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By sampling molecules (which look like Pop Rocks candy and smell intensely of their source) and learning the chemical connections between them, Blumenthal was freed to go off on the creative jags he calls "flavor pairings." White chocolate and caviar, foie gras and jasmine, asparagus and licorice all have molecular commonalities that keep them from clashing and, when properly paired, can lead to electric new tastes. Any food scientist knows that mustard and red cabbage contain mustard oil, but it was Blumenthal who put in the endless hours that led to Pommery-mustard ice cream in red-cabbage gazpacho.
Blumenthal now has an impressively stocked lab across the street from the Fat Duck, and he recently got a $25,000-a-year grant, for three years, from Britain's Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council to hire a doctoral student who will help him fine-tune the development of a crispy cocktail and explore the nascent area of flavor perception. "Eating isn't just taste, it's all the senses," he says. "Blindfold knowledgeable wine drinkers, and a majority can't say if they're drinking red or white, so sight matters. Sound--the crunch of a carrot--affects your expectations. What happens if you bite into a banana and hear the sound of a carrot?" he asks. If Blumenthal prepared the banana, it would probably be out of this world.