Hot Topic: Molecular Gastronomy

THE MENUS FROM OUTER SPACE

What is… molecular gastronomy?
Molecular gastronomy is a school of cooking that uses scientific methods to create unexpected tastes and textures.

What kind of methods are we talking about?
Methods include cooking food at low temperature or in a vacuum while equipment used includes liquid nitrogen tanks, syringes and metal canisters.

Any followers?
Any? Try many. Several of the world’s best chefs have embraced molecular gastronomy. Ferran Adria (codfish foam) of the celebrated (but now sadly defunct) El Bulli restaurant, near Barcelona, who has been described by the French gastronomic god Joel Robuchon as the ‘best cook on the planet’ is one disciple. Another is Heston Blumenthal (snail porridge), the chef/proprietor of Michelin starred British restaurant, The Fat Duck.

How long has molecular gastronomy been around?
The French scientist, Herve This, and Hungarian physicist, Nicholas Kurti, coined the term back in 1969. Both had investigated the application of scientific methods to food. However, the idea of using techniques developed in chemistry to study food was not a new one; it has a history dating back to the 18th century.

Enough of the science bit, what kind of food can I expect?
The combination of odd ingredients; salmon poached with liquorice, bacon and egg ice cream or sardine-on-toast sorbet anyone? Molecular gastronomy is cooking at its most adventurous, dismissing the tried and true for the untried and yet to be proven.

Can’t say I’m convinced…
Cast aside any preconceptions you might have. Essentially the whole aim of molecular gastronomy is to create flavors and textures that will temporarily transport our taste buds to a happier world

Okay, so where can I eat it?
Try the following on for size:

The Fat Duck (Bray, England)
Expect a menu of grain-mustard ice cream, white chocolate with caviar or palate cleansers cooked in ‘liquid nitrogen’ from the master of molecular gastronomy, Heston Blumenthal.

Tang, Le Meridien Mina Seyhai (Dubai, United Arab Emirates)
Tang was the first restaurant to bring molecular gastronomy to Dubai. Contemporary French dishes are combined with the finest flavors of the Orient to tantalize and tease the taste buds. Even the menu at this innovative eatery is edible!

Aria (Beijing, China)
It’s all change at Aria. Australian chef Matthew McCool arrived at the veteran restaurant late last year with his creative culinary matches and novel presentations. Signature dishes include a tender veal steak served with a smoked foie gras cream and a unique melted chocolate cake: waiting staff uses a heated spoon to pour hot chocolate over the cold chocolate crust, which melts to reveal a white chocolate center for in the words of McCool “the dining experience should be a show. A good restaurant should incorporate entertainment into dining.”

Fifty-Three (Singapore)
Chef Michael Han trained at the iconic restaurant The Fat Duck prior to opening Fifty-Three in 2008. The menu at Han’s stylish Singaporean venue changes every six weeks but, regardless of season, every meal starts with the signature burlap sack of homemade bread — muffin-shaped potato flour buns and/or black buns made out of charcoal power — kept warm by heated stones.

Alinea (Chicago)
Last year Grant Achatz’s Alinea was voted the best restaurant in Chicago EVER. Not everyone agrees but one thing is certain: Alinea isn’t a restaurant that can easily be replicated: Achatz uses burning dry oak leaves to suffuse pheasant and roasted shallot with smoky flavors and perfumes a goat-milk ricotta cheesecake with lavender air to help keep Chicago firmly on the culinary map.

Can I cook it at home?
We’re not ruling it out but the dishes created by this new science-based school of cooking, aren’t the sort of thing that you can knock up very easily in five minutes flat. The CD-Traveller team obtained the recipe for one of Chef Stephane’s (see interview below) signature dishes; surveying the long list of ingredients, we weren’t overly encouraged.

InterviewChef Stephane Buchholzer

French-born two-star Michelin trained chef Stephane Buchholzer, head chef at Tang, is the only chef in the Middle East to perform molecular gastronomy.

Who are you?
Head chef at Tang. Born in Alsace-Lorraine, I started my apprenticeship at the culinary school in the South of France before moving to England to perfect my language skills. Then I toured France and trained with some of the greatest chefs in the best restaurants in the country before being invited to the United States. At 24, I was the youngest chef in New York City to introduce a brand new concept; my menu at L’Actuel featured a blend of French tapas and a raw bar, served up in a lounge atmosphere.

I returned to work in Europe before moving to Le Meridien Mina Seyahi in Dubai to introduce my restaurant concept. Fine dining here is something that is still very new so it’s a good time to come and bring something strong that can grow and enable you to become the next Gordon Ramsay in Dubai. At Tang, I have refined my style to build the ultimate gastronomic experience. My food is a contemporary art fusion of worldly ingredients with a strong classic knowledge that I redefine by using my own techniques.

Eating in Dubai: What’s good about it?
The emphasis is switching from cheap ‘all you can eat and drink’ deals to eating a la carte and each year more and more good chefs are moving to Dubai. For me, on a personal level, the competition is not so strong. It’s not that the existing restaurants in Dubai are bad, but there aren’t many that do high quality. What we do at Tang is advanced and means that we are at the head of the market, which is a good thing.

What’s bad about it?
Conversely, the lack of competition is also a bad thing. Competition and criticism make you stronger.

Which are your favorite Dubai restaurants?
Manhattan Grill at the Grand Hyatt. They have a very good chef producing very good food. It’s a strictly classical steakhouse, but it’s well done. If you like well executed traditional good food, Verre is always a safe bet.

What single things would improve the Dubai restaurant scene?
More advanced talented chefs who try to achieve what we are trying to achieve at Tang or more known chefs. If Dubai could attract some big names that have worked in Europe and the US, it would give the market a boost and raise international awareness.

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