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Origin and Concepts of Molecular Cuisine

Origin and Concepts of Molecular Cuisine.

Monsieur Herve This.

Let me talk a little about my hero and the real man behind Molecular Gastronomy. Of course we need to understand first the differences between molecular gastronomy and molecular cuisine (as a trend).

As stated by Herve This: "I defined molecular cooking as a culinary trend using ‘new’ tools, ingredients, and methods. Molecular gastronomy is science and science only".

Hervé This (pronounced: [tis]; born 1955 in Suresnes, Hauts-de-Seine) is a French physical chemist who works for the Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique at AgroParisTech, in Paris (France). His main area of scientific research is molecular gastronomy, that is the science of culinary phenomena (more precisely, looking for the mechanisms of phenomena occurring during culinary transformations).

With the late Nicholas Kurti, he coined the scientific term "Molecular and Physical Gastronomy" in 1988, which he shortened to "Molecular Gastronomy" after Kurti's death in 1998. Graduated from École supérieure de physique et de chimie industrielles de la ville de Paris, he obtained a PhD from the University Paris VI, under the title "La gastronomie moléculaire et physique".


He has written many scientific publications, as well as several books on the subject that can be understood even by those who have little or no knowledge of chemistry, but so far only four have been translated into English. He also collaborates with the magazine Pour la Science, the aim of which is to present scientific concepts to the general public.

He is also a corresponding member of the Académie d'agriculture de France, and, more recently, the scientific director of the foundation "Food Science & Culture", which he created at the French Academy of Science. In 2011, he was elected as a Consulting Professor of AgroParisTech, and he was also asked to create courses on science and technology at Sciences Po Paris.

Some of his discoveries include the perfect temperature for cooking an egg (around 65°C, the white coagulates, but not the yolk), and the use of an electrical field to improve the smoking of salmon. He also found that beating an egg white after adding a small amount of cold water considerably increases the amount of foam produced. Every month he adds one new "invention" in the Art et Science section of the website of the chef Pierre Gagnaire.

Although his main focus is on physical chemistry, he also attributes great importance to the emotional aspect of cooking, as the title of one of his books shows: Cooking is love, art, technique.

The new cooking techniques around the grand old flavors.

Let’s first get some concepts clear, before us deep in any further in this subject. Molecular gastronomy is a subject of a scientific nature that involves the study of both, physical and chemical processes that take place in cooking. It involves the mechanisms behind the transformation of all ingredients in cooking, and in addition to the social, technical and aesthetic components of culinary and gastronomic phenomena. This concept is analyzed from a technical as well as from a culinary point of view.

Imagine for a moment an infusion made with the basic techniques of fresh herbs treated under and oil media, such as clarified butter. Then think of this delightful flavor profile infusion becoming solid as we mix it with Tapioca Maltodextrin drum dried starch, until it all becomes smooth and granulated sand. Finally, try to imagine this final product in your mouth becoming alive as the hydrophobic Maltodextrin dissolves with your saliva and all the hidden flavors open up front with a sweet after taste.

This is what molecular gastronomy is indeed, an adventurous vision between real flavors transported in a visual and tactile experience through the dynamics of texture.

Although molecular gastronomy is a term often considered being vague, new and disconcerting, it was actually conceived in 1992 by the Hungarian physicist Nicholas Kurti, and his colleague, the French physical chemist Hervé This. The origins of its investigation started as far as 1700’s. As a matter of a fact Sir Benjamin Thompson, Count Rumford (1753–1814) happened to be one of the earlier pioneers in the science of food & cooking.

Molecular Cuisine

Molecular gastronomy often conjures images of laboratory derived experiments more than a dining end to it, but in 99% of the cases, it is actually a lot of both. Most practitioners do execute their creations in laboratories. These laboratories are in most cases, just modern kitchens loaded with brand new high-tech equipment and ingredients.

One of the equipment used in these culi-tech kitchens includes the anti-griddle. The anti-griddle consists in a reverse cook top that almost instantaneously, transforms liquids to frozen solids at under 30° Celsius. Another wonder is the Sous vide cooker. It all consists in food vacuumed in plastic that later on is placed into water. The food contained in this bags is slowly cooked at a precisely and constant temperature. And finally, the novel CO2 dispenser, which converts virtually any liquid matter into a delicate froth or aired foam.

Top 10 Unusual Cooking Concepts

I have wanted to do a list like this for some time and finally got around to it! This list comprises the 10 most common (but unusual) techniques used in haute cuisine at the moment. While they are not all new ideas, they are all unique in the way that they are now being put into use. These methods are becoming so popular that many amateur cooks are incorporating them into their home cooking. All I ask is that you read this list with an open mind – many of the things here may seem strange, but I assure you, that once you taste this type of cooking, you will convert to the newest religion.

1 - Liquid Nitrogen

Freezing has long been a staple in kitchens and cooking, but it is only recently that it is really coming to the fore, particularly extreme temperature and fast freezing. Liquid Nitrogen is especially useful in making ice cream as the rapid freezing prevents ice crystals from forming; and it is the ice crystals in ice cream that makes for an inferior product.

Liquid Nitrogen’s frozen ice cream is the smoothest silkiest ice cream you will ever eat and it takes only a few minutes to freeze. You can also use this technique to freeze pure fruit juices into sorbets.

2 - Alginates

Alginates are a type of gum that cause calcium based liquids to gel. They are used to create “caviar” fruit juices in the form of caviar, ravioli without pasta, and much more. The uses are virtually unlimited.

3 - Vapor

If you thought airs were unusual; you aren’t seen nothing’ yet! In many haute cuisine restaurants, all of the senses come into play, and smell (perhaps the most important sense next to taste) can play a significant role. The idea is to bathe the diners in scents that cause a deepening of the flavors of the food. This is achieved in a variety of ways.

At El Bulli diners are given fresh stems of rosemary to smell while they eat, and in some restaurants, bags filled with food scents are stuck with holes and weighted so there is a constant release of odor during the meal. Next time you eat a piece of lamb, try sniffing a stem of rosemary instead of adding it while cooking; the result? You’ll get the flavor of rosemary without overpowering the delicate lamb flavor.

4 - Air

In the finest of modern restaurants, gravy and sauce are becoming a thing of the past – being replaced with airs and foams. Using a submersion blender with cooking juices or fruit juices combined with a stabilizer – usually lecithin, produces airs. The blender causes the liquid to froth up and the froth is then used on the plated meal.

Foams are slightly denser than airs and they are generally made with a similar liquid, but foamed up in a cream whipping device charged with nitrous oxide. Airs and foams are both used in the same way but for different effects.

5 - Sous Vide

In a way this is a rather ancient method of cooking – eggs could be said to be cooked sous-vide when boiled. Sous vide (meaning “under vacuum”) is when food is vacuum packed and cooked in a pot of boiling water until it is done. The benefit of this type of cooking is that meat can be cooked for hours without over-cooking.

For example, beef can be cooked to medium rare by boiling it in a vacuum sealed bag for one and a half hours at 160 degrees. Oxtail will cook perfectly in eight hours at 165 degrees. Because the water can be kept at a constant temperature (with the use of a thermometer), you can not overcook the meat. When the meat is done, you can brown it with a blow torch or in a frying pan – guaranteed perfect results every time – and the tenderest meat you could imagine.

6 - Slow Cooking

No doubt we are all familiar with the good old slow cooked stews that our parents made. But modern cuisine has to take things further. First, a little science: when cooking meat at a high temperature, the collagen from the flesh contracts and pushes the liquid out; the end result being a dry lump of hard meat.

Well! The solution to this is to cook the meat at the perfect temperature for eating – low enough not to cause constriction of the flesh. Beef can be cooked at 50 degrees for 24 hours. When it is done, you sear it with a blow torch to brown it and flavor it. The resulting flesh is so soft it can be cut with a spoon. I usually roast a chicken at high temperatures for the juices (and does not serve the meat), and then cook one at low temperatures for the soft meat – this I serve with the juices from the first bird. Expensive, but worth it.

7 - Powders

Powders are a new addition to modern menus – they are flavors that are dried to a dust and then sprinkled or served alongside food as a garnish. In some restaurants they are served as an entire course on their own. The main method for preparing powders is to mix an oil-based liquid with Maltodextrin. This is then processed in a food processor until you get a powder of the consistency you prefer. An incredibly tasty powder is made from rendered bacon fat and Maltodextrin – it melts in your mouth while filling it with an intense bacon flavor.

8 - Other Senses

Some restaurants are now experimenting with food via the other senses that we normally don’t relate to cuisine – such as darkness and audio. For example, when eating in a pitch black environment, diners are said to have a much greater appreciation of individual flavors in food as they are not distracted by the in-built perceptions of food that come from appearance. Other restaurants use sound to enhance flavor.

It is an extraordinary experience. Scientists have shown that when a person eats a carrot with the crunch amplified via a microphone and headphones, the consumer believes it to be much fresher and cleaner tasting than a carrot without the audio equipment.

9 - Methyl Cellulose

This is an exciting product being used in cooking. Methyl cellulose is a compound that turns to a firm gel when it is heated. For this reason, many bakeries mix it into their pie fillings to ensure that they don’t spill out of their pastry shells when cooking. But, the molecular gastronomes have found a more exciting use for it in their restaurants: hot ice cream!

This is done by mixing a standard ice cream base with methyl cellulose (1.5% of the total recipe) and submerging a scoop filled with the liquid into a pot of hot water. The hot water causes the ice cream to go hard. This is served immediately and as the ice cream cools down, it melts.

10 - Transglutaminase

Imagine a bowl of steaming prawn noodles – made almost entirely with prawns and including no flour (the prime ingredient in noodles). This is the type of food you can produce using Transglutaminase (“meat glue”). Transglutaminase breaks down the cells of meat and basically turns it to a mush that can be piped or shaped. It is used in commercial food for binding meats together (as in hot dogs, ham and sausages) but it really comes to life in the hands of modern chefs.

And as usual I expect to hear from your feedback on all these interesting courses. Until the next week. Have a good one. Until the next course :)

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With my warmest culinary regards.

Chef. Gianfranco Chiarini.








#4 Daniel Serrano 2014-10-08 03:46
It´s very interesting and complicated!
#3 David Giani 2013-07-28 13:25
I have use this technique various time in my menus and gourmet dishes from scratch the only thing when the restaurant stuff is not culinary educate and has enough knowledge, has been a real challenge for me to apply this type of cooking. For many people they still prefer dishes the old fashion way and they are not trust the new gourmet world, but we are the us the Chefs with our passion and love for food that we will change the way people will eat gourmet food in the next 10 years.
#2 Monte D. Young 2013-05-27 14:33
That is great!
#1 Matthias Tesi Baur 2013-05-26 13:28
Very interesting article.
Thanks a lot for posting!

I'm looking forward to reading more from you.


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