People have been experimenting with the preparation of food for thousands of years, but chefs have only recently begun to use principles of chemistry to enhance the flavor and texture of the food that they create. Class IV lasers, edible parchments, foams, aromatic airs, froths, smokes, freeze dried powders and paint sprayer “snows” are only a few examples of the techniques being used to push the boundaries of cooking. This new science is known as molecular gastronomy, a branch of food science that studies the physical and chemical changes that occur in food when it is cooked.
As we can see from the S. Pellegrino 50 Best Restaurants list, molecular gastronomy is a major trend among the best and most exclusive restaurants in the world.Although it lost to Noma, a newcomer from Denmark, El Bulli of Spain has been among the top restaurants for the past decade and is known as one of the most difficult places to get a reservation. Head chef Ferran Adria took El Bulli from obscurity to fame with his innovative new cooking techniques, such as foams and flash freezing. El Bulli is closed for an unknown amount of time, but it began a trend of using knowledge of the molecular make up of foods to create daring new dishes. Here are some molecular gastronomy trends to look for that might show up at an upscale restaurant near you.
1. Flash Freezing – This process, invented my Adria of El Bulli, involves quickly freezing the outside of foods with the help of liquid nitrogen in order to leave a liquid center. At Chicago’s Alinea restaurant, flash freezing is used to create a culinary delight consisting of a frozen disk of mango puree surrounding a core of roasted sesame oil.
2. Spheres – Spheres are made by mixing liquid food with sodium alginate dunked in a bath of sodium chloride. They have the consistency of caviar, but can be made of anything. Some popular uses are olives and gnocchi.
3. Meat Glue – Also known as transglutaminase, it allows meat to be turned in to noodles. Wylie Dufresne of New York’s wd-50 uses this technique to make shrimp noodles.
4. Froths – A sauce turned into a froth using a whipped cream canister and a stabilizing agent, usually vegetables.
What better way to learn more about this new way of creating food than to try some? These are some restaurants known for using molecular gastronomy to push the borders of culinary creation along with their location and rating on the S. Pellegrino 50 Best Restaurants list, when applicable.
WD-50 (New York, USA) – #45
Alinea (Chicago, USA) – #7
Nine-Ten (La Jolla, USA)
Providence (Los Angeles, USA)
AnQi Gourmet Bistro by Crustacean (Costa Mesa, USA)
Baume (Palo Alto, USA)
ElBulli (Catalonia, Spain, ) – #2
The Fat Duck (Berkshire, England) – #3