Turning food into edible clouds:
-By Marie-Ève Venne
The first thing we learn as kids is not to play with our food. It is one of those absolute rules that we need to follow and beware of those who disobey. Thankfully, some children grow up without fully repressing their creative expression. Such is the case for Irwin Adam, founder of the Future Food Studio, where he works to redefine the food experience with large food and beverage clients, hospitality groups, and emerging food concepts.
He’s worked with companies from Kraft to Campbell and General Mills to Stella Artois on everything from flavour trends and eating habits to large-scale public exhibits. He even currently holds a Guinness World Record for the world’s most layered sandwich, something that doesn’t come as much of a surprise when you learn a little bit more about Future Food Studio. In the one-of-a-kind laboratory, projects can range from developing new experiential retail concepts in China to studying the physics of grain milling. The objectives are always to create unique products and experiences which are grounded in science and research; as much as they pursue creative practices, their experimentation has always evolved from scientific study.
The question is, how does someone with a master’s degree in chemical engineering and a PhD in biomedical engineering end up working in the food industry?
Coming from a Georgian background, food has always been at the centre of what Irwin Adam does in his family, as a way of continuing a cultural memory. With a mother in design and an engineer father, he grew up in a home where connections between art and science were naturally made, something that later become fundamental to the development of his career.
“As I was progressing through my academic career as an engineer, I was continually working on food-related passion projects on the side. As those became more and more involved, I realized that I wouldn’t be able to afford to bring them to life solely on a graduate student stipend and started to look for new ways to support these projects. That eventually lead a good friend and mentor to bring me onto a consulting project with a major global beverage brand, and it’s there that I realized that my hobby could become my career.”
He now spends most of his days doing research, whether it’s reading scientific literature, meeting with farmers, hunting down new tech in Silicon Valley, or going to experimental art exhibitions.
“By seeking out and exploring everything being created in the world, we are able to define signals in the environment that signal future trends. As a food futurist, it’s my role to understand [how] the impact of today’s signals will translate into a tomorrow of eating. My inspirations come from experience – books, music, art, travel, science. Often ideas and concepts appear in the middle of the night, and I quickly run to my drawing board and sketch them out or write them down.”
Generally, the arc for any of his projects begins with research and understanding the world of the problem that Future Food Studio is searching to resolve. That can include anything from travelling the world for insight to building electronic prototypes in the studio. Once they’ve explored the space, they begin by stretching their concepts beyond reality, envisioning a world that isn’t constrained by the laws of physics or technologies that currently exist. This process allows them to understand the complete plane of possibility, which they then pair back in order to create a concept that is executable but also pushes the boundaries of how we understand the world around us.
“In my work, I’m envisioning a world that does not yet exist and creating for it. We are at an inflection point in food today where individuals are realizing both the impact of what they consume on themselves and, for the first time, that their choices are impacting the world around them. Every contributor to food, whether the consumer or the chef, farmer or manufacturer, is playing a role that will determine the future of life on this planet.”
He goes on to say, “I also strongly believe that flexitarian diets are the future. The diversification in protein consumption happening in the average diet today is going to transform how we live on Earth moving forward. The link between diet and global climate change is incredibly apparent, as agriculture is one of the leading causes of greenhouse gas production.”
With so many technological transformations happening in food today, artificial intelligence is starting to create new recipes that can include everything from personal preferences to sustainability. Robots and drones are taking over farms to make up for the labor shortages we have in agriculture. Cellular agriculture is positioned to lead the way to a world of animal-free milk and dairy.
“I’m very much looking forward to the further developments of augmented reality [AR], embedded micro-technologies, [and] artificial intelligence. AR will completely transform how we experience and engage with our physical environments, inevitably transforming how we experience food and drink. Embedded micro-technologies will empower us to make physiologically relevant decisions when we consume, giving individuals greater power and control over what they consume and why they consume. Artificial intelligence [AI] has the ability to open a completely new world of food experience to us by making connections that have not been possible [with] the human mind. The world that AI will soon present us with is completely unimaginable.”
Discover the Future Food Studio at http://www.futurefoodstudio.com/. Curious to experience firsthand what it’s all about? You’ll be happy to know that Bevlab, the public annex of their studio, offers workshops where you can explore food thought and culture with individuals and corporations alike. Visit http://www.bevlab.co/ for more information.