Big Data, tastefully done

Negative food pairing


Take 2543 recipes from 8 subcuisines.

Use 194 unique ingredients drawn from 15 unique categories.

Connect the dots.

Oh frabjous day. A friend of mine, Sandee Weiner, shared an article with me, taken from

That in turn pointed to this piece of research Spices Form the Basis of Food Pairing in Indian Cuisine.

As I read it, I felt hungry. [Reading about food makes me hungry. Writing about food makes me hungry. Thinking about food makes me hungry. So, not surprisingly, I’m often hungry].

Then, as I finished reading it, I felt satisfied. Gently, pleasingly so. A bit bemused, as should be the case after every good meal. [It goes with being taken on a voyage of discovery through the world of spices]. But satisfied I was.

Part of that satisfaction lay in a distant sense of feeling vindicated. [And here I start treading on dangerous ground]. It’s to do with molecular gastronomy. When I first heard about it, I was boringly fascinated. It was so obvious, why hadn’t it been done before? It must have been done before, why hadn’t I seen it in action before?  You know what I mean.

Once I could afford it, and once I had manufactured sufficient reason, I went to the Fat Duck, in the mid 1990s. And a few other places around the world, particularly in Europe, where the chefs thought similarly.

And I loved some dishes; hated others. Overall I wasn’t amused.

Years later I found myself in an odd place. I had no interest in going to The Fat Duck, even though it was very close to home. I far preferred going to the Hind’s Head Hotel, a stone’s throw from there. Or the Crown, two stones’ throw in the other direction. The strange thing was that all three were Heston Blumenthal properties.

This unease with molecular gastronomy stayed with me. I couldn’t quite articulate why I felt that way. It was something along the lines of “I experience food with all my senses,  in some primitive variant of synaesthesia. The proponents of molecular gastronomy, most of the time, seem to create dishes that titillate only some of those senses.”

It didn’t stop me eating in the handful of restaurants when called to, and I found ways to enjoy the dishes on offer, but they never quite transported me.

It was in that state of mind that I started discovering food pairing, the next big thing from the molecular gastronomy stable. And it didn’t have any real appeal for me. I was left totally unmoved, as I was when I had my first haggis, from a MacSween’s in Bruntsfield in 1980. [It was to become an incredible experience soon after; when I passed by there a few days later, I was asked what I thought of my first haggis. I told them “bland, tasteless, can’t see what you see in it”. I wasn’t to know that I was speaking to a MacSween, who took it as a challenge and proceeded  to make me a “curried” haggis a day later. And it was heavenly].

My confusion with food pairing was based on an instinct where I looked for diversity in ingredients, yet with some tacit rules about combination. Those rules were important to me. My gut feel was that flavours were constructed the way musical chords were constructed. A set of distinct notes selected with some clear understanding of what went with what; lots of variations possible, yet with a clear underlying philosophy.

And so, when I read the article this post is about, I felt vindicated. More to follow, what do you think?

One thought on “Big Data, tastefully done”

  1. Are you inferring you’ve been to El Bulli? Good?

    I was put off the Fat Duck because of the amount of drink plied on the customers. But the Hind’s Head was fine. And of course the Riverside in Monkey Island is very pleasant.

    I see why you like living West side.

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