You have probably heard of Avant-Garde Cuisine, but what about Molecular Cuisine? Huh? I knew nothing about this fascinating scientific approach to cooking before I attended the Women in Food Industry Management (WFIM) networking event featuring Chef John Placko at Humber College in October. And the attendees at the event were either huge Chef Placko/molecular cuisine fans, or had no idea what they were getting into that night.
Molecular cuisine (or gastronomy) investigates the physical and chemical transformations of ingredients that occur during cooking. It is a modern style of cooking and uses many technical & chemical innovations. Chef Placko shared with us the three key elements to molecular cuisine: modern kitchen ingredients, unique equipment, and precise techniques.
One not so modern ingredient that was used was Sunflower Oil, which Chef Placko says is a great product to use because it doesn’t alter the taste of the main ingredients (The National Sunflower Association was a sponsor for the event – www.canadasunflower.com).
Spherification was an interesting technique that Chef Placko used to make the Proscuitto with melon pearls that we tasted. This process used ingredients such as Sodium Alginate and Calcium Chloride.
We also tasted Genoa salami with whipped parmesan cheese and black olive crumbs. How do you whip parmesan cheese? Chef Placko showed us this Aeration technique using sodium citrate and then placed into a siphon whip with 35% cream. And black olive crumbs? That’s a dehydration process.
Next on the menu was Sous vide turkey, cranberry foam, sous vide butternut squash, turkey snow, turkey skin crackling, stuffing micro sponge. This was Thanksgiving dinner “deconstructed”!
Sous vide is basically a water bath, that uses pressure, temperature and time to cook the product. The benefit of this technique was an extremely moist, tender turkey breast! To create Turkey “snow” Chef Placko added malto-dextrin (a starch, usually from corn or tapioca, with no discernable flavor) to turkey fat to turn it into a delicate powder. Once this powder hits your tongue, it’s all gravy from there! The stuffing micro sponge was fun to watch Chef Placko create. The stuffing was aerated, and then microwaved. It literally looked like a sponge, and tasted like mom’s stuffing. The cranberry foam was created using the ingredient versawhip.
Finally, dessert. Liquid nitrogen carrot ice cream, white chocolate snow, lemon fluid gel, flexible caramel, shattered raspberry and carbonated strawberry. Carrot ice cream? It was delicious! Chef Placko and his team made the ice cream right in front of us, using liquid nitrogen. The carrot puree he used was from Canadian Prairie Garden (www.canadianprairiegarden.com).
The lemon fluid gel was made with agar and xanthan gum. And the flexible caramel was made with a blend of iota and kappa carrageenan. You see these items on ingredient lists all the time, but who knew what you could possibly do with them in your own kitchen?
Our eyes have been opened, and our taste buds mesmorized! But without investing in specialized equipment to use these techniques at home, where can we get more? Many restaurants feature menus of molecular cuisine. Moto (Chicago), Noma (Copenhagen), The Fat Duck (UK), El Cellar de Can Roca (Spain), Alinea (Chicago), and Minibar (Washington DC). Soon we won’t have to travel so far to find molecular cuisine: Chef Placko is opening his own molecular gastronomy restaurant at the Pearson International Airport!
The next thing to investigate: Molecular Mixology!