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robert brown

Molecular Gastronomy

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Heston, I’m getting a bit nervous about Molecular Gastronomy. I’m concerned that it may be overshadowing the tried and true, if not proven, field of Solid State Gastronomy. I may be alone in mourning its demise, but I still like a solid piece of meat; tearing into a solid whole chicken for two, perhaps with truffles under its skin; a solid, entire fish like a sea bass “en croute”. I have nothing against foams, capsules, and jellies, but my mom told me that in order to be a happy lad, I should have at least two solid meals a day. Any chance that Solid State Gastronomy will ever make a comeback?

Since satire is what closes on Saturday night, let me be serious and ask you this legitimate question: I have not seen the expression in many years, but I remember food writers of 20 years ago speaking of the cuisine of certain Nouvelle Cuisine chefs as having a taste that “explodes in the mouth”. Perhaps currently less-sensitive taste buds are a bit of a factor, but I remember enjoying food at the great restaurants of France tasting better than it does in all but a handful of restaurants today. As I have stated or implied many times (maybe now too many times) on e-Gullet, I find that besides less generosity, more “control-freaking” (not only are more chefs telling you what you have to eat, but also how to eat it), I also find less succulence or naturalness in my dishes, often so with the unexpected Adria-inspired dish that I encounter. In fact, so far (and this does not include The Fat Duck which, believe me, is visit number one the next time I go to the UK) I would have to say that Adria-inspired food works best in the context of a meal “Chez Adria”. In the interest of brevity, then, how do you view cuisine that is offered in new delivery systems (or altered states) vis a vis cuisine made by complete, masterly chefs using impeccable produce stunningly prepared and made with tried and true technique, and do you think that the collaboration of chef and food scientist is slated for a meaningful long term future?

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Robert,

Thanks for your question, a very good one at that.

Firstly I think that the term "molecular gastronomy" does not do this approach any favours at all.

Although this term was coined a few years ago in this country ( the origin of the science of cooking) and it describes perfectly the adaptation of science in the kitchen, it makes it sound like you need a nuclear physics degree to understand it!

At its roots, molecular gastronomy does not mean white chocolate and caviar, it is simply deals with what happens to ur food when we cook it.

So, whether it is roasting a chcken, boiling an egg or making a cup of tea,

an understanding of the science of cooking makes these tasks easier and, in the case of things going wrong in the kitchen it puts you in a far better position to rectify them.

I do agree with you that a menu dotted with foams for example is not the way forward and that food of the future should in no way loose sight of its classical roots.

I just think that there is a whole new world of cooking and eating out there that is hithertoo undiscovered.

After all,sweetcorn and chocolate, tobacco in cooking and parmesan ice cream have been made for nearly two hundred years so what is "classical cooking?

I think that the basic premise of using impeccable produce with true technique could never be questioned.

One of the best examples that I can think of how the knowledge of the science of cooking can improve classical kitchen technique is in the roasting of a chicken.

The probelm is how to cook a chicken so that the breast and leg are cooked perfectly. Either the breast is spot on the legs are not cooked or the legs are cooked and the breasts are like cardboard.

Th classical solution is to cook the chicken first on one leg, then on the other asnd finally on its back, so that the heat from the roasting tray would speed up the cooking of each of the legs while resting on it.

I then begen to think, if the oven is on fixed temperature, why should the roasting tray be hotter than the air in the oven?

It is because the heat retaining capacityof the breasts are different to that of the legs. The breasts heat up much faster a given temperature.

Imagine then, placing a chicken in an oven set at 180C with the intention of cooking the chicken to an internal temperature of 65C to 70C.

The breasts reach the desired internal temperature before the legs as the oven is set at 180C. The breasts, waiting for the legs just get hotter and hotter and, by the time that the legs have reached the desired temperature, the breasts have probably hit 100C and are as dry as anything.

If however, the oven is set at say 70C, then although the breasts reach the desired temperature first, they do not get any hotter while waiting for the legs.

This way a perfectly roast chicken is obtained.

The only downside to this is that there are no browning flavours on the skin. THis can be countered by giving the chicken a very quick blast in the hottest oven possible for five to ten minutes.

The collaboration of chef and scientist is certainly not responsible for so called "whacky" combinations but can lead to a greater understanding of what happens to our food when we cook it.

It is my night off, on a Sunday night and although I call it a half day, I have been at work until nearly 6pm and could not wait till I got home to eat my ost eagerly anticipated meal of the week; my wifes roast chicken with roast potatoes, cauliflower cheeses and braised carrots..........FANTASTIC!

Oh, of course the time with my family makes it more special!

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