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SPACE GRUB EXTRAORDINAIRE

“THIS BOEUF BOURGUIGNON is over the moon!” Well, not quite yet, but it is among the offerings to astronauts now joined up at the International Space Station. Kenneth Chang writes in The New York Times, April 22, 2021, “It’s Dinner Time on the Space Station. Lobster or Beef Bourguinon?”

It’s a long way from toothpaste-tube space grub.

 

Salmon completed with a balsamic-vinegar reduction. This Space Station dinner was developed by Alain Ducasse for French astronaut Thomas Pesquet. This and other images from The New York Times, April 22, 2021.

“Here,” Kenneth Chang writes, “are some of the foods that Thomas Pesquet, a French astronaut who launched on a SpaceX rocket to the International Space Station on Friday, will enjoy during his six-month stay in orbit: lobster, beef bourguignon, cod with black rice, potato cakes with wild mushrooms and almond tarts with caramelized pears.” 

Zut alors!

Space Grub in the Old Days. “Space cuisine has come a long way,” Chang says, “since Yuri Gagarin, the Soviet astronaut who in 1961 was the first to reach space, squeezed puréed beef and chocolate sauce from toothpaste-like tubes. The food for John Glenn, who 10 months later became the first American in orbit, was not any tastier. He swallowed some apple sauce.”

Bring on the Pros. Micheliin-starred chef Thierry Marx has teamed up with physical chemistry professor Raphaël Haumont to operate the French Centre of Culinary Innovation. Their challenge is to adopt food preparation to International Space Station conditions.

Raphaël Haumont, left, and Thierry Marx at the French Centre of Culinary Innovation. Image from CFIC/Université Paris-Saclay.

Earth-bound Prep. Much of the food is freeze-dried, after water is extracted to reduce size and volume. Other food is amenable to long-term room-temperature storage: Its preparation here on Earth includes high temperature to kill off any germs.

Also, as a general rule for weightless conditions, crumbly foods are avoided. Their disintegrating bits just float around and could be inhaled by astronauts or jam sensitive equipment. 

Health Foods? The foods are typically low in sodium, sugar, and fat. Astronauts, Chef Marx says, “are high-performance athletes.”

François Adamski, corporate chef of Sevair, which caters for Air France and others, displays a pouch of Crepe Suzette. Image by Servair.

No Space Tippling. Alcohol is prohibited on the International Space Station. However, notes Chang, “Mr. Marx did not leave out the wine from the mushroom sauce accompanying an entree of slow-cooked beef and vegetables. But then the alcohol was extracted through a spinning evaporator without removing the flavor. The sauce was then verified to be alcohol-free via a nuclear magnetic resonance instrument.”

Beef with Porcini Sauce has had its wine’s alcohol extracted. Image by Mathilde de l’Ecotais.

For Special Occasions. Like most of us on Earth, astronauts do not dine this grandly every day. As Chang observes, “Nowadays, astronauts get to share the culinary creations of their countries, and the world’s space agencies are showing that while life in space is hectic, an astronaut should at least be able to enjoy a quality meal now and then.”

The latest four beginning their six months aboard the International Space Station: From the left, Frenchman Thomas Pesquet, NASA’s Megan McArthur and Shane Kimbrough, and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Akihiko Hoshide. Image by John Raoux/AP.

Chang notes, “Mr. Pesquet will not be dining on lobster and beef bourguignon every day. These meticulously prepared dishes are intended for celebrations of special occasions like birthdays, with enough servings for Mr. Pesquet to share.”

Bon appétit! いただきます! ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2021

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