Meet Hubert Richard

28 Feb 2014


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Hubert Richard

Hubert Richard is Professor Emeritus with ENSIA (Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Industries Agricoles et Alimentaires - Agricultural and Food Industry Institute).
His research focuses on: Flavor chemistry and volatile compositions (spices, essential oils), Carbon dioxide extractions (pepper, vanilla, lilac and rose flowers) and Antioxidants (studies on rosemary and sage).

Where did your interest in flavor chemistry come from ?

In all likelihood, my interest in flavor chemistry started in my childhood.  I was born before the Second World War and my father worked as a civil servant for the authority which managed social services and state-owned hospitals at Les Halles in Paris.  He was the seafood, fruit and vegetable buyer for all Parisian hospitals.  During a time of food shortages, I was very lucky because, not only did I not have to endure rationing, buy I was also able to eat the food cooked by my mother, using top quality ingredients.  Thus, when I was a half-boarder at Henri IV high school, I preferred to skip the lunches which both tasted and smelt somewhat surprising, if not to say repulsive.  Then, when studying engineering, I became interested in the chemistry and composition of food.  This led me to finish my studies in the United States at Davis University in California, where I wrote a thesis on the flavor composition of different varieties of black pepper.  Then, one thing led to another!

What are the most common mistakes when using pepper in cooking ?

The most common mistake is choosing poor quality products.  It is important to note that in cookbooks, recipes don’t demand any particular care, with the only instruction being; “Season with pepper”.  Which pepper?  How?  How much?  A mystery.  Should one choose real pepper?  False pepper?  From where?  In what form:  Corns, ground or powdered?  Most people do not even know where red, black, white, grey or green pepper come from.  To answer your question, I would say that the most common mistake is to think that all peppers are alike.

Do you believe that artificial flavors, which have been used in the food industry for a number of centuries, have had a long-lasting effect on our taste perception and thus our true appreciation of the natural flavor of the untouched product ?

It is correct to say that artificial flavors can become a benchmark for certain consumers, when they only buy that product.  Look at vanilla yogurt for example.  Very few of them are made using only flavors from vanilla beans.  As a result if these yogurts are consumed on a regular basis then the artificial flavor of vanilla will be recorded in ones brain as being vanilla.  From then on, a split vanilla bean will not be evocative of vanilla for the consumer.  Another example would be the “Tagada” strawberry.
This situation is not however irreversible.  The consumer simply needs to change their eating habits and start using real vanilla beans in order to put things right and make their benchmarks much more appropriate. 

Do you have a favorite spice, and if so, why ?

That is a very tricky question because I want to say that I like all spices.  But, if I had to choose two or three spices to take to a desert island, I think I would take Kerala black pepper, allspice and Sri Lankan green cardamom.  Black pepper for its aroma but also for its piquant and hot flavor, allspice because it conjures up an interesting spice mixture:  Pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg and clove, and finally cardamom for its spicy and fresh notes, which are at the same time menthol, camphorated and lemony.  With these three spices, whether alone or mixed, I would be able to vary the flavor of my dishes as much as I wanted

What is the most surprising, or improbable, spice combination you have ever tasted ?  Was it a success ?

In 2013, I was honored to be invited by the University of Quebec, to give a conference on spices, alongside Chef Daniel Trottier from the Montreal Culinary Academy and Ethné and Philippe de Vienne, a couple who travel the world in search of exceptional spices and who sell them through their “spicetrekkers” website.  It was during a lunch at Ethné and Philippe de Vienne’s that I had the opportunity to taste a sample called “chocolate spices”, that is essentially made using chili pepper or Mexican chili from the Oaxaca Valley.  I still have wonderful memories of the extraordinary flavor combination with the perfect balance of chili, spices and cocoa.

In a unique conference on March 27 (6:30pm at Le Cordon Bleu Paris), Hubert Richard will give an overview of different types of pepper and how they are used, in order to better understand their characteristics. Book your seat now.

Institut des Hautes Etudes du Goût, de la Gastronomie et des des Arts de la Table

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