Sunday, April 5, 2009

Molecular Gastronomy

By Josh Hirsh
jhirsh04@gmail.com

For anyone who thought that video with the nachos and the carrot cake was cool, there’s a whole world out there of amazingly talented chefs and incredibly creative minds doing amazing things with food that you’ve probably never imagined!

An example I found while doing my research study on Molecular Gastronomy was a chef that recreated a fried egg. It looked and had all the textures of a “perfectly fried egg,” but through the use of flavor compounds and chemicals it was quite different. The white tasted like coconut and cardamom (a spice widely used in Middle-Eastern cooking), while the yolk tasted like carrot juice and maple syrup. It sounds rather odd, but the flavor combinations had been researched scientifically and paired because they would match well. Just like white chocolate and caviar – they don’t seem like a good match, but the two foods both contain a high level of amines, a type of amino acid, and end up pairing quite well. The same goes for passion fruit and oysters – again, a very unlikely pair, but for a similar reason as the white chocolate and caviar, they just work together. Others are doing crazy things with chemicals and compounds, like turning shrimp into pasta, making cubed mayonnaise, or crispy sheets of cream cheese.

Now I’ll certainly understand if a lot of this is over your heads. If you don’t know what agar-agar is and is used for, or the coagulating properties of albumin (the protein found in egg-whites) it’s really okay. I just want to show you some of the crazy stuff people are doing with food around the globe.

Below is a list of restaurants and the creative minds/chefs behind them, where they’re located, and links to their websites or to a photo gallery of their food (if they have one).

Chef Ferran Adria & El Bulli
The premiere restaurant in the world for what is known as Molecular Gastronomy is El Bulli in Roses, Spain. It is run by “the Salvador Dali of cooking,” a man named Ferran Adria. Adria has figured out, amongst his many inventions and discoveries, a method of creating powdered olive oil. One of his cookbooks, El Bulli 2003-2004, sells for more than $250! Thankfully the website for El Bulli is free and loaded with information about the man, his creations, and the restaurant.

Additional links for Chef Ferran Adria & El Bulli
Welcome to the Labyrinth of the Catalan Chef (Time.com article about Adria)
Sex, Death, Dinner: New York’s art critic gets ravished by a legendary Spanish chef (Restaurant review from nymag.com)
World's Greatest Chef Ferran Adrià and the Food of El Bulli (About.com article/image gallery)
An adventure in molecular gastronomy (Blog post from newscientist.com)
Dinner at El Bulli (Fantastic post from a French food blog!)
A Day at El Bulli (Hardcover) (Check out the video!)
Decoding Ferran Adria: Hosted by Anthony Bourdain (DVD-ROM)

Chef Heston Blumenthal & The Fat Duck
What is hailed as, or has been in the past, the second best restaurant in the world behind El Bulli is a restaurant in Bray, England called The Fat Duck. Chef Heston Blumenthal is also doing incredible things with food. However, with as much humility as I can possibly muster, I say that the man has an amazing way with words and he can explain his philosophy on food much better than I will ever hope to in my lifetime (unless I’m quoting him directly). Go to his website for The Fat Duck, click the screen to enter, then click on “Heston Blumenthal” on the left-hand column, and one more click on the tab that says Philosophy. It’s quite a read, but believe me when I say the man knows his stuff and it’s incredibly interesting. The same goes for his Chef’s Statement. As far as I can see he doesn’t have a gallery of pictures, but there are plenty of those in the websites to come.

Additional links for Chef Heston Blumenthal & The Fat Duck
Madman in the Kitchen (Time.com article about Blumenthal from 2005)
'Molecular gastronomy is dead.' Heston speaks out (Feature article in The Guardian, UK)
Bacon and Egg Ice Cream @ The Fat Duck (YouTube video)
How to Cook Creatively with Sherry - with Heston Blumenthal (Metacafe.com video)
Heston Blumenthal: In Search of Perfection: Reinventing Kitchen Classics (Book)
Further Adventures in Search of Perfection: Reinventing Kitchen Classics (Book)
The Big Fat Duck Cookbook (Book)
Total Perfection (Book, to be released April 9, 2009!)

Coming back to American soil, I have three names that you, if you’re into this like I am, need to know. They are Grant Achatz, Homaro Cantu, and Wylie Dufresne.

Chef Grant Achatz & Alinea
Achatz is widely considered to be one of the top chefs in America. Alinea, his Chicago restaurant, wins award after award for its creativity and innovation with food. Achatz is widely praised for not only being a culinary genius, but a mad scientists as well. My favorite pairing that Achatz features is bacon wrapped in butterscotch. But if that isn’t weird enough for you, each piece is hanging from what looks like a metal trapeze artists’ swing connected to a tubular metal base. It sounds weird…and it is, but it looks really cool. Check out the website for Alinea, more specifically the Cuisine photo gallery.

Additional links for Chef Grant Achatz & Alinea
Burned (Article from Chicago Magazine, 2008)
Brain Food | Grant Achatz (Posted on foodandwine.com)
5 Questions with Grant Achatz (Posted on andrewzimmern.com)
Bookslut Interview with Grant Achatz of Alinea (Vimeo video)
Alinea (Book, video about book)

Chef Homaro Cantu & moto
Homaro Cantu is another chef/scientist who pushes the boundaries of food in new and exciting ways at his restaurant moto. The Pastry Chef in the video posted earlier, Ben Roche, works for Cantu at moto. Again, I simply can’t do justice to the mission of the restaurant better than the people behind the madness can. So go to the website for moto and, first thing, check out the really cool web design. First click on “About Us” on top of the “m,” read that, and then go to the “Gallery” link on the top of the last “o.” If you’re like myself or Michael (the brains behind DHD) and are interested in things like sustainability and the development of food-based programs, you’ll most definitely want to click on the link on the bottom left and explore more of what Cantu Designs is all about.

Additional links for Chef Homaro Cantu & moto
Weird Science (Article from fastcompany.com)
The Cook, Part I & The Cook, Part II (Articles from qsrmagazine.com)
Image gallery of food from moto (Posted on chicagoist.com)
Chicago Molecular Gastronomy Restaurant Moto (YouTube video)

Chef Wylie Dufresne & wd-50
Last, but certainly not least, we have a fixture in the New York City food scene. His name is Wylie Dufresne, and he works at a restaurant called wd-50. It has garnered praise all over the country for its creativity and innovation with food. He was first noticed for his use of oysters in a very “non-conventional” way. He would take raw oysters and pound them into thin, paper-like sheets. He would top them with a fine dice of dehydrated Kalamata olives and green apple and serve them as appetizers. As one might expect, this drew some attention. When you see things like “crispy cream cheese” and “peanut butter ‘pasta’” on a menu, you know you’re in for something interesting. Check it out: go to the website for wd-50 and have a look around. The coolest feature, to me, is the menu tab labeled "eat." You can look at shots of current menu items, a feature I wish more of the other sites had. There’s also a great picture gallery.

Additional links for Chef Wylie Dufresne & wd-50
Food 2.0: Chefs as Chemists (Article from the New York Times Science section, November 2007. Check out the slide show too!)
Curious Wylie Dufresne Defends the Science of Cooking (Interview from huffingtonpost.com, March 2009)
wd-50: The Gastronomie Perspective (Great blog post & photos from gastronomie-sf.com!)
Wylie, Eggs, Chihuahuas (Podcast from studio360.org)
Wylie Dufresne Makes Pasta With Meat Glue (Demonstration video from nymag.com)

"Leftover" Molecular Gastronomy Links

Books
Building a Meal: From Molecular Gastronomy to Culinary Constructivism (Arts and Traditions of the Table: Perspectives on Culinary History)
The Flavor Bible: The Essential Guide to Culinary Creativity, Based on the Wisdom of America's Most Imaginative Chefs
On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen
Molecular Gastronomy: Exploring the Science of Flavor (Arts and Traditions of the Table: Perspectives on Culinary History)

Blogs
The Red Spoon Company

Videos
Diet Coke commercial appears to pit Tom Colicchio against Grant Achatz

If you are absolutely crazy and crave even more links about molecular gastronomy check out this spectacular blog post from alacuisine.com. It's was originally posted in 2004 but has been updated a few times since.
Molecular Gastronomy Research

2 comments:

richmond said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


Ruth

http://ramupgrade.info

Anonymous said...

Your writing style is excellant and your blogs very enlightening. I would like to send you a product our company is launching next month. it is a complete "Molecular Gastronomy Kit" for the home cook or interested culinarian, so they may simply re-create versions of these amazing recipes and techniques for a very small monetary out put. the kits are designed with step by step instructions and measurements in Tsp, Tbsp, as well as wieghts.

check us out at www.overandabove.com and send me your mailing address so i may send you a kit.

Chef Stefan

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