Interview: Peter Coucquyt - Culinary Director at Foodpairing ®, partner of Sense for taste
This Belgian chef has a unique approach to cooking: he has turned it into a real science of gourmet assemblies! Between two new recipes for Les vergers Boiron, he explains how he got there.
How does one become a culinary scientist?
The expression is not quite accurate, but I like it! In fact, I have had a very eclectic career, where my main focus has been combining flavours. After attending the Koksijde hotel and catering college, on the Belgian border with Dunkirk, I worked in several internships in Belgium and the Netherlands, before working 13 years for Peter Goossens, the chef at the famous three Michelin starred "Hof van Cleve" in Kruishoutem between Gent and Lille. He taught me all about classic cuisine and also gave me time to try out new trends, including molecular cuisine and take wine courses - I'm a qualified Master Sommelier. Then, I started my own hotel-restaurant in Antwerp, "Kasteel Withof', which quickly won a Michelin star. I was even named most promising chef of Belgium in 2005!
This was just before creating Foodpairing®, a company whose objective is to combine science and gastronomy...
Initially, with Bernard Lahousse and Johan Langenbick, we set up the "Sense for Taste" company to promote Belgian cuisine and organise the Flemish Primitives event, whose first theme was foodpairing, i.e. matching foods together. It is a term that is often used in wine. Since then, we have specifically focused on this new "science" that analyses and compares the molecules present in food in order to identify possible connections. It was developed by researchers at the University of Leuven, in collaboration with chefs such as Sang-Hoon Degeimbre at "L'Air du Temps" and Sergio Herman at "L'Oud Sluis." The aim of Foodpairing ® is to help chefs, bartenders, pastry-chefs and other players in the food industry develop their creativity.
What amazing pairings have you discovered?
Lots! We have a database of 1,500 tested ingredients. I'll let you calculate the number of possible combinations. The most interesting, perhaps, is chocolate. The complexity of its production means that a flavour molecule is added at each stage. It therefore has resonances in many other foods, from almonds to... a piece of grilled meat. We therefore recommend using a hint of chocolate to bind meat sauces!
Did you use these techniques to create Les vergers Boiron recipes?
Yes, exactly. Lemon for example goes perfectly with... chocolate of course! But also with beetroot and butternut. I took advantage of the fact that Les vergers Boiron have just launched their butternut puree: I replaced some of the water used in the production of a brioche with butternut puree and added semi-candied lemon. Likewise, I know that orange goes very well with anise, so I revisited the classic recipe for an orange pound cake, to which I added a topping of aniseed and replaced the orange with semi-candied orange. By the way, I think these new semi-candied products are awesome.
You seem surprised by them...
Yes, they did surprise me, because their sweetness does not stifle the acidity of the fruit, which remains intact. It is very balanced. Likewise, the texture is soft and crunchy at the same time, I had never seen that before. And as always with Les vergers Boiron, the product is extremely fresh and convenient to use: measuring is easy, there is no preparation, no pips, no waste... This allows a multitude of possible uses in patisserie, but also in savoury recipes. For example, I imagined a tartar of raw scallops with semi-candied lemon and a beetroot and caviar sorbet.
On a daily basis, are you a simple or complex chef?
Good question, because having created Foodpairing® doesn't stop me loving simple and seasonal products. I am a big fan of white asparagus, chicory, morel mushrooms, with a piece of simply prepared meat or fish. At home I cook a lot of vegetables, in very classic way. Yesterday, for example, I made a salad of asparagus with fresh herbs and pan-fried chicken. In patisserie, I love chocolate, of course. I make a small chocolate cake with candied orange and pecan for example.