Have you ever wondered how Molecular Gastronomy first started? Do a quick search on Wikipedia and you’ll find that the term was first coined by Hungarian physicist Nicholas Kurti and French physical chemist Hervé This in 1992. Ask Natalia Arrias Camps of MolecularRecipes.com, and she will tell you the complete story: ‘Molecular gastronomy started in 1992 in Erice, Italy, when Elizabeth Thomas, an English teacher of cookery (married to a physicist), proposed the creation of the first molecular gastronomy workshop in order to bring the science of cooking to the kitchen. Elizabeth then recruited Nicholas Kurti, an Oxford physicist who had written a book about the science of cooking. The group was then completed by the addition of Harold McGee, the American food science writer, and Hervé This, French physical chemist and magazine editor in Paris.'
Molecular gastronomy, it seems, is something everyone wants a bite of - and not just by those laying claim to its birth. Over the last 20 years it’s become a household concept, with some of the world’s best and most well-known chefs, like Heston Blumenthal and Ferran Adrià – who was the first to embrace science in the kitchen at restaurant elBulli - firmly displacing themselves into the test tube of molecular gastronomy. Yet, with its boom in popularity also came a corresponding disliking of the movement.
Today, many chefs, including René Redzepi of Noma, Copenhagen - a restaurant which held the title of Best Restaurant in the World (according to the San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants list) for three consecutive years - argue that molecular gastronomy is old news. While René urges chefs to ‘go back to find the taste of pure nature. Without electricity or complicated kitchen equipment’ [as quoted at Cook It Raw Book launch] Heston avoids the term like a plague, because he believes it has made the practice of using science in the kitchen elitist.
Sebastian, one of the co-founders of MolecularRecipes.com - the site which provides chefs, home cooks, students and scientists with a complete source of information, ideas and products for molecuar gastronomy – on the other hand, argues against its opposition: ‘making these creative dishes takes a lot of time, focus and work. That’s why a restaurant that only serves molecular gastronomy dishes is usually expensive. But there are many other restaurants that can use some of the elements of molecular gastronomy to enhance their guest's experience. This is not elitist at all. To me molecular gastronomy is the surprise factor.’
As for the common conception that molecular gastronomy is unhealthy, synthetic, chemical and dehumanising, Sebastian says that: ‘Most of the so called “chemicals” utilised to change the textures in foods are of biological origins. The usual sources are marine life, plants, animals or microbial. They are processed or purified for human consumption and used in very small quantities.’
So, is it really fair to say that Molecular Gastronomy has had its day?
Perhaps not, when you think of the bare facts. Exploring today's fine dining restaurants is a new generation of gourmands who were not around 20 years ago to experience the first wave of molecular gastronomy. These are pushing the resurging interest in molecular gastronomy to the surface of the culinary scene. And for those chefs who have plucked the words “molecular” and “gastronomy” from their kitchens and menus, and reserved them, only for the compost heap - are their dishes really free of one of the biggest and perhaps most influential culinary movements that’s swept the globe? Or are the methods behind their innovative and constantly evolving dishes deeply imbedded with the practice of molecular gastronomy?
And what about the growing number of utensils, websites and books on molecular gastronomy being made more available to the home chef with an inquisitive culinary prowess?
Perhaps, the question really is more a matter of science than we thought; over the last 20 years molecular gastronomy has progressed tenfold, dispersing, recurring and remorphing itself in many of the world’s best kitchens. Now we have to ask: How will it evolve traditional cooking techniques in the everyday cook’s kitchen?
For Sebastian, molecular gastronomy on a commercial level is the start of something exciting. ‘It won’t change traditional cooking methods, but it certainly will add to it.’
‘If you enjoy adding lots of creativity to your dishes, whether you are a professional chef or a home cook, you will love molecular gastronomy. You can really use science to make the most creative dishes that certainly hold a WOW factor.’
So before you brand it as obsolete, why not join the camp of cooks who have already donned their white overalls and chemistry-class goggles and get into the kitchen, equipped with an artillery of now readily available molecular recipes. You may decide it’s not for you, but in the name of science and potentially mind-blowingly extraordinary cuisine, give it a go.
Recipes taken from MolecularRecipes.com
For more visit the MolecularRecipes.com website
Ferran Adria’s Transparent Raviolis
Created by molecular gastronomy Chef Ferran Adria, the transparent raviolis became an icon of el Bulli menu in 2009. The transparent and ultra thin “pasta”, which looks more like a thin plastic wrap, dissolves in the mouth instantly releasing the contents of the ravioli.
Joan Roca’s Cigar Smoke Ice Cream
A dark chocolate cigar filled with ice cream, infused with cigar smoke and served with dipping spices that resemble ashes. This dish is a creation of Chef Joan Roca from 3 Michelin Star restaurant El Celler de Can Roca in Girona, Spain.