In the past few years, molecular gastronomy, a modern method of cooking that alters food chemically and physically, has blown up in restaurants across the world. Advocates for the method, like Modernist Cuisine author Nathan Myhrvold, are seeking to make these complex methods more approachable for the home cook. If you know someone who's a huge food science nerd, then take a look at these 15 gifts that'll help any cook get his molecular gastronomy on at home.
Now more than ever, companies are making it easier to experiment with molecular gastronomy at home. The company Molecule-R sent us its Margarita R-evolution ($30) kit, containing the special chemicals and tools needed to create margarita spherification shots. What the heck does that mean? Spherification is the process of taking a liquid and encapsulating it in a jelly-like form of itself so that the outside is a gelatinous shell and the inside remains liquid.
We read, reread, and even thrice read the recipe before attempting anything, then rolled up our sleeves and hopped to it. Complete with precise measurements, illustrations, tips and tricks, and troubleshooting, the guide fooled us into confidently thinking, "We've got this!" We filled the cute little silicone mold with mango juice, citrus liqueur, and calcium lactate and popped it in the freezer. So far so good. But find out if they turned out right.
While most are familiar with the characteristics of traditional cooking methods, molecular gastronomy is still making its way into restaurants and homes across the world. In 2005, Ferran Adrià and his team at El Bulli — the restaurant that spearheaded this movement — compiled 23 points called the Synthesis of El Bulli Cuisine. That synthesis can be seen at the museum exhibit El Bulli: Ferran Adrià and the Art of Food at the London Somerset House until Sept. 29. Without captivating imagery and examples, the commandments can make your head spin; that's why we've paraphrased the commandments for you. Read on to learn more: whether you're intrigued by his movement or know nothing about it, these tenets are shaping the food world as we know it.
These days, Marcel Vigneron — of Top Chef and Marcel's Quantum Kitchen — isn't just playing with molecules. He's also playing with words, as demonstrated by the tako taco he was demonstrating at LA's Taste event. In between plating his signature dish, Marcel took the time to chat about molecular gastronomy and why you shouldn't be afraid to toy around with it at home.
Last month, Adrià made the most elusive restaurant seat infinitely harder to get when he announced he'd be temporarily shuttering El Bulli in 2012, and reopening it in 2014. But in an interview on Friday, the chef said the closure would be permanent because he and his business partner, Juli Soler, had been losing a half million Euros a year on the venture. Rather than funding the restaurant, they will now use that money to establish a new El Bulli academy that will promote contemporary ideas in food.
News of the eatery, which is considered one of, if not the, most avant-garde in the world, will disappoint the 3,000 people on the restaurant waiting list. I'm certain this news has crushed the hope of thousands of culinary cognoscenti — no doubt it has quashed mine. Was El Bulli on your list of places to visit?
- Oodles of noodles: Ramen is having its moment in the spotlight. — The Oregonian
- Are the presidential candidates what they eat? — Boston Globe
- French Laundry's Thomas Keller on culinary opportunities. — Los Angeles Times
- The secret to cooking Asian lies in the right kitchen tools. — Chicago Tribune
- Several compelling reasons to prepare squid at home. — San Francisco Chronicle
- Meet Abe Schoener, California's most experimental winemaker. — New York Times
- Is it possible to succeed with molecular gastronomy at home? — Washington Post
- Try these no-bake, warm-weather recipes before it's too late. — Houston Chronicle
- Everything you need to know about roasting red peppers yourself. — Tampa Bay Times
If you are interested in learning more about molecular gastronomy — cooking with scientific processes — check out Spanish chef Jose Andres' explanation of spherification. It's the process of reshaping liquids into edible spheres that burst when you bite into them. — Star Chefs
To my surprise, I was riveted by last night's episode of The Next Iron Chef. In week two, the first challenge focused on simplicity — creating a single bite of food — while the other involved innovation in the form of so-called molecular gastronomy. This science-inspired form of cooking, practiced by Wylie Dufresne of WD-50, involves strange equipment and chemical ingredients such as xanthan gum. The challenge was so bizarre it was fascinating, and the chefs performed well in very unfamiliar territory.
The more I watch The Next Iron Chef, though, I'm struck by how similar the format is to Top Chef — from the frantic kitchen scenes with a big red digital timer to the familiar feel of the judges' table. But I still like Iron Chef, even if it feels like a slight ripoff. How about you?
A stabilizer that is produced from fermented corn sugar. It's used as a thickener for things such as salad dressings or dairy products and is a key ingredient in molecular gastronomy (think of all of the foams you're seeing on menus).
Xanthan gum is also often used as a substitute for wheat gluten in order to add volume to bread and other gluten-free baked goods.