Taste trippin’ with Funkin Innovation Lab

Jane Ryan

16 July 2018

A food and cocktail flavour odyssey with Crucible’s Ally Kelsey and Michelin-starred chef Nurdin Topham

There’s a pinch of mathematics and a dash of chemistry, but this isn’t school as you know it. For starters, the afternoon starts with welcome cocktails and, despite the rare appearance of the sun outside, there are no truanting students as Crucible’s Ally Kelsey and Michelin-starred chef Nurdin Topham share their wisdom on flavour augmentation for this year’s Funkin Innovation Lab.

Funkin Innovation Champion

Funkin Innovation Lab is a prequel to Funkin Innovation Champion 2018, which takes place on 11 September in Crucible London. To enter, visit Deadline 6 August.


‘It was a top experience – it’s not every day that you get a Michelin-starred chef or the guy who used to run White Lyan explaining what they do and how they do it.’ - Daniel Winters Gonzalez, Milk Thistle, Bristol

‘The lesson on different types of sugars was really handy. I’m very much into my whisky, so learning about the maltose and flavour intensities is definitely something I can use in the future.’ - Matthew Hawksworth, Hideout, Bath

‘I get given specs, I make drinks and I know how they taste, but I’m interested in how they get built – that’s the middle bit that’s missing for me.’ - Kelly Danischewski, Cosy Club, Bath

‘Did you know Dick Bradsell’s first test for aspiring bartenders was to ask them to make a lemonade?’ asks Kelsey to a group of captivated bartenders at Bristol’s Milk Thistle. ‘He was a bit mental, but good mental, and wanted to check they could balance their lemon and sugar.’

Every decent bartender balances their drinks instinctively, Kelsey explains, but the Brix:acid ratio pinpoints the underlying mathematics that make a cocktail tasty. He dishes out Daiquiris of 12:1 and 14:1 acid ratios to illustrate his point. The latter was distinctly sourer, though not unpleasant.

‘Most drinks are made up on these ratios and you can see what a difference that tiny fraction makes to the flavour,’ he says.

‘That’s why using purées­­­­ like Funkin, as well as fruits, is a good way to fine-tune drinks. You get a more consistent flavour and you know what you’re playing with.’

In a bespoke session for Funkin, Topham and Kelsey explain the impact of different types of sugar and acid on the taste buds and how some premium preserved ingredients can help bartender achieve the balanced flavour they are after.

‘You get that hit of sweetness up front with sucrose, and then with citric acid as well, so together that’s a big burst of flavour, but we can augment it further by lengthening the finish with maltose syrup for instance,’ says Kelsey.


With food and drink pairings, Kelsey says, flavours can be enhanced by using ingredients with similar taste profiles or heightened through contrast.

He makes a Banana Smoked Old Fashioned, using Funkin Pro Banana Purée, which Topham pairs with Elvis’ favourite, banana toast with peanut butter.

‘I’m into making food that’s familiar and not too fussy,’ Topham says, though there is nothing simple about his sarnie. Dehydrated banana purée creates a leathery layer, which is combined with fresh banana and banana chips.

‘We’re basically trying to get as much banana in there as we can,’ says Kelsey.

‘Banana has a lot of natural sugar, so it has that hit up front, then you get smokiness from the Lapsang Souchong and mezcal, and the tequila has a certain grassy flavour that you find in banana as well.’


Next up is a Milk Punch made using Funkin Pro Coconut Purée, coagulated with a touch of citric acid rather than heat for a finer infusion. Topham matched this with his Beet Ying Yang, a beetroot crisp with a dot of creamed coconut and chutney, topped with Alexandra blossom.

‘Coagulation works with any fatty product, making it sweeter and the acid less astringent,’ says Kelsey. ‘The taste of Milk Punch reminds me of Haribo – in a good way – it’s very mellow and smooth, which contrasts with the slight acidity of the beetroot.’

Palate cleansing…

In preparation for the final pairing, Kelsey whips up a Beetroot Highball, using Funkin Pro Beetroot Shrub, whisky and bitters. As part two of the palate-cleansing operation, Topham produces an avocado roll with coconut, miso and mint to neutralise the acid from the highball.

The winning cocktail from Funkin Innovation Champion 2017 by Aiste Valiukaite.

Southern Welcome

Glass: Champagne flute

Garnish: Dill oil

Method: Build in a shaker, quickly stir over ice and strain into the champagne flute, top with prosecco.

15ml Funkin Pro Apricot Puree

3 dashes of Pastis

2.5ml Funkin Pro Citric Syrup

70ml Prosecco to top

2 drops of dill oil

‘I’d never thought of fat as a palate cleanser,’ says Kelsey, ‘but the acidity and umami really help cancel each other out. It’s not so much about food pairing as a staggered approach and journey through flavours.’

The final blast…

For the grand flavour finale, the duo produce a Mango Gin Drink and the mother of all cheese toasties, made with sourdough, raclette, a layer of dehydrated Funkin Pro Apricot Purée and a sprinkling of spruce pine shoots.

‘We’re trying to use ingredients that have the same flavour compounds and aroma molecules, to really enhance that,’ says Kelsey.

It’s a veritable love-in of different flavours. The Indian gin contains quite some of the same volatile components as the apricot, and is fat-washed in ghee, which complements the fattiness of the cheese. Meanwhile the basil, which is used a lot in Indian cuisine, and the pine tips highlight the liquorice and juniper in the gin.  The room falls silent as the pairing is devoured, and more than one bartender is found hawking about for leftovers after the class.

‘We’re basically trying to lift everything up a little, so it’s more than the sum of its parts,’ says Kelsey.

Funkin products have been incorporated into the pairings as is, dehydrated and smoked, showing their versatility. With the current trend for local and foraged ingredients, Kelsey is keen to stress ‘food miles’ do not automatically align with a lesser carbon footprint.

‘If ingredients can be preserved on site and imported, they’re often more sustainable,’ he says. ‘For example, apples grown and imported from New Zealand can be more sustainable because they can grow more per hectare there.

‘We had it nailed 200 years ago with preserving and sugar, and now we’ve pretty much gone full circle.’

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