In Spain, the fourth Science & World Congress (SCWC) is currently taking place in Barcelona over three days in November. The focus of the congress is to explore the connection between food and science, with discussions led by renowned scientists, food researchers, cultural heritage experts, and chefs. This year, the congress centers around the theme of "Tradition & Innovation," highlighting traditional cooking techniques and food preparation methods as inspiration for the future, as well as introducing new techniques and inventions. By engaging in round-table discussions, presenters and delegates aim to uncover lessons that can be learned from diverse food traditions worldwide, fostering global communication and collaboration.
The University of Barcelona has been spearheading research on the connection between food and science in Spain. For years, scientists from the university have collaborated with Spanish chefs to develop innovative techniques and methods, such as spherification and foam creation using siphons. Through these collaborations, unconventional kitchen equipment like syringes and tweezers, now commonplace in the culinary world, were introduced. Leading the way in this culinary revolution is Ferran Adrià, a pioneering chef renowned for his groundbreaking dishes. These dishes often feature intensely flavored liquids encapsulated in gel capsules resembling caviar beads or playful marbles, along with foams that float on plates filled with unexpected flavors. In this endeavor, chemist Pere Castells from the Department of Chemistry at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona plays a crucial role, working alongside the Adrià brothers to create each dish and idea. Castells has also collaborated extensively with the famous "Bulli" restaurant, infusing scientific principles into its kitchen. Originally a small mini-golf eatery, El Bulli transformed into a hub of innovative gastronomy under Castell's scientific contributions. In 2013, the Somerset House in London showcased the restaurant's mission and story in a major exhibition. Despite closing in 2011, the El Bulli Foundation was established to continue the restaurant's legacy, serving as a center for culinary creativity.
Pere Castells remains dedicated to bridging the gap between food and science, recognizing the significant role science plays in pushing culinary boundaries. In 2019, just before the pandemic, he initiated the SCWC Science & Cooking World Congress. The congress invites contributions from renowned scientists worldwide, including Harold McGee and Pia Sõrensen, who leads Harvard University's Science & Cooking program, as well as David Weitz, who joined the group this year. Furthermore, researchers such as Mariana Koppmann, Heinz Wuth, Florence Egal, and Davide Cassi bring their expertise and ideas to share with chefs from around the globe. Ultimately, the congress serves as a gathering for scientists who specialize in food and food production, offering a platform for innovation and collaboration.In 2021, I had the honor of being invited to attend the congress for the second time, thanks to chef Pere Planaguma, our mutual friend. The congress, which is a gathering of passionate scientists and food enthusiasts, has allowed me to represent Türkiye as a delegate for three consecutive years now. This year, esteemed Türkish chefs Maksut Aşkar and Gökmen Sözen were also in attendance, enriching the culinary presence.
During my initial participation, I introduced the gypsophila root, an ingredient not widely known outside of Türkish cuisine but plays a significant role in tahini halwa and traditional sweets. It served as a vegan and natural alternative that garnered attention and curiosity. The following year, we organized a panel on garum, a famous Roman fish sauce, featuring Harold McGee and Spanish chefs Pere Planaguma and Ricard Camarena. The discussion centered around its revival, reclaiming its historical significance.
This year, I had the opportunity to present on the topic of tarhana, perfectly aligning with the congress's theme of "Innovation." My aim has always been to communicate messages and ideas from the past to the future. I highlighted the various aspects of the tarhana tradition, portraying it as not just an ingredient but a sustainable concept that can be embraced in any kitchen worldwide. The presentation garnered attention, and it was during this time that I met César Vega, a renowned food scientist from Mexico, who was familiar with tarhana. It turned out that his Turkish housemate had comforted him with tarhana soup, sent by his mother, after a breakup in Mexico. This unexpected connection led to the sharing of tarhana samples, fostering a bond between food scientists working on tarhana.
In addition to the enlightening discussions and presentations, the congress also presents the prestigious Sferic Award. This year, the award was presented to Disfrutar, the second-best restaurant on the World's 50 Best list. Founded by Mateu Casañas, Oriol Castro, and Eduard Xatruch, three former members of the renowned El Bulli team, Disfrutar draws inspiration from their visits to Türkiye. Their visits have left a lasting impact on their culinary creations, including the inclusion of a walnut cracker from Antep in their classic tasting menu. This acknowledgment further solidifies the intersection between food and science, celebrating the contributions and potential of chefs in this field.