Writer, photographer and food stylist Nik Sharma is based in LA, California. A city of farmers’ markets and cutting-edge restaurants, tacos you’d sell a limb for (if pushed), and ridiculously fresh produce.

“The food scene in LA is the most vibrant in the US,” says Sharma. “You can get the most delicious and inventive meals at different price points, so everyone has access, which is amazing. Mexican food, obviously, is the best - in my opinion.

“It’s also always unexpected,” he adds. “You never know what you’re going to walk into and that’s what I love.”

Covid has put a hold on much of that, however. LA’s been badly hit and Sharma misses the restaurants - and simple things like “going to the store, picking things out, the tactile feeling” of holding a lemon before popping it in a basket.

Like most of us, he’s been cooking a lot at home. But as a food writer who cooks at home for a living anyway, he admits during the pandemic he’s had to remind himself he “can’t make desserts all the time, I need to cook savoury food...”

Nigella is a fan (she even lent him a no-churn ice cream recipe for his new book), but if you’re new to Sharma’s food, he describes it “adventurous and fun” and “unbound by any shackles or rules. It’s more defined by what flavour is - and what it could be.”

At its core is an awareness of science and the role of science in the kitchen. With his new cookbook, The Flavor Equation, he’s “trying to show that science and cooking coexist harmoniously in the kitchen” and that neither side needs be afraid of the other.

“I want people to see the kitchen is a lab,” he notes. “What you’re doing in the kitchen, it’s actually science.”

Born in Bombay, Sharma relocated to the US to study molecular genetics, before deciding food was the one for him (much to his parents’ chagrin - they have come around now). Writing recipes that he shoots and styles himself, his work appears in the New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle and on his blog, A Brown Table.

The Flavor Equation follows his debut cookbook, Season, and sees him using science to extract deliciousness; investigating how perception affects how we eat; and considering the impact of emotion, sight, sound, mouthfeel, aroma and taste on flavour.

The recipes, meanwhile, “provide experimental basis, and they’re fun” says Sharma - essentially, they’re the practical portion. We learn about fieriness through chicken lollipops, savouriness via stir-fried cabbage, sweetness thanks to masala cheddar cornbread, and bitterness due to a shaved Brussels sprout salad - picking up snippets of science with each page.

It’s sensible, useful stuff too; not complicated formulas your science teacher would have thrown at you.

For instance, explains Sharma, “some pigments are fat soluble, some are not, you don’t want to stain your hands when you’re working with beets - we know that the pigments in beets are water soluble. So, if you add water, it’s going to stain everything. Now if you rub oil all over the place, it won’t stain.” That alone will save your palms and work surfaces from turning hot pink.

Beyond the science, when he it comes to cooking, Sharma thinks an “ability to experiment” and “willingness to fail” are both crucial.

“I’ve always noticed that when I fail in the kitchen, I’m driven to find out what went wrong, and then fix it. Trying to solve that process, or getting to the fixing part, is where you learn a lot,” he muses.

“That makes you wiser, because not only will you learn to fix that mistake but you can then take and apply that knowledge elsewhere.”

Not that you can fix every slumped souffle, rock solid gingerbread or bland pasta dish. “Scientists are always pushed in the direction that you have to - and should - problem-solve everything. Bioethics will tell you otherwise,” says Sharma with a laugh. “You don’t.”

Sharma ate a lot of seafood growing up on the west coast of India, alongside the meat-driven food of his mother’s Goan background - which was a Portuguese colony and Western European influenced. American cuisine has since filtered in, alongside the words of what Sharma calls the “Holy Trinity” of food writing: Nigella, Diana Henry and Nigel Slater. He’s also a huge Great British Bake Off fan (“I watch it after the entire thing comes out, so I can just binge”).

His food photography though is shaped less largely by a sensitivity to how we consume images online.

“My job is to sell the recipe at the end of the day, right? So I need to make food attractive enough that people will cook it,” begins Sharma frankly. “But what I try to do with all of my stylings is keep it very casual, very fuss-free.”

Some of the images in The Flavor Equation were actually shot using a microscope. “I don’t want people to feel overwhelmed,” he continues, adding that a concern he has with a lot of cookbooks that focus on food from different countries is the fixation with props. “Indian cooking for example, there’s always this tendency to show old props [bowls, plates, glasses etc.]. Having lived in India, we never ate from an old rusted bowl.”

This exoticising and romanticism of certain food cultures, and how they ought to be presented is problematic he says, when the “reality is, most people just eat very simply every day.” All of us cooking in our wonderful personal science labs.

The Flavor Equation: The Science Of Great Cooking Explained + More Than 100 Essential Recipes by Nik Sharma, is published by Chronicle Books, priced £26.