The Nose Knows What It Wants

Foodpairing, using science to pair ingredients's Thanksgiving Remix of turkey salad with pumpkin ketchup, pecans, cranberry vinaigrette and cilantro

If you ask co-founder Bernard Lahousse why he started Foodpairing, the progressive Belgian collective that strives to alter and improve upon the way we cook and eat, he won’t regale you with tales of world domination or wanting to "make it big." "Our goal is to help chefs, not to make money," says Lahousse, whose love affair with food intersected with his love of science while earning a master’s degree in bio-engineering and intellectual property rights. Today, more than 1 million chefs, bartenders, food and beverage companies, and ambitious home cooks use Foodpairing technology to help create unusual flavor pairings that might have otherwise escaped them.

So just what is Foodpairing? It all starts with your nose — sense of taste is heavily affected by sense of smell. Utilizing painstakingly detailed aroma data collected by laboratories in Belgium and beyond, the Foodpairing experience is essentially a visual representation of said collected data and the millions of ways each of the thousand or so ingredients listed on the site potentially interact. Using "Foodpairing trees" — matrix-like displays of the various foods that share common aromas with the foods being reviewed — users are able to construct recipes of ingredients that share similar qualities, the ultimate goal being a dish or cocktail that exhibits unusual pairings that surprise and delight diners; Lahousse’s favorite discovery is kiwi and oyster, a pairing that was developed during the company’s initial stages.

Working with partners Johan Langenbick and Michelin-starred chef Peter Coucquyt, Lahousse sees the food landscape changing drastically. "For dish development, starting from a protein is outdated. I’m seeing more vegetable-based creations, with meat playing a supporting role to the vegetable or cast aside altogether," he says. As an example, he points to Eleven Madison Park’s carrot tartare, a recent addition to their revamped menu.

Foodpairing is also attempting to create new ingredients, working with seed banks to develop vegetables with more pronounced flavors or unexpected textures. Unfortunately, things get murky here thanks to Big Agriculture’s stranglehold on the world’s food supply. While the larger agricultural entities produce seeds strong enough to withstand pesticides (the same pesticides they produce that kill unmodified crops), Lahousse’s goal is to develop produce with maximum flavor.

Related Stories
Chef Anthony Martin Blazes Nose-to-Tail TrailsHaute Wheels: Barcelona’s Gourmet Bus

The food world sure has its share of celebrity chefs, but Foodpairing may just be the food world’s first superheroes. They’re certainly moving faster than a speeding bullet.