Brain Food

The Edinburgh International Science Festival is back, with an even bigger food programme than ever. Here’s our guide to the varying degrees of scientific lunacy on offer

Feature by Peter Simpson | 01 Apr 2014

If there’s one thing we’ve all learned from the internet age, it’s that groups built around a single interest can be a bit alienating towards newcomers. You don’t know the language, you don’t understand the in-jokes, you don’t think that anyone ‘is worse than Hitler.’

Luckily, science folk aren’t like that – they’re very reasonable – but their world can still be a little overwhelming. Therefore our guide to Gastrofest, the Festival’s food strand, is handily divided up by… well, you’ll see.

Bit weird, but basically OK...

We’ll start with the straightforward stuff, like the film about cannibalism in a dystopian near-future. Yes, having been ruled over by a planet of apes in the film with all the monkeys in, science mocks Charlton Heston once again in a screening of classic movie Soylent Green.

Charlie’s trapped in a future hellscape filled with pollution, overcrowding, and protein of suspicious origin. Not to spoil one of the most famous endings of them all if you haven’t seen it, but let’s just say the people of 2022 aren’t eating Quorn. Mind you, Quorn is pretty odd; might be best to get these scientists to look into it while they’re here. 5 Apr at 9.30pm, School of Informatics, Crichton St, free.

If that doesn’t take your fancy, why not have a nice, non-human dinner? In fact, why go for a nice dinner when you can go for 'a theatrical dining experience'? Don’t answer that, it’s a rhetorical question. Instead, immerse yourself in the world of Sensation, the aforementioned ‘experience.’

We’re certainly confident about the food and drink, with the people that brought you crazy burger pop-up Burgher Burger involved along with the loveable Barney’s Beer of The Skinny 100th issue party fame. With that in mind, we’ll give a tentative thumbs up to the idea of being 'both confused and delighted' as we try to eat. Confusion, delight and chewing; there’s a combination that can’t accurately be expressed in print. 5 Apr at 7pm, Summerhall, £45.

Here’s a concept that can be quickly conveyed – Pub Science. Yes, psychologists, writers and brewers will be on hand to ruin the mystique of the pub with their well-researched observations. The science of the perfect pint, the truth about ‘beer goggles,’ and the changing role of the pub in society will all go under the presumably-non-literal microscope. 11 Apr at 8pm, Summerhall, £10.


Time to push the pace a little, with… Slow Food. This event – part of the Latelab series – might have a sedate name, but there are a couple of slightly odd flourishes involved. Expect black pudding made from the blood of live pigs courtesy of conceptual artist John O’Shea, and Kate Rich and Kayle Brandon making cola from essential oils in front of your very eyes. Making a Coke substitute by hand? That would be considered borderline witchcraft in other situations. It’s totally mad, and we like it! 13 Apr at 7pm, School of Informatics, Crichton St, £10.

Molecular Mastery is in a similar vein, giving you the chance to try your hand at the various mad gubbins that passes for bartending these days. Mix flavours that really shouldn’t work, wield dry ice like you’re a roadie for Def Leppard, and try to work out ways to adapt the methods of the star bartender to the bootleg Cuba Libre you’re drinking out of a Jungle Book mug. 6 Apr at 8pm, Summerhall, £25.

Object-licking, fume-inhaling mayhem

We’re into the heavy duty science, so you’ll need a drink. A drink will be on offer at another of the Latelab offerings, the intriguingly-named Gastrolab RGB Cocktail Party. However, instead of the standard canapés and stuffed shirts giving it the big ‘I am’ about their boring lives, this cocktail party will experiment on you with lights! Lights and sounds!

The 'triptych of experiences' is hosted by food artist Emelie Baltz, whose previous projects include a giant pile of ice cream which doubles as a musical instrument, and promises live DJs and video mixes to go with the drinks. If you kept hold of a pair of goggles from your school science class, now might be a good time to break them out. 6 Apr at 7pm, School of Informatics, Crichton St, £10.

If you like your eccentricity slightly more family-friendly, or just have a love for opium and crap Tim Burton films, the festival’s Mad Hatter’s Tea Party promises to be both educational and full-on batshit-mental. Given that this is a Saturday afternoon tea party hosted by a botanist, that’s quite the claim to make. But this won’t be your standard, ‘taps aff’-style of crazy party, rather your ‘oh, so that’s what it feels like when the fabric of reality starts unravelling’-style shindig.

Expect quirky experimental food, bizarre foraged ingredients, probable sensory overload and lots of references to the fact that the Victorians were blazed off their tits the entire time. If there’s a more fitting way to spend a Saturday afternoon in April then we’re ready to hear it. That's probably not a good sign... 5 Apr at 4pm, Summerhall, £20.


For more details and tickets, visit