Molecular gastronomy was the term coined when elements of the laboratory were introduced to the kitchen to create stunning culinary masterpieces. Recently many of the chefs behind the movement have started to shun that tag. Heston Blumenthal thinks it puts too much distance between the food and consumer: “Molecular makes it sound complicated,” he says. “And gastronomy makes it sound elitist.”
Regardless of the label attached to the style, it is clear there has been some evolution within the ‘modern cooking’ brigade. When it first arrived, it wowed the restaurant world like small children confronted with magic tricks. Since then it seems every high-end restaurant has included a foam, sphere or emulsion on their menu at some point. Many restaurants have moved on, discarding molecular gastronomy as a fad or a mere fashion trend.
This has left behind those chefs committed to changing the way we perceive food and they have been bringing some innovative dishes and techniques to the table.
The traditional meets the modern in this morsel of pumpkin pie being served at Alinea in Chicago. While it may have all the elements of a tiny common or garden pie slice, the crystal clear filling still packs a pumpkin punch, delivering a rich flavour profile.
As one of the few restaurants that have held on to molecular gastronomy and perfected it to create beautiful new dishes, the clear pumpkin pie is only the most recent inventive dish being served at the restaurant.
When it comes to amazing guests, Edible Balloon above is a surefire way to leave them stunned. From flavoured gas to the edible string, this is truly a fully sensory experience that inspires a fun attitude to food. The Edible Balloon has been a signature dish since Alinea opened, and though it has been replicated by other restaurants, it is entirely down to Grant Achatz and his talented team.
The Edible Balloon as above was the mere beginning for floating food. Since then many more chefs have begun investigating magnets and other ways to suspend supper. Dr Chi Thanh Vi at the University of Sussex has, with the aid of soundwaves, managed to float droplets of food that actually taste sweeter in mid-air. The creators are able to dictate the order these droplets are tasted so minute tastes of cheese and wine can ascend to the mouth. Though this is currently only viable with very small droplets of food, if it can be sized up it could change the way we eat.
Though the Tasty Floats concept was bred outside of the kitchen, the ‘perception of taste’ is causing a stir. Perception is central to molecular gastronomy, particularly when it comes to turning them on their head.
Kitchen Theory has coined the term ‘Gastrophysics’ which is an exploration as to how our senses perceive food and how this is altered by our environment and our other senses. Jozef Youssef looks at how taste adjusts with different cues. By altering the music in the room, the lighting and even the texture of soft furnishings, the way we identify with our food changes.
Though this is just in conception, Gastrophysics could inform everything from restaurant décor to how we view synaesthesia (where one sense such as hearing affects another, so people who experience synaesthesia may assign colours to sounds). Knowing our senses are constantly working in concert opens not just molecular gastronomy but the entire hospitality industry to a world of opportunity.