The Backbone of Modern Fine Dining
In early 2004 when I was attending Johnson and Wales University, Providence, under the ‘Foundation for the Future Scholarship’, the culinary circle in the US was buzzing with the names of two top Chefs, Thomas Keller of French Laundry in Napa Valley, California and Ferran Adria of El Bulli in Roses, Spain. Onone hand Chef Keller was translating Haute cuisine to the highest level of refinement, finesse and perfection using mostly traditional ingredients and techniques, on the other Chef Adria had given a whole new dimension to culinary arts and created wonders on the plate by applying scientific principles and approach to cooking, which is today broadly referred to as ‘Molecular Gastronomy’.
French Chemist and Author Herve This defines Molecular Gastronomy as “the practical application of science and physics in cooking to create a new taste experience”and Harold McGeesimply puts it as ‘Scientific study of deliciousness’ I like to define Molecular Gastronomy as ‘a style of cooking which combines culinary arts with culinary science and culinary artistry.
The somewhat controversial term ‘Molecular Gastronomy’ was coined by Hungarian born physicist and food enthusiast Nicholas Kurti and Herve This, who were also responsible for convening the first ‘International workshop on Molecular Gastronomy’ in Erice, Sicily in 1992. The idea was to bridge the gap between culinary arts and culinary science and re-orient some approaches to cooking by bringing together, food scientists, chefs, cookbook & food science authors and food enthusiasts.
The field of Molecular Gastronomy has opened up a whole new area for chefs to experiment, innovate and create. It is about cooking with unusual ingredients and still handling foodstuffs with the usual care.A basic knowledge of food preparation and the use of high quality produce, combined with the physical and biochemical aspect paired with a philosophical touch is what makes molecular gastronomy special. It is not purely artistic or only out for special effects. As a consequence there are no creations that have not been carefully planned.
Chefs have now been collaborating with chemists, food scientists and industrial designers to transform food that look and taste different.Some of the key techniques include deconstruction, hot ice, jelly noodles, encapsulations, aroma leaf, foams, sous vide, liquid nitrogen and deep-frying in water. Another aspect of molecular gastronomy is combining foods with similar volatile aroma molecule compositions, which determine their flavour. If one ingredient has high levels of amines or aldehydes then they should be combined with other ingredients that contain high levels of amines or aldehydes. Many times the combinations are not intuitive or obvious. At the Fat Duck, Chef Heston Blumenthal (even though he does not subscribe to the term ‘molecular gastronomy’ to describe his cooking) combines Caviar with chocolate and oysterswith passion-fruit jelly. Unusually shocking combinations but they seem to work wonderfully well due to the presence of common amines.
Top Chefs, irrespective of their cuisine including Joan Roca & Jordi Roca of ElCellar De Can Roca (Modern Spanish), Andoni Luis Aduriz of Mugaritz (Modern Spanish), Massimo Bottura ofOsteria Francescana (Modern Italian), Joachim Wissler of Vendome (Modern German), Alex Atala of DOM (Modern Brazilian) and Daniel Humm of Eleven Madison Park (Modern French) use techniques of molecular gastronomy in their cuisine. Even Chef René Redzepi of Noma, which features Seasonal Nordic Cuisine, has worked in El Bulli and has undergone extensive training in molecular gastronomy.
When I started Caperberry (Bangalore) in 2009, my aim was to provide customers with a unique dining experience and this has been made possible by applying techniques of Molecular Gastronomy to my style of Modern European Cuisine. Caperberry has evolved over the years and I have also introduced some dishes with Indian flavours enhanced by techniques of Molecular Gastronomy like Gol Guppa Spherification, Sous vide cooked lamb roulade with Kakori Kebab Spices and live maple wood smoke and Spiced Cryo Espuma which have been very well appreciated by our guests.
The good news is that Molecular Gastronomy today has become synonymous with Mainstream Haute Cuisine and is a part of the cooking style in most fine dining restaurants across the world. Because of continuous innovations in Molecular Gastronomy during the last couple of decades many restaurants have enthralled their customers and have hogged the limelight in the list of ‘Best restaurants in the World’.