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iSGTW Featurette - Molecular cuisine

Featurette - Molecular cuisine

Preparation of lecithin gnocchi in test tubes.

To reflect the science bent of the Inauguration, executive chef Ettore Bocchia has been working on what he calls his "molecular cuisine" since May.

Bocchia says that he tries to "bridge the vocabulary of the kitchen and the vocabulary of science" by using new cooking techniques and novel ingredients that are based upon information he learned by collaborating with scientists at the Physics Department at the University of Parma, and the Chemistry Department of the University of Ferrara, Italy.

ISGTW caught up with him in a temporary kitchen set up in Building SM18 on the day before the event, while trucks were unloading produce and the stage was being constructed.

Below are a few comments, and some photos. (All images courtesy of Mike Struik.)

Fois gras with chestnuts.

By the numbers

It took over two dozen cooks, working all day, to produce from scratch the 30 different courses needed to feed the 1500 people at Inauguration Day.

It also required the services of 10 commercial-kitchen ovens, 2 refrigerated trucks, 6 stoves, a chiller, and a vacuum chamber. (We have no idea what the vacuum was for. Some things remain a chef's secret.)


An array of "molecular" dishes.

Fructose is used in place of saccharin, not only for the health benefits but also to innovate with new recipes. A new type of meringue, with 50% water, can be flavored with anything (mint in this menu). Its fine molecular chain stabilizes the proteins of the egg white.


Bocchia says he became interested in the science of cooking when trying to figure out why, for example, boiled mussels came out well one time and poorly the next. (The reason had to do with minor variations in the pH of the water.)


The soy of cooking

Soy is used to replace egg yolks in many recipes-it means less cholesterol, for one thing. In addition, because the lecithin in soy is a water-loving molecule, it easily bonds to other ingredients. This also allows the cook to experiment with new flavors.


Sicilian shrimp in egg cooked in alcohol and sprayed with black truffle oil.

Eggs cooked at low temperature, in alcohol

Low temperature cooking is the key to keeping the texture of foods intact and at the same time enhance taste. Eggs are perfectly cooked at 65 C, the egg white is perfectly curdled as it melts in the mouth while the lecithins of the yolk hold it together. In addition, with low-temperature cooking, vegetables keep their chlorophyll, thus keeping the taste fresh and the colors intact. The hemoglobin in meat does not coagulate while fats melt perfectly in the mouth, carrying all the flavors and keeping the texture soft.


Doling out ice cream cooled by liquid nitrogen.

"Really cool"

Making ice cream with liquid nitrogen offers several advantages over traditional methods. Its fast cooling properties, thanks to a temperature of -195.8C, mean that there is no time for ice-crystals to form in the ice cream. (These crystals are responsible for the sometimes grainy, sandpaper-like texture you get, if you've ever eaten ice cream that has partially melted and then refrozen).
As a result of the super-cooling with liquid nitrogen, the ice cream is much more creamy and soft, making for what food technologists call a good "mouth feel."
According to Bocchia, this technique also means that the taste buds in the mouth-responsible for the sensations of sweetness, sourness, bitterness and saltiness-can more fully appreciate the flavor of each ingredient. (We can personally vouch for the taste of chocolate ice cream made this way.)
Bocchia also says that if you know what you are doing, handling liquid nitrogen is not dangerous. "Hot olive oil is ten-thousand times worse."


-Dan Drollette, iSGTW

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