Rocket salad, anyone? Leading chef revamps astronaut menu

Not content with his nine Michelin stars, the French chef Alain Ducasse has turned his attention to the cosmos. He and his team have developed 15 new recipes for astronauts, which were launched into space this week aboard the Russian spacecraft Progress.

Rather than tucking into rehydrated chicken soup, thermostabilised mushrooms or dried peaches aboard the International Space Station, the German astronaut Thomas Reiter will be able to choose from such delicacies as Riviera-style swordfish steak, preserved duck breast with a caper condiment or roasted quails in a Madeiran wine sauce. Mr Reiter was chosen to be the first to test the experimental recipes.

The idea of spicing up astronauts' daily rations came from Richard Filippi, a chef and teacher at the Lycée hôtelier de Souillac in the Lot region of France. The dishes he created received unanimous praise from the Russians, Americans and French who sampled them. The CNES (French National Centre for Space Studies) wished to take the project further, and it was entrusted to M. Ducasse and his team.

The project aims to put the enjoyment back into eating, making the meals taste "more like good food cooked on Earth" rather than simply a necessary source of nutrition, while still complying with the stringent hygiene and nutrition requirements of space. To develop the dishes, M. Ducasse said, "the first step was to understand the constraints on astronauts living in confinement". A visit to the training centre in Cologne provided him, he said, with "valuable insight into food and nutrition issues on the International Space Station: zero bacteria, very low humidity and so on."

After the Institute for Biomedical Problems and the Moscow Food Institute had certified the recipes as suitable for consumption on the space station, they were created in a laboratory in the Basque country.

The meals were tested under extreme conditions when Prince Albert of Monaco and his team undertook a four-day expedition to the North Pole in April.

The gourmet meals will not replace the current rations provided by the Russians and Americans. Instead they will serve as a "morale boost" for crew members, and have been christened SEMs, or Special Event Meals.

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