Chefs look for inspiration in many places, like culture and tradition. So why not technology? Jamie Simpson, executive chef liaison at the Culinary Vegetable Institute in Milan, Ohio, leverages computer algorithms on flavor affinities to build the foundation of a recipe—a true blend of culinary and science. This strategy certainly helps chefs look at new possibilities, which is one of the most exciting aspects to culinary innovation.
“What’s fascinating is that the computer program gives you ingredient combinations that you would never consider,” says Simpson. “As a chef, you get to think about food and flavor pairings outside of the usual confines of culture and tradition. It’s the starting point of a fun challenge.”
He recently presented that challenge to attendees at The Culinary Institute of America’s Worlds of Flavor conference in Napa, Calif., explaining the science behind flavor affinities. Using blueberries as the featured ingredient, he explored the flavor affinities found in blueberries as supplied by the Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) database, then broke down the science of these surprising flavors that pair well with the berry.
Once blueberry’s flavor affinities were shared, Simpson and Shirel Berger, chef/owner of Opa in Tel Aviv, Israel, conducted a demo featuring dishes that played off these unique flavors: Blueberry Twice-Baked Potato, Blueberry Granita Wedge Salad, Blueberry & Tomatillo with poblano crème, and Fermented Blueberries with walnuts and a brandy reduction.
BLUEBERRIES. POTATOES. CHEESE.
Unbound by traditions, norms or expectations, Simpson was inspired by a few of the flavor compounds to explore a unique application and pairing with blueberries. “Blueberries and potatoes share some of the same chemical compounds, making them unusual—but good—flavor partners,” he says.
To build a flavor bridge that connected the two ingredients and made the dish more approachable, he turned to Gruyère cheese. “Cheese is a natural with baked potatoes and, from the VOC database, we now know that it works well with blueberries too. So it helped move a flavor affinity into a tangible idea for a dish that is both familiar and surprising,” says Simpson.
Of course, the computer program isn’t a replacement for chefs. Science only goes so far, then artistry comes into play.
For this dish, Simpson hollowed out baby potatoes, flash fried them until crispy, and piped in a citrate cream of Gruyère. He inverted the potatoes and topped them with blueberry salt, made with ground freeze-dried blueberries and sea salt. He dotted the plate with a vibrant blueberry gel, which simply sees a combination of blueberry juice concentrate and agar agar.
Simpson finished the plate with parsley oil and blueberry vinegar. “The vinegar lifts all of the other ingredients with a nice hit of acid,” he says. He makes it with dried blueberries, frozen blueberries, white vinegar and honey, vacuum-sealing it for a few days and agitating it regularly. The vinegar is strained and the now-pickled blueberries can be kept for other applications.
“With this loaded potato, it’s wonderful to see how these flavor affinities come together—you get the crispness of the potato, the creamy, savory flavor of the cheese and that sweet-tart-fresh flavor from the blueberry,” he says.
“The process of discovery in flavor pairings is great for developing strategies around signature flavor combinations.”
For more information on blueberry flavor pairings and inspired menu ideas, visit BlueberryCouncil.org/foodservice.