A Strange Flirtation


I’m having a strange flirtation with ‘molecular gastronomy’, by that I mean I want to explore using chemicals and techniques that are outside the range of the classic chef, techniques that didn’t exist during Escoffier or Pellegrino Artusi’s time.  Now, bearing in mind that I don’t even own a microwave, this is pretty radical for me.

Friday night we ate at Fiamma, a restaurant on Spring St. in Soho.  They have a new chef, Fabio Trabocchi, who is pushing the boundaries between what is considered Italian cooking and what is contemporary, or radical, or molecular. Call it what you will, but we ate sorrel foam and there was some bits of powder, and a strange glowing orb on a spoon that turned out to be a pear skin with pear gel inside, and it was all excellent, and tasty, and satisfying.  So, if this is cutting edge cuisine, or molecular, than I want to learn how to cook like this.

Last night, the Culinary Historian Society of NY hosted a talk with Herve This and Mitchell Davis.  Herve This is the mack daddy of molecular gastronomy; he holds the only degree that has ever been issued for this science. Mitchell Davis is a cookbook author, a chef, and the vice president of the James Beard foundation.  Mr. Davis is also a sociologist and raised some interesting points last night about the current state of restaurant dining. Not home dining, but restaurant dining. He called what’s going on now to be multi-sensory theater.  Showing us photos from Alien where burning leaves enhance the smell of a pheasant croquette, or a juniper pillow is placed under a plate and as the pillow deflates the aroma of juniper fills the air. Of course, it’s a bit silly and over wrought, but it is avant-garde in the traditional sense, it is cutting edge. It’s not what you might crave on a blustery Tuesday night for dinner, but there is truly a place for this kind of dining, but there is something going on here that will be changing the way all of us conceive, prepare and eat our food.
I’m still not going out to buy a microwave, or burn my Slow Food membership card, but I really do want to fool around with that liquid nitrogen.
And the photo? That’s “cubes that float”… I can’t remember the French name that was given to it last night where it was served as part of the aperitivo hour before the lecture, but it was apple cider and Guinness with an apple and olive oil gelatin cube floating in it. An intriguing looking creation of the desert chef Will Goldfarb, but somebody needsto do some flavor adjustments on this one because it was unpalatably bitter. Back to the kitchen…or to the lab on that one. 

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