Chefs vs Science: The Ultimate Kitchen Challenge is a BBC Four 90-minute film that approaches cooking from two different but equally fascinating perspectives: as an art and as a science. Michelin-star chef Marcus Wareing faces off materialist scientist Professor Mark Miodownik in the ultimate cookery challenge which involves a selection of the most well-known and treasured British dishes: the tomato soup, the medium-rare steak with mashed potatoes and the chocolate fondant.
Along this cooking journey, Mark Miodownik tries to unearth the rudimentary principles of taste and flavour. What makes flavour what it is? How do we perceive taste and how can we differentiate between different flavours? These are only some of the questions to which Miodownik seeks answers. Through an experimental approach to the constitutive ingredients of taste, Miodownik links flavour with the cognitive process that takes place in the brain as we experience flavour with all our senses. A different colour perceived through sight may mislead the taste buds, different sound qualities influence the intensity of chocolate flavour and the smell emitted through different shapes of glasses can alter the taste of champagne. The renowned chef Marcus Wareing is also called to experience the interaction between science and cooking. To his own disbelief and surprise, Wareing frequently attests to the scientific core of taste-savouring and flavour-enriching.
As far as the ambitious menu is concerned, the cookery competition starts with a go at the smooth and filling tomato soup. Miodownik attempts to separate the tomato pulp from its juice in order to recreate Wareing’s perfectly-seasoned and rich-flavoured tomato soup. Moving from the entrée to the main course, chef and scientist aim for a tender, nicely cooked and pink-coloured rib-eye steak. Butter, herbs and seasoning go toe-to-toe with chemistry, water bath and liquid nitrogen. As for the accompanying side of mashed potatoes, a similar technique is deployed in order to give a smooth texture and rich potato flavour to the dish. Miodownik describes in detail the process, explaining any obscure jargon that may put off those less science-savvy. The visuals further illustrate the chemical reactions involved in cooking, often blurring the line between science and art. The kitchen becomes a laboratory where cooking textbooks are out the window and chefs-scientists rely on their experience and instincts.
When it comes to dessert, Miodownik opts for a less radical and more conventional cooking method so as to perfect the foamy sponge and gooey centre of the chocolate fondant: here comes the microwave oven. Utterly amazed and a tad dumbfounded, a worried Wareing watches Miodownik resort to ready-made cake mix in order to create the third and perhaps more challenging dish of the menu. When all is said and done and the heat has worn off, Wareing is asked to taste the fondant and evaluate Miodownik’s techniques…
Chefs vs Science: The Ultimate Kitchen Challenge provides an exciting outlook on cooking, frequently probing the question of whether taste can surpass all prior process of the raw materials. To sieve or to snip? To sear or to seal? To see or to perceive? That is the… cookestion.
Chefs vs Science is available on BBC iPlayer until Friday 22 April at 11.30pm.