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Every recipe is at its core, a scientific experiment. Carefully chosen chemical compounds are mixed together. Those chemicals are then exposed to stimuli, and some sort of moderation in temperature is added so that the structure of those chemicals is changed. If the experiment works, the result is pleasure. If it fails, the chef takes a different approach and goes back to the drawing board.

In Shola Olunloyo’s kitchen studio there is just such a drawing board. It’s a white board actually, and on it you’re likely to find either notes he’s been taking on his most recent tests and trials, or the thoughts he’s currently working through for future experiments. After more than two decades of work, the board has seen a lot of action, and Shola’s culinary creations stemming from them have made him not only an intuitive chef, but a stand-out documentarian as well.

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A chef and food consultant, Shola owns and runs Studiokitchen, an entity he describes as “a cloud of knowledge in the old concept of the French atelier— in that it’s a space like a think tank, a place where people can invent, share, create, and explore.” When he’s not working in the studio, he is running his consultant business and teaching a class in food science at Drexel University, where he demonstrates to students how chemistry works through the practical application of cooking.

Shola’s approach to his own cooking is flavor focused. Once you have had one of his poached scallops with chamomile gelee, radish and yuzu, or a banana tarte tatin with brie ice cream, it’s hard to remember what life was like before you did. His dishes range from the classics rooted in tradition (think osso bucco) to contemporary flavor combinations and methods (think sashimi with western flavors). It would be enough then, to be content with eating whatever comes out of the gleaming, laboratory-like studio where he dreams up and executes his recipes, but Shola’s artistry extends beyond pure flavor. You don’t just get to eat his food, you get to watch it as it is assembled, and the result is as beautiful as it is delicious.

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Food this good-looking deserves to be archived, but Shola’s interest in food photography began as a means to an end. “It basically became a way for me to remember things that I had worked on, and then what finally led me to really pay attention to the photographs themselves was starting a blog, since there the photographs were able to communicate the ideas behind the food.” He began to bounce his thoughts off of photography friends, who made suggestions for both technique and equipment. (Shola uses a Canon 5D Mark II.) And as his techniques got more technically advanced, the images themselves became more vivid and have evolved into mouthwateringly accurate representations of what you will find on a live plate. “I smile when people refer to me as a photographer,” he says. “Since I really just take pictures of what I do in order to further the evolution of cooking, whether it’s mine or in general.”

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This evolution, in Shola’s particular case, includes a complete embrace of the longstanding science of cooking as well as a reverence for the current and future technology available to pursue his craft. Set beside Studiokitchen’s meticulously organized ingredients, dishware and hand tools, are shelves bearing ultrasonic homogenizers, rotary evaporators, distillers, and the odd centrifuge. Most of these devices come straight from laboratories and tech companies he consults with to develop broader culinary uses for the equipment they make. And in employing these machines, Shola not only finds new uses for them, he photographs the journey as well. “We have to have the proper tools to accomplish our goals,” he says. “And it’s important to balance culinary history with the technology that will move it forward. Some things should not be screwed around with, other things need to advance.” Followers of his blog can experience in exacting detail the evolution of a culinary idea as he documents both the technique and the equipment needed for that advancement.

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Not everyone may get to taste what is invented inside the white walls of chef Shola Olunloyo’s Studiokitchen, but the lucky side effect of his careful, scientific note keeping and visual chronicling is that all of us, from the most classically trained chef to the curious home cook can watch as culinary innovation is separated into its most elemental forms — from the idea distillation process where new recipes are born, to the hands-on repetitive recreation of those methods that are already known, to the vast, experimental enterprise that is the future of food.

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