Roscoff potato and onion cake with truffles, lobster with quinoa and citrus vinaigrette, beef simmered for 7 hours with mushroom sauce, almond tart with caramelized pears and ‘crepes suzette’. These are some of the dishes on the ‘gourmand’ menu that astronauts on the International Space Station have been salivating about for a long time.
They will be led, of course, by a French astronaut. His name is Thomas Pesquet: an aerospace engineer, pilot, judo black belt and saxophonist who departed yesterday for the International Space Station with the Deliveroo backpack and who does not know how to cook. This is what multi-star chefs like Alain Ducasse and Thierry Marx do. What have u preparedA series of dishes for astronauts to enjoy on celebrations and special occasions.
The food of the astronauts has improved a lot from the first space travel. From the tubes of meat paste or applesauce we have gone to dishes more similar to what we eat here.
On the International Space Station there are ready-to-eat foods such as ‘brownies’ and some piece of fruit, although very little because in space it only lasts fresh for a couple of days. There is also dehydrated food like paste the meat upholstery to which you have to add hot water to hydrate them and that they can be eaten and cans.
And no bread or wine. This is probably sacrilege for a Frenchman, it certainly is for a Spaniard, but the crumbs would stay flying and there is no way to vent in space. If they want to dip bread, they have to do it with Mexican tortillas. And if they have had a hard day at work, they will not be able to release tension by having a drink, in the space it is not allowed to drink alcohol.
Preparing a menu of the size that Pesquet carries in his spatial lunch box has nothing to do with doing it in a professional kitchen like the one a Martín Berasategui might have. In space things do not act as they do here on Earth. The oven does not work, lighting a fire on the International Space Station could end in disaster and nothing can be skipped because the pieces of food would end up floating all over the ship.
Culinary knowledge and common techniques are not enough. In fact, in addition to cooks, the teams that prepare space food also have scientists who make sure that the dishes can withstand the conditions of space well.
The Michelin star chef Thierry Marx and Raphaël Haumont, physicist-chemist and professor at the Paris-Saclay University, have prepared part of the dishes that make up this menu. According to them, when designing it, they have always had in mind the goal of creating recipes that combine pleasure, well-being and health.
“We focus on recipes low in sugar and as few ingredients as possible. This was a new challenge, ”says Marx. “To make the almond cake without sucrose, we had to work the texture of the pear pectin to provide a natural sweetness and a gelling agent.”
The experts had to study different methods thoroughly and do a lot of testing to optimize heat treatment without losing flavor or texture in food. It took weeks to find the best products and the most suitable cooking times so that the food is preserved optimally and with the necessary requirements to fly into space.
“Creating a classic wine sauce without alcohol is a long process. You have to extract the ethanol with a rotary evaporator. The sauce is then analyzed to verify the absence of alcohol,” says Professor Haumont.
Still, these efforts are often unrewarded. “At first we were trying to make a ‘croissant’,” he explains to New York Times Alain Maillet, a scientist at the French space agency who works with Alain Ducasse. “It wasn’t working at all,” Maillet said. “It was not possible to put a ‘croissant’ in a can and have it heat stabilized.”
Ducasse, apart from having a hospitality empire with several restaurants totaling 21 Michelin stars, has been working with the French Space Agency since 2007. With them he has successfully created more than 40 dishes including vegetarian and gluten-free menus.
Mr. Ducasse and Mr. Marx will not receive a Michelin star for their work on the International Space Station because the guide inspector cannot arrive with his Renault Espace, but surely the astronauts will be more than grateful for their service to address.