Electric Meal: Within the Food-tech Scene

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From overcooked pasta that is bloated and limp to pizza topped with a slick of cheap oil, chefs have shown the crimes against Italian food which they cannot bear to see. Pizza, pasta, bread, and salad dressing are Italian foods which are frequently ruined abroad. Where many cooks fall is by creating food overly complicated – either by mixing a lot of flavours together or a glut of strange substances in the case of junk food manufacturers. It is these mistakes that provide Italian food, from pasta to pizza, a poor reputation when Mediterranean diets are actually one of the healthiest in the world.

In contrast to the world of food, the technology renaissance comes in many diverse forms. Telephones that project 3D holograms, private cloud computing services, goggles that provide you the impression you are flying through space, and kitchen appliances that turn food into art. While dinner is not typically the first thing you consider when technical invention is cited, rest assured that there are a few people out there who believe the ingredients in your refrigerator the ideal tools for experimentation.

1 individual who makes his living experimentation with meals is Canadian chef and mad scientist, Marc Lepine. With his brand of innovative cooking and baking, Lepine challenges the standard in Ottawa by showing the world what a dish is capable of if a tiny tech is involved. Lepine specializes in molecular gastronomy – a way of preparing food that brings science into the kitchen. He is owner and chef in Ottawa’s Atelier and is widely known among North America’s most advanced culinary figures. Presently, Lepine is the only chef who has won two Gold Medal Plates (i.e. the Canadian Culinary Championships) for his meals, which should provide you some notion of the degree of skill he brings into the kitchen.

Where your “ordinary” chef could make ice cream and Italian foods the old-fashioned manner, Lepine taps his vast assortment of contemporary kitchen appliances to build his wild creations. His food is deconstructed, disheveled, and flavourful – think gelato made with liquid nitrogen or a dried carrot “hoop” that resembles an enormous orange wedding ring. His restaurant serves a 12-course “blind” tasting menu (blind in the sense that patrons won’t understand what they are eating until they consume it) that changes weekly and challenges the way people think of a meal.

Lepine does everything a standard chef does in a kitchen – he chops, saut├ęs, and juliennes – but utilizes a healthy dose of technology and IT managed services to make his meals an unforgettable surprise. Past menus have included Cornish black and fish garlic, helium-filled fruit “balloons,” dried carrots, mackerel with blood orange, and emoji fondants – where emojis are printed on edible paper with edible ink. It is unlike anything you’ll find in a traditional restaurant, but Ottawans are quite literally eating this up.

So, how did Lepine come to pick that food-tech was his fate? Like those people who grew up taking apart our clock radios merely to see what is inside, the man’s just always been into testing software and tech appliances. It’s his love of food, however, that has taken Lepine all around the world and finally back home to Canada. “I love what I do and I really like my staff. I am from kind of all over,” proceeds Lepine, “I coached in France, Italy, and Toronto for a couple of years, and Algonquin Park in Ontario — yeah, kind of all over.”

After settling in Ottawa, Lepine started Atelier in 2008, which became the sole molecular gastronomy restaurant in the nation that served a tasting menu. Obviously, the renowned chef received lots of criticism over his decision to concentrate exclusively in molecular gastronomy, but that’s how Lepine likes to do it and he is not stopping for anyone. His kitchen has, on many occasions, been described as a science lab.

“It is a kitchen filled with toys. Everything’s portable. There is no gas range or large grill or deep fryers; lots of the gear you’d be accustomed to seeing in a normal kitchen is absent – what is in our kitchen can be put away to a cabinet at the end of the evening.” Among his favourite toys is something known as a Thermomix, a very small bit of gear that, thanks to several software testing courses in agile automated testing, does the job of 24 different kitchen appliances.

“It is a high-speed blender which you can cook indoors,” says Lepine. “You wish to create a soup in there? It is possible to sweat your onions, add your ingredients, your inventory, cook the entire thing out, and combine it into a puree.” Lepine adds that you don’t even have to be in the area while the Thermomix is working its magic – you can add the components, press a button, walk away, and return to a completed product.

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