The Flavor Matrix: The Art and Science of Pairing Common Ingredients to Create Extraordinary Dishes

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One of Smithsonian Magazine's Ten Best Food Books of the Year

A revolutionary new guide to pairing ingredients, based on a famous chef's groundbreaking research into the chemical basis of flavor


As an instructor at one of the world’s top culinary schools, James Briscione thought he knew how to mix and match ingredients. Then he met IBM Watson. Working with the supercomputer to turn big data into delicious recipes, Briscione realized that he (like most chefs) knew next to nothing about why different foods taste good together. That epiphany launched him on a quest to understand the molecular basis of flavor—and it led, in time, to The Flavor Matrix.

A groundbreaking ingredient-pairing guide, The Flavor Matrix shows how science can unlock unheard-of possibilities for combining foods into astonishingly inventive dishes. Briscione distills chemical analyses of different ingredients into easy-to-use infographics, and presents mind-blowing recipes that he's created with them. The result of intensive research and incredible creativity in the kitchen, The Flavor Matrix is a must-have for home cooks and professional chefs alike: the only flavor-pairing manual anyone will ever need.


From the Publisher

James Briscione Explains The Flavor Matrix

What is The Flavor Matrix?

The Flavor Matrix is an innovative new guide to understanding flavor, ingredient pairing and cooking. It’s based on 58 unique matrices which create a unique visual representation of flavor for given ingredients or ingredient categories. Each flavor matrix will help readers better understand flavor in common foods, but how it is constructed and how pair flavors with that ingredient.

What inspired the concept of The Flavor Matrix?

Six years ago, at The Institute of Culinary Education (ICE) in NYC, a team from IBM came to ICE with the idea that their Watson technology could help people be more creative. They specific wanted to test a new system that could help Chefs create. I was a skeptical but willing subject. I spent the next four years working with the Watson team to help shape IBM’s Chef Watson. One of the things that Watson helped to reveal was the critical role aromatic compounds (the chemical structures in food) played in both creating flavor and influencing which ingredients paired well together. One I began to understand this ‘chemistry of flavor’ I was fascinated and wanted to explore it further.

How did you analyze the chemical makeup of ingredients in order to discover compatibility?

Examining the the individual compounds responsible for flavor in food was the first step in our research. I relied heavily on the Volatile Compounds in Food (VCF) database which compiles and creates an index of the known compounds in foods. It’s an incredible complex process- something as small as a strawberry has over 400 unique compounds that are responsible for its flavor.

We then had to go through the database to compare ingredients. Finding out the number of compounds two ingredients shared would indicate how strong of a pairing those ingredients would be. This process required over 4000 separate calculations (by hand) to collect the data that would ultimately be translated into the matrices.

What were some of the most surprising flavor pairings you discovered?

– Strawberry and Mushroom.

– Blueberry and Horseradish.

– Clam and Melon.

– Tomato and Coconut.

– Coffee and Carrot.

– Avocado and Cocoa.

What are some of your favorite recipes from The Flavor Matrix?

I loved it when we stumbled upon a pairing that was truly unique and could be fit into a familiar setting, I think the chicken and mushroom burger with strawberry ketchup is the best example of this. Other favorite include chocolate mousse with beet meringue and sweet pea, pork and coconut tacos.

Egg

Egg whites are composed of about 90 percent water, 10 percent protein, and trace amounts of fat and nutrients, while egg yolks contain a variety of unsaturated and saturated fatty acids and a range of vitamins and minerals. The hue of the egg yolk is determined by its concentration of lutein, a carotenoid derived from the laying hen’s diet. The color of an egg’s shell is determined solely by the breed of the animal that produces it. When raw, eggs have little or no flavor, but when they are cooked they release sulfur compounds, which gives them their distinctive flavor. The longer eggs are cooked, the more sulfur compounds they release—which is why hard-boiled eggs (which are usually cooked for too long at a too-high temperature) can have such a strong sulfur odor.

– Best Pairings:

Citrus, cream, cheese, mushroom, truffle, beef, chicken, roasted/smoked meats, seafood, asparagus.

– Surprise Pairings:

Vanilla, carrot, rhubarb.

– Substitutes:

Mayonnaise, vegetable purées, cream, butter; in baking: applesauce.

Sugar Syrup

Cane syrup is produced from freshly pressed sugar cane juice that has been boiled so water evaporates and sugar caramelizes. In this cooking process, the syrup develops deep, roasted notes. As the syrup undergoes successive boilings, it becomes darker, eventually developing the slightly sulfurous and bitter flavor characteristic of blackstrap molasses. Maple syrup is the result of a similar production process: The sap of maple trees is carefully boiled to evaporate water, but the boil is stopped before any caramelization occurs. Similar syrups are made from juiced sorghum (sorghum syrup), date palm sap (palm syrup/sugar), and coconut sap (coconut syrup/sugar). These syrups can be used as a more flavorful alternative to plain sugar or corn syrup.

– Main Subtypes:

Cane syrup, molasses, sorghum syrup, maple syrup.

– Best Pairings:

Port wine, tamarind, sherry vinegar, apple, grain, orange.

– Surprise Pairings:

Garlic, fish, olive.

– Substitutes:

Any syrup may be substituted for another.

The Flavor Matrix: The Art and Science of Pairing Common Ingredients to Create Extraordinary Dishes
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