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SCOTT JAGOW: I don't know what kind of cuisine they serve on Mars or Jupiter, but space food, in general, has a pretty bad rap. Tang might be the most flavorful thing astronauts have up there. But the Europeans, you know, they won't stand for this any longer. From Paris, Rachel Louis Snyder reports.
RACHEL LOUISE SNYDER: Michelin-rated chef Alain Ducasse is probably France's best-known living master of culinary arts.
His cooking school, in a drab suburb of Paris, teaches thousands of students each year.
With the French being the French, it's probably no surprise the European Space Agency or ESA offered Ducasse a lucrative contract to figure out some way to perk up usually bland space food.
In past missions, rehydratable casseroles and thermostabilized tomatoes have been the bane of many a European astronaut.
FLORENCE CANE: The first astronaut to complain about food was Jean Luc Chretien, who is a French astronaut of course! He stayed six months around the planet and the first thing he said when he came back on earth was, 'My god, the food was awful!'
That's Florence Cane, who is overseeing the ESA project for Ducasse. Her charge is to create palatable yet convenient recipes to feed Jean-Luc's fellow astronauts on a two-year mission to Mars.
The task has turned out to be something of a challenge given the ESA's parameters.
CANE: Our restrictions is to work with only eight products. The astronauts, they will take the shuttle, they will leave to Mars, it will last one year and a half. And then when they will be on the planet, they will construct a greenhouse and on the greenhouse, they don't have so much space to grow, and then the astronaut will only have these products to cook: The tomato, potato, spiralina, the onion, lettuce, soya, wheat and beetroot.
Did you get that third one?
Spiralina is a high-energy, high-protein algae found along coastlines. Florence introduces me to Gael, a project chef who's making space gnocchi with spiralina.
For him, I have just one question.
SNYDER: Is this, are the astronauts going to enjoy this food? Like is this food tasty?
[ Gael answers in French]
CANE (translating): He will ask them when he is up there with them.
Gael arranges a plate of little gnocchis on a bed of seasoned tomatoes.
SNYDER: It's for me? OK. Astronaut gnocchi. (Tastes) Delicious!
Okay, maybe delicious was a little stretch.
Florence says they're still perfecting the recipes. But they have some time. The ESA mission to Mars isn't expected to launch until 2025.
In Paris, I'm Rachel Louise Snyder for Marketplace.