I was recently invited to a culinary demo by Chef John Placko for USA Rice on molecular gastronomy. To be honest, I had no idea what molecular gastronomy was but that evening’s demo was a fascinating introduction to a sophisticated cooking technique.
Molecular gastronomy also known as a avant-garde cuisine, techno-emotional cuisine, vanguard cuisine or culinary constructivism got some spotlight in 2011 with the release of a 2400 page, six volume scientific cooking tome by Nathan Myhrvold, Chris Young and Maxime Bilet, entitled Modernist Cuisine and retailed for $640.00.
Myhrvold trained studied at the Ecole de Cuisine la Varenne but was also a ‘scientist who earned advanced degrees in geophysics, space physics, and theoretical and mathematical physics, done post-doctoral research with Stephen Hawking at Cambridge University, and worked for many years as the chief technology officer and chief strategist of Microsoft.’ (Wikipedia) Clearly this is not the typical chef profile one would expect, and neither is this cookbook.
So what is molecular gastronomy exactly? Put simply, it is ‘a discipline of food science that focuses on the physical and chemical transformations of ingredients that occur while cooking. Common ingredients can include citric acid, sodium alginate (seaweed extract), calcium chloride and xanthan gum.’* Ingredients that you’ll find on product labels.
Sixty-five precent of rice consumed in Canada is grown in the U.S. The U.S. is one of the largest exporters of rice supplying 12% of the rice that enters world trade. Rice has been produced in the U.S. for more than 300 years. There are six states that grow rice, Arkansas, Louisianan, California, Mississippi, Texas and Missouri. (USA Rice Federation)
The evening began with a Ryza (rice beverage) cocktail called Horchata complemented with coconut pearls made using icing sugar, sodium alginate, water and coconut milk and processed using a molecular technique. The result is similar to tapioca pearls in both taste and texture. The goat cheese spheres looked and had a smooth texture like a gel but with the bite and intense taste of goat cheese. The two mains were Walnut Crusted Salmon on Sushi Rice Cakes with Black Rice Salad and a Seafood Stir-Fry on Texmati rice. The accompaniment to the salmon was a sesame flavoured powder, which although seemed a peculiar condiment, enhanced the flavour of the fish. The seafood stir-fry was topped with coconut pearls.
By far the most anticipated dish of the evening was dessert. The White Chocolate Arancini with Puffed Rice Rocher & Rasberry Butter sauce finished with carbonated strawberries and spritzed with Grand Marnier was a beautiful finale. The dish was complex on many levels, first with number of steps and elements involved, but as well in terms layers of flavours.
This type of cooking technique is not something that I feel is easily explained, especially by one who probably should’ve been paying more attention in chemistry and physics class. The dishes demo are very ambitious and complex. Molecular cuisine is about changing expectations of taste, texture and technique.
Colborne Lane and Yours Truly are two Toronto restaurants that feature molecular cooking. Should you wish to try your hand at this, Nella Cucina on Bathurst north of Bloor carries all the supplies that you need.
- Home cooking with a dash of science (bbc.co.uk)
- Best Molecular Cuisine (foxnews.com)
- Culinary Schools Stress Science In The Kitchen (PHOTOS) (huffingtonpost.com)
- Culinary Institute of America pumps chemistry and other sciences into courses (newsobserver.com)
- Nathan Myhrvold: How a Geek Grills a Burger (mensjournal.com)