Molecular gastronomy demystified
Shara Ashraf, Hindustan Times
New Delhi, November 11, 2011
First Published: 21:12 IST(11/11/2011)
Last Updated: 01:25 IST(12/11/2011)
What’s a chef got to do with a microscope? That’s the first thought that comes to your mind as you walk into chef Gresham Fernandes’ kitchen at the newly opened Smoke House Room, Lado Sarai.
You look around and realise it’s not just the scope — the laboratory-esque kitchen is full of
outlandish equipment, bottles and instruments that don’t give you a clue about what they are.
Just when you start feeling a tad lost, you find the pseudonymous Banksy telling you from over the kitchen exhaust: “Think outside the box, collapse the box, and take a f**king sharp knife to it.” And that’s when chef Gresh (that’s how he is popularly known as) enters grinning, all set to break the intimidating image of his art for you. The molecular gastronomy specialist surprises you with his edgy, daring dishes such as the porcini ice-cream with coffee marshmallows, the black cod with charred coconut miso or the salmon bagel served with lime air.
He says he infuses science in his cooking “not because it’s trendy” but because the precision helps him celebrate colour, texture and flavour at an enhanced level.
“If you look at a plate that follows the principles of molecular gastronomy, you will notice bursts of colours, unparalleled textures. It challenges the boundaries of what an ingredient is capable of doing, for instance, making ice cream out of bacon,” he says. He is also not at home with the “Beethoven definitions” of molecular gastronomy. “Many would tell you it’s an ‘experimental’ cuisine, but I believe that it’s about applying the basics of science to food. It’s about understanding the dynamics of each ingredient and eventually creating the perfect dish,” he says.
So, what hooked him to molecular gastronomy? “When I first took over a kitchen, I found myself wondering why is oil lighter than water? What is density? Nobody could answer these questions. I revisited all the science lessons I had skipped in school and got obsessed with breaking down the word ‘why’? Till date I prefer cooking with a micro-scale and calculator,” says the chef.
His fixation with precision is exactly why you see equipment such as dehydrators, foamers, vacuumisers and syringes line up his shelves. About the outlandish chemicals he fancies, such as the spherification and jelling agents, he says, “Is salt not a chemical? If I am using hydrochlorides, I am using them for a reason. They help maintain water in the product. I belong to the new generation of chefs who want to break a few rules and make a mark.”
And are people willing to experiment and pay a higher cost for his futuristic treats?
“Yes and no. Molecular gastronomy isn’t cheap, but you can’t call it exorbitant considering the unique dining experience it provides and the expensive equipment it entails,” says the chef. But he agrees that molecular gastronomy might not be everyone’s idea of fine dining, especially those who love hearty portions.
“Molecular gastronomy is about subtlety. You might find a dish meagre in size, but it’s scope and the tasting palate is caters to is vast. Gourmands who understand this never hesitate to pay,” says chef Gresh.