With the advent of food science and revolution in the culinary world, molecular gastronomy is making its place in the city and in the stomachs, writes Shuba Shrivastava
In 1998, Hungarian physicist Nicholas Kurti and French physical chemist Hervé This came up with the concept of ‘molecular and physical gastronomy’. It took a great start and many culinary experts tried their hands on it. Molecular gastronomy gives innovative dining experience by blending science to transform the taste and texture of food. It is like a magic show – fascinating to watch but not something you can do at home.
Few years back, Mumbai too caught the fever. There are many restaurants, which serve food with a scientific twist by using techniques and tools like carbon dioxide, foams, liquid nitrogen, anti-griddle and many more. From unbelievable mishti doi lollipops, paani puri in test tubes to soap cake, molecular gastronomy has taken the city by storm.
Experiment with panache
Ever wondered what rabri foam, jalebi cheesecake or flaming sherbets would taste like? Known as the ‘Czar of Indian Cuisine’ and ‘Taste maker to the Nation’, Jiggs Kalra is the man who introduced molecular gastronomy to Indian cuisine for the first time in India. He started Masala Library, to bring the gastronomical tradition. Their chai ice cream made with vanilla and strawberry, topped with cutting chai foam is served with masala cinnamon cookies has become a chartbuster.
The jalebi caviar floating on top of rabdi with saffron foam on one side is sure to bring cravings just by imagining. Saurabh Udinia, the head chef of Masala Library says, “The culinary possibilities are definitely limitless. A countless things can be done when it comes to food. We have explored the possibilities of changing the structure and appearance of the food without altering their taste. We use different pairings and service styles while maintaining the nutrition and taste balance.” Molecular gastronomy inspires some elements of the gastro-culinary innovations, where they practice mixing different drinks using analysis and techniques found in science to understand and experiment with cocktail ingredients on a molecular level.
Talking about the future of food science, Udinia says that evolution is the key for everything in this world and it implies to food as well. “There is a constant need to evolve and upgrade our standards and level. In the future, we plan to continue to bring the regional food of our country paired with the latest developments in terms of technique and style.”
As it is served
The presentation of the dish is as important as its taste and texture and molecular gastronomy is the way to it. Imagine distorted kulfi that actually looks like popcorn, served with different flavours. The beautiful end to your dinner-betel leaf with a twist! Paan Mouse is one such innovation of molecular gastronomy where paan flavoured cheesecake is filled inside a betel leaf and then liquid nitrogen is poured on it. It instantly freezes the leaf and your paan is covered inside the cloud of smoke. Spice Klub, a vegetarian restaurant serves North Indian street food in a new avatar, with a scientific twist. Aditya Gupta, the consulting chef says, “Molecular gastronomy is a science where we change the molecule of a dish, which therefore changes its physical appearance.” The deconstructed Vada Paav, without a vada! The paav comes with mousse, which tastes exactly like vada is one such magic of gastronomy.
Talking about the advent of Molecular gastronomy in our country, Gupta says many people try this method without proper knowledge. “It requires a lot of research to get the things right. I heard of a person who got a hole in his stomach because of liquid nitrogen.”
Doing it right
Molecular gastronomy seeks to explain the chemical reasons behind the transformation of ingredients and the social, artistic and technical parts of culinary world. Many people mistakenly view it as unhealthy, chemical and unnatural as the phenomenon relies on liquid nitrogen flasks, syringes, tabletop distilleries and many more. However, the truth is that the chemicals used in molecular gastronomy are all of biological origin. Udinia asserts there are no side effects as each dish is prepared post vast research. “Our endeavour is to maintain the authenticity of these cuisines while presenting it in new form.”
Even though the chemicals have been purified and processed, the raw material is usually originated from plants, animal or microbial. The additives are approved and are used in very small amounts. “The dishes do not have any side effects. However, one must know how to use it correctly,” adds Gupta. “For instance, from one kilo of chemical, only some percentage of it should be used. If people do not use it correctly, it can be really harmful.”
The restaurants uses techniques like Dehydrating, Spherification, Gelification, Slow cooking etc., to give a newness to the taste buds of their patrons. There are various dishes, which are served using these techniques.
How it started:
1969: Oxford-based physicist Nicholas Kurti gives a lecture at the Royal Institute called ‘The Physicist in the Kitchen’.
1988: He meets French physical chemist Hervé This and they conduct many experiments on the same. After numerous attempts, they refer to the cooking as ‘molecular and physical gastronomy’.
1992: Workshops are held in Erice, Italy called ‘Science and Gstronomy’, bringing together scientists and professional cooks. They discuss about the science behind traditional cooking preparations.
1998: Hervé This proposes the theory of Note by Note cuisine in collaboration with Chef Pierre Gagnaire.