300 episodes

Investigating every aspect of the food we eat

The Food Programme BBC

    • Food

Investigating every aspect of the food we eat

    The Physicist In the Kitchen

    The Physicist In the Kitchen

    Can a grounding in science help us become better cooks?

    Dan Saladino speaks with chefs Heston Blumenthal, Raymond Blanc, food writers Harold McGee and Niki Segnit to find out what a little chemistry and physics can do for our kitchen skills. Each of these chefs and cooks have been influenced by a lecture delivered to the Royal Institution in 1969 delivered by an Oxford professor of physics, a Hungarian called Nicholas Kurti.

    In his talk, titled, "A Physicist In The Kitchen," Kurti came up with the memorable quote, "I think it is a sad reflection on our civilisation that while we can and do measure the temperature in the atmosphere of Venus, we do not know what goes on inside our soufflés." He believed that food and cooking were such important features of human life they deserved greater attention from science, and that likewise, that cooks should better understand the science that unfolds when we mix, heat and chill ingredients.

    The lecture and the quote inspired chef Raymond Blanc, who in the 1990s made a television series with Nicholas Kurti, and whose own cooking was transformed by working with the physicist. Heston Blumenthal was also inspired. He was among a group of chefs who attended a series of food and science workshops held in Sicily and founded by Kurti. It set him on a voyage of scientific discovery and some of the most experimental cooking seen and tasted in the UK. Dan caught up with Heston as he was researching a new menu for the restaurant Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, at an exhibition at the Ashmolean. New scientific techniques are revealing how people in the ancient city were eating and cooking before Vesuvius erupted. From this research the Dinner team have created a menu featuring ancient varieties of spelt flour served with butter, and crafted to resemble lava rock.

    As well as the role of science in creative restaurant cooking, physics and chemistry have been at the heart of the work of food writers Harold McGee and Niki Segnit (author of The Flavour Thesaurus and Lateral Cooking). They explain how learning about copper ions and flavour molecule can transform a dish.
    To explain who Nicholas Kurti was, Professor of Physics, and Radio 4 presenter Jim Al-Khalili sheds light on Kurti's career and shares his own thoughts on the role of science in the future of our food.

    Presented by Dan Saladino.


    Photograph: Emily Jarrett Photography

    • 28 min
    Yes We Can: What do the tins we eat say about the UK?

    Yes We Can: What do the tins we eat say about the UK?

    Baked beans, tinned pies, corned beef, creamed tomato soup, plum tomatoes, ackee, pineapple chunks and condensed milk.

    Our store cupboards are bursting with tins of food, they provide comfort, cheap family meals, quick lunches and easy dinners. Maybe even a sure stock of ingredients as Brexit edges closer.

    Yet over the years, the UK market is dwindling. Stats show young people are less interested in tinned fruit and fish. And then there's the image problem. Tinned food has a reputation in the UK it's struggling to shake off. Cheap, unhealthy. Fine for those making do with tiny budgets, not if you can afford the fresh equivalents.

    As Madrid born Patrick Martinez found out first hand when he set up a bespoke tinned fish company in Liverpool, we have a funny relationship with tinned food in the UK. A relationship quite unlike our continental neighbours. We deeply love these foods, but we might not admit our affection openly.

    In this programme Sheila Dillon speaks to food writer Jack Monroe about the politics of tinned food and why she thinks we ought to cook and love the tinned foods lurking in our cupboards.

    Presented by Sheila Dillon.
    Produced in Bristol by Clare Salisbury.

    • 28 min
    Pints of progress: The brewers changing attitudes to learning disabilities

    Pints of progress: The brewers changing attitudes to learning disabilities

    Brewer and broadcaster Jaega Wise visits breweries where a progressive approach to employing people with learning disabilities is pouring away preconceptions. Helping tell the story is Michaela Overton, a brewer at Ignition in Sydenham, South London, a brewery founded to create meaningful work for people with learning disabilities, which has gone from glorified homebrew to running two taprooms selling their beers. In this programme, we follow their collaboration with London brewer Gipsy Hill to make a beer as part the Social Brew Collective. Jaega joins in the project teams up with Spotlight Brewing in Goole in East Yorkshire. There she meets Neil, Michael and Kev and Ric who are making beers with names like Undiagnosed and Spectrum to raise awareness of learning disabilities.

    Spotlight and Ignition are a taste of change to come but Jaega finds opportunities like these in the food industry are hard to come by for most people with learning disabilities so she meets Mencap's Natalie Duo to talk about her work training potential employers in the changes they can make to create a more accessible workplace.

    Presenter: Jaega Wise
    Producer: Tom Bonnett

    • 28 min
    Could eating microalgae be the next big thing?

    Could eating microalgae be the next big thing?

    Sheila Dillon enters the murky green and bright blue world of microalgae and cynobacteria to meet the people who believe humble pond scum could be the secret to securing food for the world's growing population. She visits YeoTown Kitchen in West London where Mercedes Sieff serves up a platter of brightly coloured delights and then meets Andrew Spicer, CEO of Algenuity, who is exploring how microalgae could be an egg replacement of the future. Somehow, their conversation leads Sheila to make a green Victoria sponge. Away from the kitchen, Sheila tells the story of Saumil Shah who is growing spirulina on rooftops in Bangkok and Simon Perez who has been inventing hot dogs, crisps and salad dressings from spirulina in Copenhagen. She hears from one of the world's leading algae scientists, Professor Alison Smith, Head of Plant Sciences at the University of Cambridge, and nutritionist Rhiannon Lambert before finding out from Dr Gisela Detrell how microalgae could feed astronauts on missions to Mars.

    Presenter: Sheila Dillon
    Producer: Tom Bonnett
    Photograph: Space10

    • 28 min
    Is The Dinner Party Dead?

    Is The Dinner Party Dead?

    Cast your mind back to the days when as a child you’d be pushed into the backroom with the TV on a Saturday night whilst your parents ‘entertained friends’ in the dining room. Three courses, nibbles. If you were a child of the 70s, prawn cocktails and stroganoff. In the 80s, parents made vol-au-vents and devilled eggs, black forest gateaux slaved over all day. (Course you’d make do with cheese on toast before your mum got changed.)

    Today it doesn’t happen like it used to. Homes are built without dining rooms, that’s if you can afford your own place anyway. We’re too frightened of the elaborate dishes cooked by TV chefs that we prefer to meet up with friends over Sunday roasts or bottomless brunch. Yes we might have people over for food, but it’s shared out in the kitchen, or eaten on knees in-front of the TV. So are we in a post-dinner party era? Or should we invest in a decent table cloth and be proud about entertaining the people we love?

    Leyla Kazim speaks to New Yorker and author of 'Nothing Fancy', Alison Roman who is not mourning the dinner party. Instead, Alison gives her ultimate guide to having friends over for food, complete with a 'washing up' dance party. British podcast host and writer Alexandra Dudley defends the glitz that only comes with a proper party and shares some simple hacks. And best-selling author Josceline Dimbleby describes how the way she cooks for friends has changed since she released her first cookbook in 1976.

    Presented by Leyla Kazim.
    Produced in Bristol by Clare Salisbury.

    • 28 min
    Michel Roux Jr: A Life Through Food

    Michel Roux Jr: A Life Through Food

    Sheila Dillon visits London restaurant Le Gavroche, to speak to renowned chef Michel Roux Jr about food, family and festive inspiration.

    Michel Jr is the second generation of the Roux family to run the Mayfair restaurant, which was started by his father Albert and his uncle Michel. When he took over the kitchen nearly 30 years ago, he fought to put his own stamp on the style – and write the next chapter of the family’s food story.

    Michel kicks off in the kitchen, cooking two dishes that have special importance to him: Soufflé Suissesse, his father’s decadent cheese soufflé creation that diners won’t allow to be taken off the menu; and roast quail with potato fondant and mushrooms, a dish that he loves and often cooks at home for the family.

    Over the course of cooking and eating the meal, Sheila asks Michel about his life, his love of food, his inspirations and drive – as well as the pressure that come with being part of a dining dynasty. They also discuss how he’s dealt with the challenges in his life: from the pay scandal of 2016, when Gavroche employees were found to be earning below minimum wage – to his regret over never quite managing to achieve a work/life balance.

    They’re later joined by Michel’s daughter Emily, who now has her own restaurant in London with her husband Diego Ferrari, and who has a fresh perspective on the industry and how her family have shaped her career.

    The programme also hears from one half of the team who originated this dynasty: Albert Roux shares his take on his son’s success.

    Presented by Sheila Dillon, produced by Lucy Taylor.

    • 41 min

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