Molecular gastronomy at its finest

Mojito sphere, Pisco Sour Cocktail Marshmallow, Apple Caviar. What kind of food are they? Are they really food? Well these are all examples of Molecular Gastronomy.

What is molecular gastronomy? Is it safe to eat? Is it a temporary trends or a future trend? What kinds of people will enjoy it? What are common cooking methods in molecular gastronomy? Where can we find in Melbourne?

So, what is molecular gastronomy?

This term has been exposed for many years by media, but it is clear that most people cannot defined what it is. Generally Molecular Gastronomy can be considered as a style of cuisine; it is a new way to cook food, combined with physics and chemistry methods to transform the tastes and textures of food. Those tools that are commonly used in science lab and ingredients from the food industry are utilized by the kitchen in order to create more culinary possibilities. Media usually labels molecular gastronomy as “modern cuisine”, “modernist cuisine”, “experimental cuisine” or “avant-garde cuisine”.

However, not every modern chef likes using those titles to describe their food. “Molecular gastronomy sounds serious and inaccessible” Cory Campbell said. Cory is the executive chef of Vue De Monde, a restaurant famous for molecular gastronomy in Melbourne. He has made a good argument for the name of molecular gastronomy. Food is to make the eaters happy. In other words, people do not need a degree in rocket science to enjoy it.

Moreover, Heston Blumenthal also claims a similar point in his book- The Fat Duck Cook Book. Heston is the proprietor of The Fat Duck in Bray, Berkshire, one of four restaurants in Great Britain to have three Michelin stars. Heston Blumenthal is known as the founder of molecular gastronomy. In his cook book, he thinks molecular gastronomy is not appropriate name for his cuisine. He prefers to use ‘multi-sensory cooking’. He and his team are aimed to create new experiences and evoke emotional responses from people. “The whole purpose of art is to elicit an emotional response and food has the ability to do that as it involves all the senses, of which memory is core,” he said.

Is it a temporary trends or a future trend?

In the most recent ranking of the world’s top 50 chefs which is conducted by the British magazine Restaurant; the top three chefs were Ferran Adria from El Bulli in Rosas, Spain; Heston Blumenthal from The Fat Duck in Bray, UK; and Pierre Gagnaire from his restaurant in Paris, France. All three of these creative chefs have been inspired by molecular gastronomy. In fact, in recent years, molecular gastronomy has been in an upward trend in food fashion. Thanks to the media, we can see it in everywhere, and it is turning to be a wave rider in the food industry.

Anyway who coined the term of molecular gastronomy? It was used by Nicholas Kurti and Hervé This in 1988. However none of them are chefs (both of them are scientists, specializing in chemistry and physics), but their careers did not hold back their passion for cookery. In 1969, Kurti presented his first speech “The physicist in the kitchen”. Moreover, molecular gastronomy is promoted to the academic level, and Herve is the significant leader of this field. He had published several journals and books in his academic journal-‘Food for tomorrow’. He holds a positive attitude for the future trend of molecular gastronomy.

Is it safe to eat?

People are afraid of things they do not know, especially something they are going to put in their mouth. Basically, in molecular gastronomies it is hard to discriminate what kinds of food you are going to eat. Often people will subjectively, mistakenly, irrationally view it as a harmful food, when they hear the term molecular gastronomy. This is why Chef Heston and Chef Cory do not like to its name. Of course, the ingredients used in the process sound spooky, such as fuming flasks of liquid nitrogen, LED-blinking water baths, syringes, tabletop distilleries, PH meters and shelves of food chemicals with names like carrageenan, malt dextrin and xanthan.

My friend Rain’s first reaction when she saw a Pisco Marshmallow Cocktail really surprised me. “Can I eat it? Is this safe to eat?” Rain asked. Rain is running a food blog on Weibo (Chinese social media). The ingredients used in molecular gastronomy are common raw materials we can find in the every supermarket, such as marine, plant, animal or microbial. “Even though they have been processed, they are still safe to eat.” Campbell said.

According to the food standards Australia New Zealand, the additives used in the molecular gastronomy are fine. As For that science equipment, they are just some tools to help in the process of cooking. For instance liquid nitrogen used in an entree in Vue De Monde aims to maintain the temperature of the food, which is able to extract the flavor.

What kinds of people will like it?

Obviously, not everyone is comfortable with it; people will hold different ideas about it, in terms of flavor, and healthiness. According to an investigation conduct by New York Eater, 15 New York Chefs that do not like Molecular Gastronomy, “I prefer to be able to identify what I’m eating. I have to know. It’s `wow’ effect food, virtual food. If we were surrounded by these restaurants, we would be in trouble.” French chef Alain Ducasse said. Also Joel Robuchon thinks Molecular Gastronomy is not a kind of cuisine that “should be important, with all the additives.”

Apart from those strong attitudes of culinary professionals,many customers also hold negative ideas for it. Most of people cannot differentiate more than seven chemical compounds at the same time. “Various tastes make me feel sick” Lynn said. She had tried molecular food twice in China, and she thinks it is just an eye-catching cuisine. “The price is not cheap, also a normally family would not able to offer it.” she said.

Conversely, people who are passionate about cooking, have a creative mind, and adventurous spirit will like it. Rain is fond of Molecular Gastronomy now. “I like the entree in Vue De Monde, before the entrée arrives you will puff steam from your nostrils, which is really mysterious. You will find basil chlorophyll and aloe vera jelly, tahini custard and several flavors of dust in the mix when you see the entrée.” she said. People usually have multi-sensory experience after eating molecular food. The screams of delight went on drilling away from the other tables in the Vue De Monde. People enjoy the surprises that are brought by the unpredictable cuisines.

What are common cooking methods in molecular gastronomy?

For those who are interesting in cooking molecular gastronomy, this section will be useful to build the basic concept. According to Chef Cory, there are three basic methods, namely spherfication, Gelification, and emulsification. Base on his ideas I did a little bit research. (cite from Heston Blumenthal’ cookery book)

Spherification

It is a common and basic method used in the molecular cooking. Actually, it is a process of shaping a liquid into spheres which visually and texturally resemble roe. Such as mojito sphere as I mentioned above.

Gelification

As the name implies, it is a process of turning a substance into gelatinous form. During the process the liquid substance are transformed into solids by using gelling agent. It is similar with process of making jelly, but it mixes different ingredients, such as curry, white chocolate and other different seasonings.

Emulsification

It is stable suspensions of one liquid in another, the liquid repelling each other. Initially it is aimed to mix the water with oil, particular using in the process of making mayonnaise. Sounds hard to understand, but today we can see it used in different field, such as foam.

Apart from those three methods, other such as liquid nitrogen, smoking technology, and cryogenic- cooking are also widely used in molecular cooking. Molecular gastronomy is an experimental process, in other words, the possibilities of molecular gastronomy are endless.

Where can we find in Melbourne?

Vue de Monde is one of best restaurant for serving French cuisine combining techniques used in generations past together with modern culinary techniques. The owner Shannon Bennett was awarded the Australian Gourmet Traveller’s inaugural ‘Best New Talent’ Award in 2003. Also it was listed 19 of best 20 restaurant from The Age Good Food Guide 2003. “Although very pricey, it was worth the money. Spare the whole night only for dinner as a 10 courses degustation. It totally last up 2 hours, so you won’t leave the place unsatisfied. “Rain said.

Cookery is a form of art; the purpose of art is able to make people feel happy. So, good cooking not only feeds hunger, but also brings aesthetic appreciation. Molecular gastronomy is full of creative sense, and imagination. Also it expresses maker’s self in the dishes. It synthetizes science and knowledge with emotions in order to bring happiness for food lovers.

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