This is just a quick update to say that I am not dead, nor denatured in any way. There’s a lot going on around the Ideas In Artifice kitchen lab right now, namely that it’s moving across the country. Once everything is settled in, I should have some free time to get back to doing what I do best: taking money from rich people with basic science. Until then, I wish you all well.
I realize I haven’t posted in quite some time, but things have been a bit strange and exciting lately.
Last weekend, after teaching a class on partially hydrogenated truffle foams, I went out for a drink. One drink became several, and several became dozens. Staggering home, I tripped and fell face first into the gutter. My world spun wildly as it faded into blackness. I awoke to the feeling of a firm grip on my shoulder. Instinctively I lashed out and felt my fist connect with a man’s face. The blow solid, my form perfect, the very earth shaken by my drunken fist.
Before I even opened my eyes, the silence struck me. It was as though the whole world were caught breathless. When I finally looked up, I realized why:
I had punched God right in the fucking face.
As he massaged his jaw, already starting to bruise under his thick white beard, looked at me and said, “Damn, dude! You gotta get your drinking under control.”
I asked if I was going to Hell for this, or at least going to die in some terrible grisly manner.
“Nah, it doesn’t really work like that. Plus, be honest with yourself. A dude like you isn’t just going to hell, he’s on the damned VIP list. Don’t be surprised if people in line are asking for your autograph.”
Then he just disappeared in a cloud of white smoke. As I stumbled home, I contemplated his words. Perhaps I did need to get my drinking under control. A more tantalizing idea though, was to get drinking under control. I locked myself in the lab for days, subsisting on nothing but foie gras and cognac, until finally I had the solution:
“Chewable” “cola”, shaken with Appleton Estate Extra 12 Year Old rum, presented on Elephant Ear. The first ever toothsome “drink”, it boggles the mind as it refreshes the palate. Using gelatin (the original hydrocolloid) from boiled pig skin gives a satisfyingly chewy texture, while adding no porcine flavor, so vegetarian diners will never know if you don’t tell them.
Aeration is currently the shit. I don’t expect this trend to last because it’s getting cheaper to imitate, but for now we Molecular Gastronomists have to ride it into the ground like we did with foams and the fake egg thing. Here I present a couple different aeration techniques. Spicy corn meal sticks (possibly “stix”, “stixxx”, or “styx” – no verdict yet from the focus groups) are embedded in fluffy “cream” “cheese” sprinkled with goma furikake. The “styckxz” are extrusion-aerated and the cream cheese is vaccuum aerated and stabilized with xanthan gum.
On a semi-related note, I think the tincture may be the next big thing in culinary bullshitting. You heard it here first.
Hydrocolloids are to the “Molecular” “Gastronomist” what British accents are to the Harry Potter universe. Without them I wouldn’t be able to do things like this:
Sadly, almost all naturally occurring liquids are flawed in some way. Either they aren’t clear enough, uniform enough, or won’t hold whatever ludicrous shapes the “Gastronomist” decides to draw on your plate with a squeeze bottle. Hydrocolloids allow the skilled “Gastronomist” to manipulate the physical properties of nearly any liquid, and “Molecular” “Gastronomy” is nothing if not the bastardization of nature.
Special thanks to Ben Blanton Photography for the epic macro shot, and many others.
“Tropical” “fruit” gels, served with Vice-Grip pliers.
The pliers serve a couple purposes in this dish. First, they make the dish more profitable. As we all know, diners that go for avant-garde cuisine are essentially husks with wallets, devoid of independent thought or personal taste. These kinds of people can be easily made to pay large sums of money for food that fits into a few simple categories. One is food that is confusing, which I covered to some extent in my article on plating. Another is food that is perceived as “fun”. This dish evokes the same visceral emotions as a plate of steamed crab legs waiting to be cracked, but without the annoyance of being able to associate your food with the animal from which it came. People see this and they know that good times are ahead, and rich people know that the best times are the ones you pay the most for. If you believe that the best things in life are free, for your next meal go rummage through the dumpster behind McDonalds and let me know what a great dining experience you had.
The other purpose of the pliers is a bit more functional. Allow me to blow your fucking mind:
Each toothsome morsel is bursting with a flavorful “juice”. These jewels require a high-level mastery of several hydrocolloids, which I will go into greater detail about in a later post; I’m assuming most readers are still in too fragile of a mental state from the pictures to handle something as epic as carrageenan.
Dark against light, salty against sweet, crunchy against chewy…to master the contrasting of flavors, textures, and colors is essential for any chef, especially one who practices the dark arts of “Molecular” “Gastronomy”.
OK, I wrote up a huge piece about this dish over the weekend and even though I hit “Publish”, I didnt’ stick around long enough to see that WordPress logged me out without notifying me. Instead of trying to recreate that masterpiece of writing, let me just condense it to a few key points:
- “Chocolate” “cake” enveloped in pork gelatin-stabilized corn syrup foam, dusted with “coconut”
- Heavily salted fried corn kernels
- Kernels soaked in water for 3 days, evaporation during frying leaves enough air holes to allow for chewing without broken teeth
- Combination of salty, crunchy element with moist, sweet element takes dish to new heights, like how a horse plus a horn is a unicorn, but unicorns can fly and shit rainbows even though neither the horse nor the horn could do either of those things
Despite its name, the french fry is one of the most American foods on the planet. It is fitting then that I, an American chef, should take the pomme frite to a whole new level. What appears to be a simple corn chip is actually a crunchy mindfuck. All of the rich flavors of french fries dipped in ketchup, condensed into a toothsome, uniform crisp (broken here to show texture, but originally a perfect rectangle). I have been experimenting with an entire hamburger with fries condensed into a single crisp, but the combination of so many perfectly captured flavors has so far proven to be too much for the average person’s senses. My theory is that the brain rejects the notion that so many flavors can be born of a single texture, and immediately induces vomiting and diarrhea. Until the human mind has evolved to keep pace with my “Molecular” “Gastromancy”, we shall have to make do with these delicious “ketchup” “and” “fries” “crisps”.
Sometimes past failures can become part of future successes. Here is a dish I composed using a variation on the “meat” “cylinder”, holding a “refreshment” “cube” over some “country” “gravy”.
This application of the “meat” “cylindar” uses a blend of beef and chicken (cooked sous-vide for 66.6 hours at 66.6 degrees Celsius and mechanically separated of course). It’s spicy flavor comes from a blend of “flavorings” and “spice”, with plenty of umami from hydrolized corn, wheat, and soy proteins. High-pressure extrusion gives the “meat” its perfectly uniform texture and a toothsome “snap”.
The “gravy” maintains perfect texture through the use of mono and diglycerides and a luxurious blend of fats (chicken fat, palm oil, canola oil, partially hydrogenated soybean oil), staying smooth and velvety even as it cools to room temperature.
While the components of the dish are each delicious in their own way, it is the plating that transforms this from mere “food” to experience.
Diners are instructed to lay on their stomach, and the dish is placed in front of them, with the gravy at the far end. They are then instructed to begin consuming the dish without the use of their hands (I am toying with the idea of brioche handcuffs here to deter cheaters). By design, they will first experience the fruity flavors and cooling effect of the “refreshment” “cube”. These sensations are quickly replaced by the contrasting spiciness and earthy flavors of the “meat”. The string is not edible, and must be spat out. As the diner progresses up the cylinder, the delicate balance is disturbed, causing the other “cube” to be lowered into the “gravy”. By the time the diner gets to the other “cube”, it is fully saturated, creating a brilliant contrast of velvety richness and crisp refreshment. Again, the string is not edible.
While I await the photos from the latest series of shoots, I thought I might take a minute to explain some important elements of plating. In haute cuisine and particularly “Molecular” “Gastronomy”, plating is one of the most important elements of a dish. Whether the diner is amused, alarmed, confused, or saddened, is unimportant. The critical thing is for the plating to distract the diner and throw off their expectations of the dish.
An excellent plating should also completely obfuscate how the dish should be eaten. This serves to replace the diner’s initial hunger with feelings of uncertainty, inadequacy, and ultimately inferiority. This is the best mindset for someone to enjoy “Molecular” “Gastronomics”, forcing them to assume that the “Chef” is smarter and more talented than they will ever be. Flavor combinations go from “disgusting” to “revolutionary”, and outrageous prices seem totally justified.
Lets take a look at a few examples. First up, this dish from Ferran Adria, of Spain’s El Bulli:
Is it soup? Is it a bowl of potpourri from the bathroom? This dish is so obtuse, one would never know it was edible without being told, and that is exactly what the “Chef” intends. Once you are told the dish is edible, you still have no idea which elements complement each other, or what order to eat anything in. Perhaps the whole thing is meant to be taken in a single gulp, like an expensive shooter. Only the server knows. Well played, Adria.
Next we have a veritable shrine to absurdity from Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck in London:
Is the line of sauce meant to be eaten or is it just decoration? Why are some of the cubes on top of the large cube, but some aren’t? More questions than ingredients is a sure win.
Finally an epic dish from Wylie Dufrense of WD-50 in New York City:
What appears to be completely haphazard placement of dots, flakes, and dust is actually a calculated optical illusion, making a handful of ingredients and chemicals appear to be a dessert course in a meal costing several hundred dollars. The point of stabilizing chocolate mousse with food gums will be revealed to the diner when the bill arrives at the table.
This is not to say that plating is the most important element of a dish. Chemicals and expensive equipment are also key for successful “Molecular” “Gastronomy”, but proper plating will set the stage for an enjoyable and lucrative experience.
People have certain expectations when it comes to dessert, and “Molecular Gastronomy” is here to rape those expectations. We must forget about such petty constructs as fork, plate, spoon, and napkin. Why can’t dessert be handheld, to match today’s on-the-go lifestyle (yet not be totally disgusting like cake balls)? I say it can, and I am right all the time. Flavors of banana, chocolate, and orange dance across the palate, yet leave one hand free for inconsiderate mid-meal text messaging. Loaded with emulsifiers and stabilizers in the true spirit of “Molecular Gastronomy”, these “dessert” “sticks” may be the worlds first fully twitter-compatible confection.