The Most Iconic Dishes of ‘Molecular Gastronomy’
January 22, 2015
These classics of so-called 'molecular' (or 'modernist') cuisine are pure culinary shock and awe
The Most Iconic Dishes of ‘Molecular Gastronomy’
Call it molecular gastronomy, call it modernist cuisine, call it multi-sensory cooking, experimental cuisine, avant-garde cuisine, nueva cocina, or culinary physics. Call it whatever you like, really, but there’s a school of cooking out there that uses science and chemistry to turn cuisine as we know it on its head.
Spherified Olive: elBulli
The adaptation and elaboration of the industrial food technique of spherification at chef Ferran Adrià’s (now-closed) elBulli in 2003 was a turning point in molecular gastronomy. By immersing a liquid combined with sodium alginate in a water bath containing calcium, a perfect sphere was formed that burst with flavor when eaten, and this spherification process is a staple of modernist menus today. By reversing the process (inserting a liquid that already contains calcium into an alginate bath) Adria was able to solve the problem of working with products that already contained calcium (like olives), and the Spherified Olive was born. The sphere closely resembles an olive and tastes exactly like one, yet only contains liquid, so eating one of these is a paradigm-shifting experience for modernist newbies. While elBulli is no longer in operation as a restaurant, this dish is still available at all locations of Jaleo and Bazaar, run by Adria’s protégé, José Andrés (though Andrés doubles the fun by serving his versions alongside conventional Spanish olives).
Eggs Benedict: wd~50
Wylie Dufresne’s (now sadly closed) wd~50 introduced New Yorkers to the playful side of molecular gastronomy, and the most groundbreaking dish he served there was his play on eggs Benedict, which he introduced in 2005. By partnering cubes of English muffin-breaded fried hollandaise with streaks of seasoned egg yolk cooked to a fudgy consistency in an immersion circulator and crispy wisps of Canadian bacon, he completely reinvented a popular dish while maintaining all off its flavors, which is the height of the “deconstruction” school of molecular gastronomy.
Hot Potato Cold Potato, Alinea
Arguably the most famous dish at Grant Achatz’s Chicago restaurant Alinea, Hot Potato Cold Potato toys with the senses by pairing hot with cold, once again turning familiar flavors on their head. Hot soup is poured into a small custom-made paraffin bowl, which allows a pin containing a cold truffle-topped ball of potato and a cube of Parmesan cheese to hover over it, pierced by a pin going through the wax bowl. When the pin is removed, the cold potato drops into the hot potato, creating a sensory experience that will blow you away.
Chocolate Finale, Alinea
Alinea also serves one of the wackiest and most creative desserts you’ll ever encounter, which is created on your table right before of your eyes. The chefs lay down a silicone cloth and plate upon it a dizzying array of edible wonders. It can be described on the menu as simply as “Dark chocolate, chestnut, rye, birch syrup,” “Dark chocolate, coconut, menthol, hyssop,” or “Dark chocolate, butternut squash, lingonberry, stout,” but from syrups to meringues to more chocolate preparations than you can count, this is a dessert that breaks all the rules.
Bacon and Egg Ice Cream, The Fat Duck
This signature dish at Heston Blumenthal’s Bray, Berkshire restaurant The Fat Duck comprises five parts: ice cream, caramelized French toast, pancetta, tomato compote, and tea jelly. To make the ice cream, bacon is roasted and steeped in milk for 10 hours, and the eggs in the ice cream mixture are purposely overcooked, adding to the ice cream’s bacon-and-eggs flavor. The dish has slightly evolved over the years; today the ice cream is “scrambled” in liquid nitrogen tableside to give the impression of cooking.
Smoke Mousse, elBulli
A dish comprised of woodsmoke-flavored foam and introduced in 1997, this elBulli hallmark has been called “the paradigm of innovation — pure provocation” by Adria and “a Dalí-esque provocation” elsewhere. The recipe is simple: water is smoked over burning wood, then turned into a foamy mousse. Nicknamed “Provocation of Fear” by Adrià, he admits that “There’s a reason we don’t eat smoke… It’s very interesting, but I’m not sure it’s very good. Nobody likes it.”
Deconstructed Spanish Omelette, elBulli
elBulli blazed a lot of new territory in the modernist field, and many of Adrià’s dishes are legendary and iconic. His deconstructed Spanish omelette — a sherry glass with potato foam, onion purée, and egg-white sabayon topped with deep-fried potato crumbs — was one of the first dishes to introduce the world to deconstruction (reducing a dish down to only its elements while maintaining all of its flavor), and very well might be one of the most revolutionary dishes in history.