Are You Going To Cook That Or Do A Chemistry Experiment?

Do you watch Top Chef?  I do.  I also watch Top Chef Masters.  And, because I happen to live in the New York City area, I’ve been fortunate enough to eat at wd50, Wylie Dufresne’s restaurant in Manhattan. Dufresne, a contender on Top Chef Masters and a guest judge on Top Chef, is one of America’s most famous chefs who routinely uses molecular gastronomy in his food preparation.

What The Heck Is Molecular Gastronomy?

It’s a scientific discipline that studies the physical and chemical processes that happen during cooking.  According to Wikipedia, It tries to figure out things like:

  • How different cooking methods alter ingredients
  • What role the senses play in appreciating food
  • How cooking methods affect food’s flavor and texture
  • How the brain interprets signals from the senses to tell us the “flavor” of food
  • How things like the environment, mood, and presentation influence the enjoyment of food

“The Scientific Study Of Deliciousness”

This is how Harold McGee, author of  the book, On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, describes MG. Gourmet Girl Magazine gives these examples of MG techniques:

  • Flash-freezing which involves quickly freezing the outside of various foods, sometimes leaving a liquid center.
  • Spherification: Little spheres are made by mixing liquid food with sodium alginate then dunking it into calcium chloride.  A sphere looks and feels like caviar and has a thin membrane that releases a liquid center when it pops in your mouth.
  • Meat glue: Wylie Dufresne’s “shrimp noodles” are noodles made of shrimp meat and created using transglutaminase, or meat glue, as it’s called at wd-50. It binds different proteins together and is commonly used in foods like chicken nuggets.
  • Foams: Sauces that are turned into froth by using a whipped cream canister, sometimes with lecithin as a stabilizer.
  • Edible menus: Yep, eat your menu. By using an ink-jet printer, inks made from fruit and vegetables, and paper made of soybean and potato starch, your menu can taste like your dinner.
  • Dusts and Dehydration: Dehydrating ingredients into a dust changes the way to use them, for example, making a dust of certain mushrooms and then sprinkling it on food.

The Bottom Line

According to Environmental Nutrition (EN), if you’ve wondered what makes glossy white peaks form when you whip egg whites, or how an ordinary milk can  turn into rich, pungent cheese, you’ve wandered into the world of molecular gastronomy (MG).

MG, “the scientific study of the pleasure giving qualities of foods—the qualities that make them more than mere nutrients,” analyzes long standing culinary practices and old wives’ tales and deconstructs classic recipes. As you lick that delicious ice cream cone do you stop and think about ice cream’s complicated physical structure that includes ice crystals, protein aggregates, sugar crystals and fats in a condensed form?  You don’t, but molecular gastronomists might.

What Does MG Look Like On Your Dinner Plate?

Grant Achatz, a James Beard award winning chef might serve these foods at Alinea, his Chicago restaurant: tiny bits of cauliflower served shaved, fried, dehydrated, and coated in three kinds of custards; Chinese beef and broccoli plated as a traditional short rib, the plate dotted with dehydrated broccoli and peanuts then covered with a clear gelatinous sheet of Guinness beer.

Got you thinking as you lick your lips?

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