If your idea of a good time is to get up early on a Saturday morning, take a train ride to Queens, and talk about the effects of methocel on mango juice, then I have just the place for you to go.
The duo behind the Ideas in Food blog are Chefs H. Alexander Talbot and Aki Kamozawa and they are at the forefront of molecular gastronomy, or contemporary cuisine or whatever you call the movement that is the avant-garde of the cooking world. They have returned from a summer gig in Montana, and are now offering classes in their home.
In a nutshell, what they are doing is experimenting, manipulating and creating new food textures using food grade chemicals. If your first reaction is YUCK, hang on for a minute. Alex’s intro into the class touched on this problem of perception. Chemical manipulation has been done to many every day items that you eat…do you think sugar grows all nice and organically inside those little packets? Alex’s take on some of these products is to treat them as you would any other ingredient, and to think of them as ingredients. There are producers who are even working on organic grade agar or carrageenan, which is derived from red seaweed.
It was a brain stimulating class; we made eggnog knots, turning commercial eggnog into a simple, and elegant presentation. We made a very stable and airy foam out of mango juice, which was used as a filling for violet scented yoghurt skin with the assembled dish looking brain teasingly like an omelet. We made gel strips out of applesauce that tasted just like apple pie. My mind was bouncing around with all the possibilities. I’m not numbers oriented, but on the train ride home, I was wondering about the effects of combining F50 with A15 methocel and should locust bean gum be added for flexibility. I can honestly say that I think it was the first time I’d ever considered this sort of food manipulation. And cooking, adding heat, is the most basic form of manipulation, so this is just a sort of evolution.
But, at days end, its still about flavor, texture, and satisfaction. I think it is easy to get wrapped up in the possibilities, however you don’t want to lose sight of the ultimate goal: dining pleasure. So, I’m not so sure about a gel that mimics the flavor of apple pie without the decadence of a good crust to back it up; however I am sure about that celery root cube we sampled because it completely and totally rocked. It’s a fantastic world to explore and to play around with, but you must watch out that you don’t lose track of that ultimate goal.