He works just a short hop from Noma, the world's top restaurant, so it comes as something of a surprise to learn that Ben Reade has only ever eaten there three times.

But each experience was blissful and akin, he says, to being on drugs. A single roasted vintage carrot with sorrel stem and black truffle sauce had him in tears. A 300kg Faroese langoustine served with dulse powder and oyster emulsion put him in a trance. And a piece of duck with fermented plums and quince struck him temporarily dumb.

"They were insane tastes that really blew my mind, as good as great sex if not better, and confirmed to me that food can be life-changing," he declares. It was Noma's chef-patron Rene Redzepi, founder of the Nordic Food Lab (NFL), who first tapped Reade's potential. As a scholarship BSc student at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Bra, northern Italy, this hungry young man from Leith had turned up in Copenhagen to write his dissertation, staying for three months. "Rene would come over to the Lab from Noma, as it was an escape from the kitchen for him. We'd have long discussions about things. We got on. Then he asked me to manage the first MAD [taste] symposium in 2011. After that I became full-time at the NFL." Redzepi appointed him head of culinary research and development.

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There Reade, 28, is in daily pursuit of what he describes as the "seriously abstract concept of deliciousness" and at NFL he and his team of modern-day alchemists use indigenous plants, seeds, insects and berries sourced throughout Denmark to create new flavours with a connection to their place and time - while reducing the country's dependance on imported foods.

It's a fascinating concept in an era where food security is becoming ever more important as the world population continues to grow, and the financial and environmental cost of transporting foods all over the world becomes increasingly unpalatable. Reade believes that, rather than distribute the same branded goods globally, promoting a diverse range of local foods to a large number of local people gives them equal access to delicious flavours.

"Giving everyone access to everything doesn't work," he says when we meet in Edinburgh. "There are about 20 types of branded breakfast cereals available across the world. People are all eating the same things and destroying their culinary diversity. They need to look to their own produce.

"China and India are adopting the Western diet and that's hugely worrying because the more big business gets it hands on food distribution systems, the less stable they become. It's easy for people to be fed false information by big business - for example, that GM foods can feed the world. HYV (high yielding varieties) are actually more resilient on petro-chemical systems. Our view is that it's an arrogance to think we humans know better than nature; we should co-exist with it. We need to retain keystone indigenous species.

"People can be controlled through food in scary things like life expectancy, demand for pharmaceutical drugs, fertility. The global food industry is a beast that's out of control. Look at the rising rates of obesity, diabetes, amputations. It could all be avoided by eating a local diet."

He's a fan of Carlo Petrini, the friend of Prince Charles who founded the international Slow Food Movement in protest at Rome having a McDonald's fast food outlet, and in the wake of the fatal discovery in 1986 of methyl alcohol in Italian wine. Reade says: "Carlo's a huge influence. I've been on holiday with him and his family; he's my adopted uncle."

Current research projects at NFL include how to create a type of anchovy from local herring using koji (an ancient mould); a ceviche of local bee larvae using rhubarb, freeze-dried lingonberries and red oxalis stems; producing a "tomato" ketchup from locally sourced rosehips; samphire seed oil is also in development. Recently, he has discovered that he is allergic to citrus fruit but that it's possible to replicate the flavour using fermented carrots and to get his daily vitamin C shot from local-foraged nettles.

The NFL is funded by the Danish government, as well as independent foundations and private companies, and all research is freely available internationally.

The obvious question is whether he thinks Scotland, with a similar population size and climate to Denmark's, could or should be doing similar work. "Absolutely it should," he says between appreciative sips of a craft beer brewed in Glasgow. "Applications of NFL's work are looking at the edible biogeography in a similarly analytical way, enabling the discovery and rediscovery of new and forgotten ingredients as well as a celebration of known ones." The NFL runs a database of wild edible plants in Denmark, and Reade says that 99% of them are also available in Scotland. Goosefoot is one example.

"Pride in local foods can increase environmental awareness, increase nutritional health, and give people a positive form of national pride."

In fact, Reade has been secured as a guest lecturer on the new MSc course in Gastronomy at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh, due to begin in January 2014 and the first of its type in the UK.

He refutes the suggestion that his work is elitist, a middle-class indulgence. "People used to think that Danish food was dour, unhealthy and boring. Now you can eat very well. There is some very serious food being produced at Noma and elsewhere. For example, I had a dish of pan-roasted turbot with beech mustard and beef dripping, and it was utterly exquisite.

"There's nothing wrong with animal fat and it's not the reason people are obese. Good fat makes the food delicious. Obese people are simply eating the wrong type of fat."

Asked for his opinion about the lab-grown stem cell beefburger, unveiled last month as a potential way of meeting increased global demand for meat, he remains equanimous.

"It makes sense to investigate any potential for feeding the world," he says, "but there's no lack of food out there and there's no lack of beef; it's distribution that's the problem. Some people eat too much of it. We should eat a few more vegetables and local grains."

He is about to embark on a study of the microbiology of fermentation of foods and beverages at Copenhagen University, so he can further learn about how microbes (bacteria) can be applied today as they have been for thousands of years in such products as beer and bread.

"I've started to understand the co-evolutionary process between humans and bacteria, and how we can't live without them," he says. "As chefs we're taught that sterility is the most important thing, but in fact there are very few pathogenic microbes. Bacteria co-exist with us. The more complex a view of the environment chefs get, the more our understanding of food will develop."

It all sounds seriously academic, yet Reade, who was born and brought up in Leith, is dyslexic. He says he did not do well at school and is no good at spelling. His mother (an occupational therapist at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh) and his father (who founded the Nomad's Tent shop and cultural centre in Edinburgh) didn't give him pocket money, so from age 15 he washed dishes in restaurant kitchens to earn a crust. At age 21, he founded the Edinburgh restaurant Iglu.

However, it was only when he travelled to Italy and then discovered the work being done at NFL that things clicked for him.

"I wolfed it down and grafted and wanted to learn and learn, whereas at school I was always the guy who hadn't done his homework. It was a matter of finding my subject."

And clearly his subject is one that's very much to his taste.