Molecular Gastronomy is a technique of food science where you transform the appearance of an ingredient or dish. It is a form of culinary art, where restaurants use elements of this technique to add an element of surprise and uniqueness to the dish for the diner to enjoy a different level of dining experience. The Institute of Food Technologist, a non-profit professional organisation based in Chicago, USA, defines Food Science as “the discipline in which the engineering, biological, and physical sciences are used to study the nature of foods, the causes of deterioration, the principles underlying food processing, and the improvement of foods for the consuming public," while the text book Food Sciences defines it in much simpler terms as "the application of basic sciences and engineering to study the physical, chemical, and biochemical nature of foods and the principles of food processing." The science behind Molecular Gastronomy explores and investigates the chemical and physical transformation of food ingredients during the cooking process. The concept of molecular cooking encapsulates contemporary style and techniques of cooking, incorporating technical innovations from the scientific discipline while working on the three primary components of cooking, namely social, artistic and technical.
But then, there is more to Molecular Gastronomy than just the scientific explanation. It’s an exciting world of experiments, beautiful foods, and experiences which transcend usual standards. And so, to understand it better, here are 5 things you may or may not have known about Molecular Gastronomy.
The term was jointly coined in 1988 by the late Oxford University physicist Professor Nicholas Kurti and a French physical chemist, Dr. Hervé This, as a more scientific terminology "Molecular and Physical Gastronomy", which post the death of Professor Kurti, was shortened to “Molecular Gastronomy” by Dr. This in 1998. The idea behind the further study into this discipline of food science came with the realisation and acceptance that it has been in existence for many years and formed the basis of their study. They spent a considerable time in gathering details and processes followed by housewives for generations, and working towards grandmother tales, which they termed as ‘culinary precisions’, 25, 000 in all, and started testing them to study the accuracy and workability of these precisions.
Coming of age
The credit for the evolution and introduction of Molecular Gastronomy to the world goes to two of the finest chefs, Ferran Adrià and Heston Blumenthal. They popularised the concept in their restaurants by using processes such as spherification, gelification, powderising, deep freezing and much more through various certified natural chemicals like maltodextrin during the process of cooking, to provide a superior food experience. While molecular gastronomy has been prevalent and hugely successful globally for the past few years, it is a relatively new concept in India, especially in Indian cuisine. Though the diners find the concept fascinating, there is still a lot left to explore in the concept and to make it work in the Indian environment. Our restaurants Masala Library by Jiggs Kalra and Farzi Café have been credited with introducing it in Indian cuisine, to Indian diners, in a manner which was never experienced before.
There is a generic perception of the concept being unsafe which is largely owning to the fact that diners haven’t been exposed in depth to the concept of molecular gastronomy. This notion doesn’t hold true in actuality. The elements used in molecular gastronomy are all natural and mostly plant extracts, which are globally accepted and certified and now being very frequently used in India as well.
With molecular gastronomy, anything is possible. However, the taste of the dish remains unaltered from what you would traditionally get from the same dish. We, at Massive Restaurants, have modern presentation styles by employing various elements of molecular gastronomy, not just as a mere gimmick, but to add to the visual appeal of the dish and offer an avant-garde dining experience to our guests, with the aim of brining Indian cuisine back “in-vogue”. For example, at our restaurant Masala Library by Jiggs Kalra, we serve the renowned festive beverage Thandai as an amuse bouche to our guests, which is made into a sphere through the process of reverse spherification in which the Thandai is turned into a bubble. Served with saffron milk on a ceramic spoon, it explodes in the mouth, releasing the flavours of the traditional beverage. Depending on which technique of molecular gastronomy one maybe using, the appearance of an ingredient or dish can be adapted accordingly across various courses of the cuisine.
Fusion vs Progressive Cuisine
While molecular gastronomy forms a part of showcasing modern cuisine, there is a generic perception and misconception that it fuses different ingredients and cuisines, thereby creating a fusion, a term which has come to be loosely used to describe modern cooking. Hence it is imperative to understand the difference between Fusion Cuisine and Progressive Cuisine while talking about molecular gastronomy as well.
Over the past few years, restaurateurs and chefs have been making conscious efforts in presenting Indian food in a different light. Some years back, restaurants successfully introduced fusion cooking in Indian food and now conscious efforts are being made to take Indian food to the next level through Progressive Cuisine. It is widely believed that whenever you mix two things together it is considered “fusion”, while that may be theoretically correct, there is a thin demarcation between fusion cuisine and the concept of Progressive cuisine. Fusion cuisine combines elements of various dining traditions while not fitting specifically into any and has been in existence for many years, whereas progressive cuisine focuses on preparing and serving traditional cuisine, using modern culinary techniques like molecular gastronomy and presentations, showcasing the food in a whole new avatar, and is a relatively newer concept offering patrons a true avant-garde culinary experience.
Although there is no end to the subject, and you can keep delving further into the magical concept of Molecular Gastronomy (yes, isn’t it magic after all?), I hope we have been able to dispel some myths and resurrect some facts!
Published by Zorawar Kalra, Founder & Managing Director, Massive Restaurants Pvt Ltd on Luxury Facts.