Professor Nicholas Kurti was one of many remarkable East European physicists who achieved pioneering scientific advancements in the 20th Century. However, what makes Kurti unique is that his work not only impacted the scientific community, but also revolutionised modern culinary practices. Kurti applied his scientific principles to culinary techniques and has established himself as the founding father of modern molecular cooking.
It all started when, in 1956, Kurti and his associate Professor Simon constructed alaboratory experiment which successfully reached the temperature of one microkelvin. Soon Kurti's nuclear cooling experiments attracted worldwide attention. In 1960 he performed a successful millionth-of-a-degree cooling experiment live on national television on Tomorrow's World. By this stage of his academic career, Kurti had solidified his prominence as one of the world's leading physicists.
The physicist in the kitchen
Yet Kurti’s extraordinary inventions did not stop there. Instead, he combined his two passions in life; physics and cooking, and introduced the world to the wonders of 'Molecular Gastronomy'. In 1969, Kurti magnificently presented his revolutionary culinary principles in a talk at the Royal Society. During his talk entitled 'The physicist in the kitchen', Kurti amazed his audience by using the innovative new invention of the microwave oven to make a 'reverse Baked Alaska'. He named his creation the 'Frozen Florida', and successfully created a culinary delicacy which was cold on the outside and hot on the inside. Additionally, he unveiled how to make meringue in a vacuum chamber and how to cook sausages by connecting them to a car battery. These groundbreaking approaches to cooking generated immense public interest and led to Kurti organizing several international workshops in Erice, Italy on "Molecular and Physical Gastronomy".
Kurti's success was driven onwards by his pasion for his culinary experiments and their relations to scientific principles, stating famously that;
"The discovery of a new dish could be just as rewarding intellectually and just as beneficial to mankind as the discovery of a new inter-atomic force, or of a new low temperature phenomenon, or a new elementary particle, or of a new star".
His work has since inspired generations of chefs to incorporate scientific elements into their cooking. These include the use of carbon dioxide in making foams, implementing liquid nitrogen to flash freeze food and even using ultrasound to attain more precise cooking times. Kurti's experimental nature has inspired other chefs to combine unusual food flavourings, a trend which has permeated into both everyday supermarkets and Michelin star restaurants. Chilli chocolate anyone?
More recently, Kurti's influence is apparent in the work of British entrepreneur Charlie Francis and his company Lick Me I'm Delicious. Francis has created a new range of glow in the dark ice-cream using jellyfish protein. Ingeniously, the ice cream reacts with the warm pH level of your tongue to create a unique luminous delicacy.
_ “We found this amazing scientist from China who has managed to synthesise the luminescence protein from jellyfish. Naturally we wanted to have a go with some of the stuff, so we ordered some, played around and eventually made [the ice cream]”._
Kurti's scientific and culinary curiosity are mirrored in Francis' work, who is currently working to create new innovative ranges of ice cream, including invisible ice cream as well as the hottest ice cream in the world, infused with the fieriest chillies they can synthesise.
By the time of his death in 1998, Professor Nicholas Kurti's pioneering work had generated worldwide respect and admiration from the public and his peers. His culinary masterpieces incited awe and avid curiosity in their spectators, inspiring a new generation to pursue science and cooking alike. A new era of molecular chefs such as Heston Blumenthal and Charlie Francis continue Kurti's legacy as they push the boundaries of modern cooking techniques. Kurti's legacy shows there is no limit to what can be achieved, both in science and in cooking. With experimentation and perseverance, any concoction can be conjured up to tantalise your taste buds and fascinate your mind.