The Clouds' flavors... : WHAF by David Edwards + Marc Bretillot
The Clouds' flavors...
WHAF by David Edwards + Marc Bretillot
Valérie Abrial, March 8, 2016
Result of the discussions between culinary designer Marc Bretillot and scientist and founder of Le Laboratoire David Edwards, The WHAF is a generator is the Flavor of Clouds. The exhibition helded at Le Laboratoire through last April 15, tells the story of WHAF, his original idea, the concept in its design. The exhibition presents also the first prototypes of WHAF through its edition as an object of design, archival photos and videos. A highly taste of artscience meeting!

Le Laboratoire is a contemporary art and design center in central Paris, where artists and designers experiment at frontiers of science. Exhibition of works-in-progress from these experiments are frequently first steps toward larger scale cultural humanitarian and commercial works of art and design. Le Laboratoire was founded in 2007 by David Edwards as the core-cultural lab of the international network, Artscience Labs.

WHAF_Bruno Cogez
WHAF_Bruno Cogez


Imagine a cloud of flavor rising up from a kind of water jug that has the form of a large glass globe. Now, imagine gently inhaling this cloud... An olfactory and gustatory caress gently teases you. And there you have it! You have just tested and tasted (and hopefully, enjoyed!) Le Whaf, the most recent Laboratoire innovation. Invented by David Edwards, and designed by Marc Bretillot, Le Whaf once again bears eloquent witness to the surprises we can find with the encounter of art and science. Today, scientists are looking at ways to make fine-particle, breathable aerosol sprays, for the purpose of administering medical drugs to human lungs in significant quantities.

This is especially the case of the pharmaceutical startup company, Pulmatrix, which aims to combat respiratory infectious disease by generating such aerosols using ultrasonic waves, emitted by piezoelectric crystals. This is the medical science technology that David Edwards, one of the founders of Pulmatrix, has used in creating Le Whaf. Over recent months, Marc Bretillot worked with David Edwards and the Foodlab team* (* Le Laboratoire’s culinary laboratory) to come up with an original, contemplative design that expands the new gastronomic terrain recently uncovered with the invention of Le Whif.

Guests are invited to try out the first Whaf prototypes, a selection of delicious recipes created by the chef Thierry Marx. Le Whaf opens a new culinary era, when flavors become a flight of the imagination…

Whaf_Bruno Cogez
Whaf_Bruno Cogez

The recipes!

Three juicy liquids should be prepared for this Whif. The first one, called B52 is a combination of star anise, ginger and citrus; the second Whaf recipe, called Tomato Air is reminiscent of a light and fl oating tomato soup; and the third recipe, called Martini Classic encapsulates all the smoothness of the famous Italian drink, but with less alcohol thanks to Le Whaf process. Liquid is poured into Le Whaf, which causes a cloud to form. Since they are very small (about 5 μm - smaller than Le Whif), whaffed particles can remain in suspension for almost a minute, even when we capture the cloud inside a glass. We withdraw a pleasant, ephemeral flavor with a type of straw.

And can we whaff our own recipes? Yes, we can, bearing in mind, of course, that Le Whaf is still a design prototype. The form of Le Whaf that may eventually come into our homes will be easier to understand once we have all whiffed at Le Laboratoire for a while.

Mathieu Bassée & Christophe Dubois
Mathieu Bassée & Christophe Dubois

Marc Bretillot & David Edwards: When design meets the culinary world

Valérie Abrial: How did your collaboration on Le Whaf start?

Marc Bretillot: Le Laboratoire came to me, which I took as a strong sign of trust. And I was enthusiastic because I am passionate about anything related to innovation and food. David described the project; I did not have to reply immediate; in any case, I don’t give fast answers… I need time to think. And then we agreed as to how to proceed.

David Edwards: I created the fi rst Whafs using what I knew from Pulmatrix, a biotechnology startup I helped start. With help from Jonathan Kamler and the LaboGroup we put the fi rst prototype together with piezoelectric crystals. It worked well enough during the party around Ryoji’s opening but ended up putting the cloud of fl avors everywhere. You could hardly see! Marc was with us that evening, and I asked him if he might be interested in an experiment around Le Whaf. Fortunately, he said yes. And that’s how it started.


V.A.: Was the crossing of your respective outlooks a creative force?

M.B.: Naturally! It cannot be repeated often enough that the mixing and crossing of cultures, knowledge, and different artistic sensibilities is always an enriching experience. It’s a case of 1+1= 3. And I believe that the 3rd element is the work done to understand how the other party looks at things which, naturally, in turn, impacts and enriches our original ideas. It’s like two ladders pointing towards the same target with alternating bars.

D.E.: Typically, the question I would ask myself is: is it possible? Whereas Mark tends to ask himself: is it desirable? Two completely different things. Marc played an essential role in creating Le Whaf. It took a few months to complete, with help from LaboGroup’s José Sanchez and Jonathan Kamler. For example, Mark wanted to create a quieter, less turbulent cloud. We knew that the cloud dynamic was infl uenced by the particle size, and that we had to separate large particles from small ones. And Mark had the idea of letting the cloud fl oat away from the source of energy, which made this particle separation possible.

Le Whif_Felipe Ribon
Le Whif_Felipe Ribon

V.A.: What does Le Whaf represent in terms of the future of cooking and culinary design?

M.B.: It asks us questions about the immateriality of food. It is a contemplative object (at least in its initial version). At the end of World War II, we faced a need for food. Nowadays however, we have the opposite problem; namely, how can we eat less? And even though we want to eat less; that is to say, fewer calories, we want more and more pleasure. Whaf could be a way to resolve this dilemma. In my opinion, as regards this project, the question of eating (satisfying physiological needs) is not primordial; however, it is the issue of eating as an expression of the cultural and societal act that is essential.

D.E.: Over the centuries we’ve been eating smaller and smaller quantities at shorter and shorter intervals. Whif and Whaf move us towards a future where eating is both an ephemeral and essential act, something like breathing.

V.A.: Do flavors, science and design go well together?

M.B.: If I might just replace your terms with what I consider to be the result of the words you use; namely: the taste, the understanding, the project. Put this way, it’s clear we are on to a winning trio.

D.E.: We saw with the Thierry Marx and Jérôme Bibette exhibition, that the encounter between culinary arts and science is more than fruitful. In fact, it is a fascinating experimental process, particularly suited to Le Laboratoire’s objectives. And the general public can participate in this experimental process in a manner that is both intellectual and sensual. Design plays an essential role in this public interaction.

Marc Bretillot_Anne Muratore
Marc Bretillot_Anne Muratore

V.A.: How do you perceive Le Whaf’s future?

M.B.: I have always believed that creation in the food sector lagged behind creation in the arts and new technologies (for reasons related to the subsistence of the species, I suppose). But the way we feed ourselves is an accurate refl ection of the time we live in. I think we can safely say that the prospective vision of the scientist gives us a glimpse of what our future will look like. For my part, I see Le Whaf not as an object separated from the eating ritual, but rather as an additional part of the overall degustation process. The feedback we get from the prototype, and how users receive it, will help us orient the product’s current positioning, as well as the question of how it should be used and the imaginary world that it suggests. There are still a lot of questions to be answered, and every answer begets new questions. In fact, as we journey forward, we pick up more questions than answers.

D.E.: With Le Whaf, inhaled cuisine is poetic and delicious, and there is the potentiality for a wide range of flavors. In fact, people can even create them at home and, like Marc said, Le Whaf is probably best conceived as a complement to what already exists; a new culinary route to add to the map.

Marc Bretillot Bio_Express

Marc Bretillot is a culinary designer. He teaches at the Reims Ecole Supérieure d’Art et de Design, where he created a culinary design research workshop. He also advises food industry and catering professionals looking to innovate. Lastly, he organizes food-based special events, and performances at the cutting edge of contemporary art. Marc Bretillot studied at the Ecole Boulle from 1980 to 1986, and then studied glassworking techniques from 1989 to 1992, as well as furniture design in 1993. He soon embraced design in the broadest sense. In 1989, he opened a multi-materials workshop in the Parisian popular neighborhood of Ménilmontant, where he created once-off objects and furniture. His customers include Pedro Almodovar, Celio, EDF-GDF, the Paris Furniture Show, and the Namur Creation Biennial.

In 2001, he combined his expertise with his eternal passion: cooking, completely changing his workshop to make it suitable for culinary design. This led to a number of installations and performances for locations and events such as the Paris Hunting Museum; the Cartier Foundation; Grand Théâtre de Dijon; Designer’s Day Fair (for Boffi ); the Ephemeral Restaurant at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris; the inauguration of the Paris to Strasbourg High-Speed train. At the same time, Marc Bretillot created food products for the Grande Epicerie de Paris, the Limousin Chamber of Trades, and Haagen-Dazs.

He has worked with leading chefs such as Pierre Gagnaire, Michel Roth, Jean-Pierre Piege, and Eric Trochon. He has also organized workshops at the Paul Bocuse Institute; the Vatant cooking school in Japan, and the Geneva Advanced Institute of Art and Design. An active member of the punk rock group “Les Equarisseurs”, he has organized culinary-rock performances at the Saint-Etienne Design Biennial Festival and at the Théâtre de l’Echangeur in Bagnolet. He is first and foremost however... an inveterate eater.

David Edwards_ARC, UC
David Edwards_ARC, UC

David Edwards Bio_Express

David Edwards is a scientist and writer and founder of Le Laboratoire. He also retains a faculty position at Harvard University, where he teaches idea development in the arts and sciences. The inventor of new ways for treating diseases by aerosols, David is the scientifi c founder of the for-profi t company Pulmatrix and the international nonprofi t Medicine in Need (MEND). At Le Laboratoire he invented and launched commercially Le Whif, the fi rst product in the new fi eld of aerosol cuisine, which he is exploring with French chef Thierry Marx.

David’s writing includes the founding books of Le Laboratoire, including Niche (Ecole de Beaux Arts 2007), Whiff (Ecole de Beaux Arts 2008) and Artscience: Creativity in the Post-Google Generation (Harvard Press 2008). In 2008, David Edwards was made Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres by the French Ministry of Culture; in the same year he was elected to the French National Academy of Engineering. He is a member of the American National Academy of Engineering since 2001.