How long did it take to film the new series of Food Lab?
About eight months, nine months, it's been a long process. Because we film down here in Tasmania, we wanted to try and capture different parts of the year here, so we started back in autumn last year.
Ben Milbourne’s show Food Lab is about to begin its third season.Credit:SBS
What's so great about Tasmania anyway?
I think if you're in food, it's the best place to be. The closeness to the source is fantastic, being able to go and meet producers and farmers and get really close to the ingredients is really good. It also gives us a beautiful backdrop, great scenery to shoot, like a food and travel show all rolled into one. We do one segment per show out on location, one segment in the studio, and one segment up at the University of Queensland looking at the science of food.
From a young age, I was interested in food from the perspective of eating it. How did you become passionate about the other side, the production side of food?
There are two kinds of people: people who like food just for the outcome, and people who derive enjoyment from the process of making it. There's something quite Zen-like in preparing food for other people, that slows my mind down and calms me and relaxes me. Those are the things that I didn't discover until I went to uni and moved out of home – I just ate because I loved eating. When I got to uni I had to cook for myself and I discovered that there was more to this, you have to prepare the food, and preparing the food is enjoyable too. It grew from there, and the more you learn about food, the more you unpack it. The universe was built on 200 elements – there are more than 200 ingredients in the world, so when you think about what you can create in the kitchen, the universe was created with less.
Is cooking an art?
I think it's part art, part science. It's trying to find the marriage between those two that takes food to the next level. Every time you cook, you're conducting a scientific experiment of some kind. The scientific process is a hypothesis followed by an experiment followed by a conclusion: food is that. You have a hypothesis: I want to make this and I think I'll enjoy it. Go through the experiment and at the end you find out if it's good or bad. But there's an art component in thinking about what's going to go well together, how do I get the most out of it.
Your partner on the show, Dr Joel Gilmore, is an actual scientist. How did you come across him?
In the first season we went to the University of Queensland and did some pre-interviews with some researchers, to see what they were working on, how they came across on camera. Joel was just a standout. He was so good, and such an infectious character, and knew so much about science and food – he loves food, he's a foodie – and he could answer every question we had. So we decided to put him in a co-host role and make him the go-to guy for whenever there's a question about food I can't answer.
Is there a lot you've learnt on the show that you didn't know before?
There's a lot that's been solidified – I kind of knew from my own science background, I did an applied science degree at the University of Queensland. But a lot of things were solidified for me, and then there were things I didn't even comprehend about how microwaves work, what space smells like – apparently it smells like burnt marshmallows.
How do microwaves work?
The frequency inside your microwave is set to the frequency of water – so when you push the button, as long as the food has moisture in it, the polar opposites within the water will ping back and forth and that creates surface friction, which creates heat, heating up the water and heating up the food.
Will watching Food Lab season 3 make me a better cook?
I hope so. What we try to do is create more inquisitive individuals in our society, and if we can do that through something they do day in and day out like food, that's fantastic. The premise of the show was let's try to link education and an inquisitive nature to something people do day in and day out so they look at the world in a more analytical and inquisitive way. If they do that, we've done what we set out to do.
Food Lab by Ben Milbourne (season 3) premieres on SBS Food, Monday (March 18) at 5pm.
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