Two years after leaving Yale, Josh Evans ’12 has switched gears from literature to food science.
Evans is now a lead researcher and project manager of the Nordic Food Lab in Copenhagen, an organization that investigates food and flavors in an attempt to expand the range of foods people use in their own kitchens. On Tuesday, Evans gave a talk in St. Anthony Hall to about 40 members of the Yale community in which he discussed his journey from a Literature major in New Haven to a foodie in Denmark and described the Nordic Food Lab’s mission of introducing innovative ingredients to the general public.
“Sharing gastronomic knowledge is a way of bettering the world,” he said. “Assuming that taste is a right that people should have can be transformative.”
Evans said the Nordic Food Lab aims to bring knowledge about different kinds of food to the masses. The lab, which was founded by René Redzepi — a Danish chef who runs the two-Michelin star restaurant Noma in Copenhagen — experiments with ingredients such as insects, flowers, yeast and bacteria to create new flavors and runs a website for chefs interested in innovative Nordic cuisine.
According to the lab’s philosophy, Evans said the best method of introduction is to concentrate on flavor, rather than simply nourishment. Keeping taste and nutrition in mind, the Nordic Food Lab hopes to introduce foods that promote biodiversity, food security, ecological resilience and sustainability, he said.
“People are starting to see algae not just as a food source, but as a delicacy, something that we should be celebrating,” he said.
However, Evans acknowledged that it is difficult to change the way that people perceive certain types of food because pre-existing cultural biases limit one’s ability to view these foods as desirable.
Evans tried to ensure the audience could experience this phenomenon first hand. He passed around two different food samples for the audience to try: a grasshopper garum — a savory sauce made with grasshoppers, barley, beetle larvae and salt — and an elder vinegar made from fermented elderflower wine.
After the audience tried the grasshopper garum, Evans asked if everyone who disliked it would raise their hands. Only a few hands shot up, and he questioned one student as to why she did not like it.
Her reason was not, as he had feared, a dislike of bugs — rather, she said she was “not a big soy sauce fan.” Evans commended her on this answer, saying that he had heard the former too often.
Though Evans said people’s ability to branch out and try new delicacies is severely curtailed by time and resources, he nevertheless remains hopeful about broadening the public’s palate. The process of introducing new foods to a society is something that takes a lot of time, he said.
Evans said that one method of introducing new flavors is to transform the concept of leftovers from disposed of parts of a meal into something delicious.
“By pursuing things that are a bit more difficult, we end up exposing ourselves to a wider diversity of food than we would have otherwise,” he said.
Evans said his motivation for entering the food industry was wrapped up in his motivation for coming to Yale. When initially considering attending the University, he said he was intrigued by Yale’s Sustainable Food Project — an initiative that runs two farms close to campus and organizes food-related courses and events.
“For me, it always goes back to loving eating,” he said.
Audience members interviewed — some of whom said they were involved with food initiatives at Yale — responded positively to the event.
Sarah Strong ’16 said she appreciated hearing Evans talk about getting a job in the food industry, adding that the tasting was surprisingly delicious.
“I think that food is really rooted in tradition,” Madeleine Marino ’15 said. “[That’s] important, but in the super changing environment, we’re going to need to be innovative, and I was really happy to see how open he was to new ideas in food.”
The Nordic Food Lab was founded in 2008.
A previous version of this article incorrectly attributed a quotation to an individual not interviewed.