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The chemistry of cooking

india Updated: Apr 08, 2011 01:00 IST
Shara Ashraf

You dig your fork into an egg and it transforms into mango in your mouth, you eat caviar and it tastes like chocolate, foam glides over your tongue and you realise it’s your favourite fruit. And you haven’t travelled across a single shore to soak in such sensory pleasures!

Molecular gastronomy that gave star status to Spain’s Ferran Adria and England’s Heston Blumenthal is very much happening in the city. A growing number of chefs say there’s nothing like molecular gastronomy to fire a chef’s imagination. "Molecular gastronomy makes food do what it does best — create an emotion," says chef Mayank Tiwari. "Infusing chemistry and physics into the art of cooking is not to break away from what food has been to us, it’s just an artistic way of expanding one’s horizon to provide an emotionally rich experience," adds the chef.

Amuse your palate

So, if you fancy lobster ice cream or a mango ravioli that looks like a fried egg, chefs would be delighted to oblige you. "The trend is here to Chocolatestay. Restaurants are realising that the surprise element you create for a guest goes a long way in making him a regular," says chef Sabyasachi Gorai of Olive Bar & Kitchen. "When I use an aromatiser to fill a balloon with cherry perfume and release it on the guest’s table, as he is digging into a bacon ice-cream, it makes him pampered," says Gorai.

Nothing complicated

And there’s nothing complex about molecular gastronomy anymore. Bakshish Dean, corporate chef, Lite Bite Food says, "The term is wrongly interpreted in India. It conjures up a lab image. Molecular gastronomy is nothing but a super-refined cooking process." The precision used in the process results in a fine balance of colour, texture and flavour. The chef’s knowledge of ingredients becomes so sound that he is able to manipulate each ingredient to a different texture and create surprises in terms of flavour, colour or texture of the dish, he says.

Such delights are results of constant, patient experimentations that lead to perfection.

Restaurateur Shiv Karan Singh, who is working on an elaborate molecular gastronomy project, says, “The trend is here to stay. It’s about letting your creative juices flowing. People want more of such stuff. But there are some who vouch for unfussy food rather than gimmicks.”

Chef Manish Malhotra of Indian Accent says, “Great food is about great taste. You need to assess if people are really going to pay you that extra cost for the surprise factor.”

It’s all in a molecule

* Molecular gastronomy changes the appearance of the food. Only when you taste it, you know what it is. It may involve processes such as Sous vide, that’s slow cooking under vacuum, Cryo that involves using liquid nitrogen, Espuma that makes foams, froths and caviar.

* Chefs use equipments like hand-held smoke gun to pump smoke into soups and desserts, hand held nitrogen chargers to convert soups and sauces into foam, and additives that turn liquids into hot and cold jellies.

* Some dishes require vaccumiser that sucks air out, glass chillers that cool food below -4°C instantly, and high-speed blenders that puree fruits into a foamy texture rotating. These equipments are imported and cost a bomb. So don’t cringe if you are asked to pay Rs 1,5,00 for a bacon ice cream.

* Our pick of molecular gastronomy treats: Lobster ice cream, mango ravioli, melon sorbet, topped with watermelon caviar at Olive Bar & Kitchen. Pomegranate Mousse Martini at Yum Yum Tree. Confit of Chicken Leg at Fresco. Shanghai Soup Dumpling at Asia 7.