Sunday, May 23, 2010

MOLECULAR GASTRONOMY

There must be something in the water in Spain, birthplace of at least two famous chefs who practice food physics: José Andrés, who has eight restaurants in the US and Ferran Adrià who, of course, has El Bulli.  Considered the best restaurant in the world in 2007, 2008, 2009, El Bulli, became famous for Adria’s so-called molecular gastronomy, his use of tools such as precision scales, liquid nitrogen, centrifuges and chemicals to create dishes that taste as unusual as they look:  solid-looking raisins are really spherified drops of sweet sherry, a thin membrane having been chemically created around the liquid.  Seemingly-solid olives are really deconstructed, emulsified and spherified olives.  There are unexpected temperatures (little balls of frozen egg yolk) and interesting flavours and textures like monkfish livers with sake-infused grapes, vanilla-flavoured mashed potatoes, tartare of marrow and green tea, a raspberry butterfly on yoghurt covered in liquorice powder, beetroot-yoghurt meringues, black sesame sponge cake with the texture of crumbling lace, violets with nectar and tobacco-flavoured blackberry crushed ice.
    Lest you want to rush over to Spain to try some of the above, be aware that El Bulli will close on July 30, 2011 and will re-open in 2014 as a "gastronomic think tank" exploring further experimental gastronomy.
   Both Adrià and Andrés have lectured at Harvard University. In December 2008, Adrià demonstrated "caviar" of melon droplets and "pasta" made of ham. While there, he signed a memorandum of understanding, agreeing to collaborate on gastronomic science with the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences
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                                                      ^ Art: Guiseppe Arcimboldo>
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    Meanwhile, in America, José Andrés, has bravely introduced the "small plate" dining concept and opened a chain of restaurants, including Minibar, Cafe Atlantico, Jaleo, and Zatinya.  It's possible that this concept won’t catch on with American diners, who tend to prefer the "large platter" dining concept.  Andrés does the same sort of things Adrià does: culinary foams and gels, odd temperatures, strange flavour and texture combinations.
    Then there is Heston Blumenthal's THE FAT DUCK in Bray, Berkshire, which serves sardine-on-toast sorbet, snail porridge, various froths and foams and bacon-and-egg ice cream.  
   Even though some of them are just plain silly, I like some aspects of molecular gastronomy enabled by new technology (candied cilantro, frozen honey), take a look at this.  But why all this taste deception and culinary disguise?  I’m not against adventures in taste or texture, I'd try these taste-pranks for fun, but I object to fooling my palate and torturing food like this on a regular basis.  Are food cocktails better than savouring flavours individually?  I don't think so.  I don't really want my palate to be surprised or bewildered by food that’s been foamed, frozen, gelled, frothed, emulsified, acidified, artificially colored, or chemically enhanced.  And besides, wine can’t be matched to this motley molecular cuisine.  Eating fine food with fine wine is one of life’s great pleasures and shouldn’t be messed with.  The novelty of eating something hot that you expected to be cold, something sweet you expected to be savoury and vice versa quickly wears off, whereas the  euphoria created by a lusty meal of ordinary food and wine lasts for days.
    And if we’re considering culinary adventures, why not explore all the less familiar foods that we rarely get to taste?  Like goat eyes, octopus beak, snail eggs, cock combs, hedgehog, kangaroo tail, crocodile or snake?  
    But, whatever the cuisine, food exploration is something we should start in school.  Nobody should grow up thinking fast food is all there is.  Our palate and throat need educating too and we should learn that food and wine can be so much more than mere fuel.  Teachers at Pembroke College, Cambridge dine well but is should be the students who do.  It's not such a wild idea though, food could be used to teach chemistry and physics and, along the way, an appreciation for gastronomy.  After all, this chemical cuisine was started by scientist Hervé This in France, where he has served as adviser to the French Minister of Education and has been invited to join the lab of Nobel Prize-winning molecular chemist Jean-Marie Lehn.
    On a more natural culinary note, Copenhagen’s NOMA was named best restaurant in the world in 2010 and it certainly sounds a lot more sensual and food-friendly.  Chief cook and owner, René Redzepi has worked at El Bulli, but seems much more respectful of natural food than the molecular gastronomists.  No chemicals and foams here, Nordic freshness and purity is predominant: horse mussels, deep-sea crabs and langoustines from the Faeroe Islands, which are alive until the moment they are served, seaweed and curds from Iceland, musk ox, smoked marrow, dried scallops and watercress, vintage potato and whey, pickled pear and verbena, sea-buckthorn, herbs and frozen milk, berries and the purest drinking water from Greenland.  They also have a very serious wine list which you can actually match to the food.
    Now that sounds like something worthy of the detour and the bill.

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Saturday, May 15, 2010

PITY THE CARICATURISTS


Barack Obama is a good-looking President and a caricaturist’s dream: stick-out ears, big teeth, big grin, you couldn't ask for more:

David Miliband is also a handsome man and just look what a good caricaturist can do to him:
But, even though Nick Clegg is just as handsome as the others, he’s a caricaturist’s nightmare.  He has tiny, close-fitting ears, his features are terrifyingly regular, his teeth and nose are boringly straight.  Absolutely nothing to exaggerate.  Except a long neck and tall forehead.  Which leads to these:
He's impossible to draw, let alone caricature.  I fear he’ll have to be represented by a symbol:
Will Nick be the only un-caricaturable politician in history?

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Sunday, May 2, 2010

THE TYPING TOAD

The Typing Toad was extra busy last week.
He usually sneaks in when I’m tired and fuzzy-brained and have been in kicking up my heels and drinking too much champagne instead of concentrating on my writing.   But he also likes to contribute generously to the weekly blog post, then announce it on Twitter before I can edit him out.   Sometimes I have to wrestle with the Typing Toad for days before I can regain control of my writing.  He’s always around when I feel least like writing but seems to disappear when I’m focused and  typing with fiery fingers.  
    It was the Typing Toad who convinced me in the first place that the blog must go on, no matter what. 
    "Somesing must be published every Sunday morning."  (Typing Toad has an adorable French accent).
    Why?  I’m not being paid for this, nobody’s breathlessly waiting for it. 
    "Sink of it as a deadline.  You will learn discipline."
    Discipline, shmiscipline.  I think I’ll just skip a week.  Or a month.
    "But you promised you would do it, so you ‘ave to." 
    But I don’t feel like writing, I have no ideas and what if it sucks? 
    "It won’t suck if you let me do it.  Just leave it to me, chérie
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    And, like a dope, I do.
    Typing Toad’s style leaves a lot to be desired.  It’s sloppy, scattered, full of non-sequiturs and is very self-indulgent.  He likes to use gratuitously big words, sound effects, symbols, he thinks the silliest things are funny and he repeats himself.  He also makes spelling mistakes, overlooks typos and his thoughts are ill-formed and his arguments poorly made.  Typing Toad often sounds as though he’s been at the dandelion wine.
    Want to see the Typing Toad in action?  Just watch the evolution of my Sunday blog posts happening right before your eyes most weeks. It’s often tweaked a dozen or more times, sometimes it gets completely rewritten and isn’t usually properly readable until Wednesday, when Typing Toad takes the day off.

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