Behind the sleek marble interior of Café ArtScience in Cambridge is a laboratory-inspired space with a team dedicated to experimentation and the future of food.
In 2014, Harvard University engineering professor David Edwards opened Café ArtScience, which offers a unique set of sensory experiences that focuses on the future of food consumption as well as consumerism.
“[In Café ArtScience] there’s a dialogue between the staff and the clientele, between the culinary art and the future of food science,” Edwards said.
Prior to the roll out of his company Sensory Cloud’s signature product, the Nimbus, Edwards had studied the science of olfaction, which relates one’s sense of smell to one’s sense of taste, for decades.
The Nimbus is a small, black hourglass that holds a liquid in its base compartment. When tipped upside down, the device releases droplets of about six microns in size, which when inhaled, causes the brain and body to respond as if the vapor were being consumed.
Scent is the only human sense with direct access to the brain, according to Sensory Cloud’s website. The integration of the Nimbus in Café ArtScience’s food and drinks uses this to its advantage by seeking to heighten one’s sensory experience of the meal.
“[The Nimbus is] really going to have a big impact on how we eat,” Edwards said.
On display at the front of the restaurant is the Le Whaf and its commercial counterpart, the Carafe. These innovations are larger instruments that work like the Nimbus to create a cloud of vaporized flavor. Edwards said these are seen in restaurants around the world.
At the end of each meal customers receive a breathable form of espresso created by the Nimbus, ArtScience executive chef Benjamin Lacy said.
“[This] allows people to drive home and be awake,” Edwards said, “but also to sleep at night [because] there’s no caffeine in the body.”
Ian Swindlehurst, the bar director at Café ArtScience, said the Nimbus allows people to try new things or add a different experience to their drinks.
“I like to think of the Nimbus as a next level bar tool,” Swindlehurst said.
An important feature that the Nimbus performs is filtering out alcohol and allergens. With the Nimbus, Beverages can be sampled without the consumption of alcohol. Different flavor notes — ranging from vanilla and clove to smoke, kelp and leather — can also be added to drinks to garnish and customize the experience, Swindlehurst said.
Whitney Griffith, 23, of San Francisco, said adding the Nimbus to her drink elevated her experience.
“I inhaled and then drank,” Griffith said. “I tasted the drink before the Nimbus and it made a whole difference.”
Griffith hadn’t known about the innovation and mission at Café ArtScience, but when she learned about it, she was inspired.
“Anything to add variety in terms of options, taste and experiences to food is good,” Griffith said. “I’m sort of tired of the traditional [form of] food.”
In addition to phasing in scents seasonally, Lacy said Café ArtScience develops new dishes based on available local produce, which determines a lot of the menu.
Edwards has a line of products sold in New England called Incredible Foods, where fruit and vegetables are placed in an edible packaging made of plant-based polysaccharides. Edwards likened the small packages to a grape.
Lacy, on the other hand, described these small packages as gum-like textured bites, filled with a natural puree — almost like a gusher.
“[They] provide both flavor experience and work toward sustainability,” Lacy said. “[You get the] natural sweetness of a fruit to complement the savoriness of a vegetable.”
Edwards said these “designer vegetables” will be showing up in some of the dishes at the café in October.
Lacy said he finds his job at Café ArtScience rewarding for the unique twist it gives to food. The cafe strives to take food and turn it into art. However, the second half of the cafe’s title is equally as important.
“Our mantra,” Lacy said, “is that all food is science.”