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For Gastronomists, a Go-To Microbiologist

Jim Lahey, the founder of Sullivan Street Bakery in New York, wanted to find out which organisms inhabited his sourdough and produced its tantalizing sulfuric aroma.

Meanwhile, in the East Village test kitchen of the Momofuku restaurants, David Chang and Dan Felder were fermenting pork tenderloins, pistachio misos and fish sauces, and trying to understand what microbes made the process work. And in San Francisco, Harold McGee, author of the food-science book “On Food and Cooking,” began to wonder what bacterial species made his particularly long-lived yogurt culture so hardy. They all turned to the same expert: Rachel Dutton, an ebullient young Harvard microbiologist who, almost by accident, has become the go-to source for chefs and food artisans seeking to unravel the mysteries of microorganisms.

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