Column Date 2006-02-06

Gourmets in Space

The French are at it again.

Just when we think we’ve won the battle for the world’s hearts and minds, when we see American-style capitalism sweeping the planet, along come the French with a contrary idea.

What have they done now?

Well, as you may know, the European Space Agency (ESA) has been launching more and more things into space – global positioning satellites, astronauts, supplies for the space station, etc.

But rather than just go along and copy everything NASA does, they march to a different drummer: the Europeans have just hired famed French Chef Alain Ducasse to help create space food for astronauts.

That’s right – no more squeezing protein from a tube, or sucking up government-issued energy drinks.

Alain Ducasse’s chefs will create a special menu for Europe's astronauts aimed at raising their spirits as well as nourishing their bodies. His challenge is not only to help astronauts on long-term missions to survive up to 1,000 days in space (on a trip to Mars, for instance) but to survive in a gastronomically happy, three-star Michelin kind of way.

The French may have lost a lot of their economic and political clout in the past few years, but their egos haven’t shrunk a bit. They still believe, deep down in their hearts, that anybody who doesn’t think French cooking is the finest on the planet is psychologically disturbed.

Ducasse and his chefs are focusing on eight or nine primary ingredients, including some (onions, potatoes, rice, lettuce and spinach) which could be grown aboard a spacecraft, saving on storage space for the journey.

They say the whole culinary concept is to serve meals that remind astronauts of home. And, knowing the French, they will probably pull it off.

In which case, we had better get ready for a whole new kind of space communication. No longer will we hear those short, concise bursts of official NASA chatter we are used to:

“Roger, Houston. The GF-45-17 valve is now good to go.”

“We copy and have shifted to the downlink frequency.”

Instead, we expect to hear Euro-Astronauts talking in a whole different way, about things crucial to their mission’s success:

“Attention, flight controllers. We are turning this spacecraft around and returning to earth immediately. The Roquefort cheese you have provided is overripe and completely unacceptable.”

“Marcel, we cannot find the hollandaise for the asparagus. Where do you think those idiots could have stored it?”

“Space Station to Mission Control: the French astronauts are complaining that ESA Rule 32.2(b) forbidding wine with meals is culturally insensitive and discriminatory. They have gone on strike. Please advise.”

And when US astronauts and French astronauts have dinner together on the International Space Station, anything can happen:

“Chuck, what is this lump of brown stuff on my bread?”

“They call it ‘fwa gra,’ Clint. Keep smiling as you eat it. You don’t want to insult these people.”

“Jacques, what is this lump of brown stuff on my bread?”

“They call it a ‘Beeg Mac,’ Henri. Keep smiling as you eat it. You don’t want to insult these people.”

Bon appetit!