Why you should care
Because food on a plate consumed with chopsticks, forks or injera is so yesterday.
Do you like the idea of a caviar and champagne cocktail? Or sipping on Bloody Marys that look like miniature tomatoes, with a side of balsamic vinegar pearls?
We might be years away from hoverboards that actually hover, but inhaling your food through a straw or chowing down on pearlized cranberries is possible right now. This esoteric eating style is called molecular gastronomy, and it’s a form of cooking that fuses food science with culinary artistry. With food additives, the texture and shape of food can be altered, allowing chefs to get really creative.
You can experience this at a number of high-end restaurants, but they come with a price tag that’s inaccessible to many. We’re sure chef Paco Roncero’s $2,000-a-head menu is exquisite, but that’s about eight months of groceries for the average millennial. However, a number of chefs are trying to democratize the molecular gastronomy experience, creating toolkits to allow amateur cooks to make their own masterpieces at home. “Molecular gastronomy is a fantastic set of tools to play with one’s food,” 33-year-old Jonathan Coutu, Molecule-R’s cofounder, tells OZY. Montreal-based Molecule-R sells $50 DIY molecular kits designed to baby-step people through the process of turning fruit into flavored foam and vegetables into gelled spheres.
Coutu formed Molecule-R in 2009 after getting frustrated with the disconnect in culture; molecular cooking was widely praised but available only to the elite. He didn’t think a two-tier system for taste buds was fair. Coutu tells OZY that what makes molecular-dining restaurants costly is not the ingredients, which he called “relatively cheap,” but the experience level of the chefs. Take that away, and prices would drop considerably. “What we aim to do is make it possible for foodies to experiment at home with the same techniques used by these chefs,” he says. There were — and are — other kits available, but he believed they were too complex for beginners.
The term molecular cuisine was coined in 1988 by French chemist Hervé This and Hungarian physicist Nicholas Kurti. They focused on the chemistry of food preparation; they figured if they understood why mayonnaise firms when oil and eggs are added, they could innovate how people cooked. In 1992 they ran a workshop devoted to experimental cooking and showcased an inside-out Baked Alaska — cold on the outside, hot in the center. This intrigued people, and many started experimenting in their own kitchens, leading to the rise of the celebrity molecular cooks we have today. “It’s fun for people who are looking for something different to serve,” Cookistry food blogger and author Donna Currie tells OZY. But she warned that not all guests will be open to trying something new and that many of the kits don’t contain enough product for more than a few experiments.
But enough are curious that Molecule-R was confident releasing Molecular 50 Course Meal, their second cookbook, in late 2015. It features more complex recipes than book one, but they reckon people can handle it. Cooking chemistry-style will never be for everybody, but the joy of playing with your food — intentionally — is one that might have a long shelf life.