In Kyoto, Japan, the country’s chefs are donning white lab coats to join scientists in conducting culinary experiments that aim to perfect washoku — the art of traditional Japanese cooking that was deemed a part of the country’s “intangible cultural heritage” by UNESCO.
According to a profile in The Washington Post, a team of nine chefs and three scientists have taken over the Japanese Cuisine Laboratory at Kyoto University’s school of agriculture, spending six months at a time on tasks like steaming abalone, “changing the temperature in tiny increments,” and the process of coagulation. Currently, the chefs are working on “the time it takes for your tongue to fully register the flavor of a food.”
For some, the idea of adding such in-depth research to the ancient culinary art is somewhat troublesome; culinary techniques and secrets are traditionally passed by mimicry, not written recipes or even spoken instruction.
For Motokazu Nakamura, whose family owns a three-Michelin-starred restaurant, inviting science into washoku has been slow, but rewarding.
“Chefs cook and provide something for people to enjoy,” he told The Washington Post. “For that, we need to use our imagination. That would have been unheard of for our ancestors.”
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Karen Lo is an associate editor at The Daily Meal. Follow her on Twitter @appleplexy.