produce formic acid (HCOOH) which makes them taste sour, like lemons. I put one in my mouth and let it roam around squirting formic acid before crushing it gently between my molars. Utterly delicious, like nothing I’ve ever had.
– A conversation with Ben and Rachele, two UNISG grads, about the psychic structure of recipes, and the possibility of mapping recipes in terms of a ‘grammar’ rather than merely a series of steps.
– Danish beer in a beer garden in Christiania
– a crash course in the basics of organic chemistry from Arielle, a visiting PhD candidate in Chemistry and Food Analysis from UC Davis doing research for her dissertation. She taught me about some volatiles (carboxylic acid, alcohol, esters) which are of especial interest in understanding flavour in food, and how carboxylic acids ionise. She also gave me a tour of her rhubarb vinegars (acetic acid, another carboxyl) fermenting in the basement. So cool.
– pig cheeks with grilled cabbage and cauliflower, and a sauce made from the drippings and vinegar: the leftovers from lunch. This job is going to turn me paleo.
– some samples of recent projects: dehydrated cucumber powder, a Nordic ‘spice’, it tastes like coriander and cumin; dehydrated dashi, an overwhlemingly umami flavour agent; dried dulse, a beautiful deep purple colour that we use to make dulse (søl) ice cream.
– A revelation: dried woodruff smells almost exactly like tonka bean, because of their high levels of coumarin.
– this morning, some Danish-style dark sourdough seed bread. This stuff is dense, heavy, and so flavourful. With good butter and a little salt, it is impossible to beat.
– we took some dryad mushrooms that had matured in their ferment, vacuum-sealed them, centrifuged them, and decanted off the intense, golden liquid. It smells like dried peaches. And I learned how to use the vacuum-sealer and the centrifuge.
Tomorrow we’re going to celebrate midsummer. A feast on the boat.