In a recent survey 72% of chefs say they may want to experiment with molecular gastronomy in 2007. That’s an impressive number and considering the attention molecular gastronomy gets in media I bet many home cooks would want to experiment in the kitchen as well. Here’s a list of things to consider if you want to make a scientific approach towards cooking:
1. Use good and fresh raw materials of the best quality available.
2. Know what temperature you’re cooking at. A dip probe thermometer with a digital read out is a cheap way to bring science into your kitchen.
3. Get a basic understanding of heat transfer, heat capacity and heat conductance. “Heat” in this context des not imply high temperature since it also applies to the understanding of freezing/thawing.
4. Learn how to control the texture of food. Some key points: temperature induced changes (freezing, heating), emulsifiers, thickeners, gelling agents, moisture content, pressure/vacuum, osmosis.
5. Learn how to control taste and flavor. Some key points: flavor pairings, spice synergies/antagonies, influence of temperature (Maillard reaction, caramelization, temperature stability, volatility), taste enhancers, taste suppresants, solubility of flavour compounds in fat/water, extraction.
6. Remember that prolonged exposure to a flavor causes desenzitation, meaning that your brain thinks the food smells less even though it’s still present in the same amount. Therefore, let different flavours enhance each other. Similarly, variation in taste, texture, temperature and color can open up new dimensions in a dish. This is referred to as “increased sensing by contrast amplification”.
7. Be critial to recipes and question authority – they do not necessarily represent “the truth”. Nevertheless, you can certainly learn a lot from the experts.
8. Dare to experiment and try new ingredients and procedures. Do control experiments so you can compare results. When evaluating the outcome, be aware that your own opinions will be biased. Have a friend help you perform a blind test, or even better a triangle test to evaluate the outcome of your experiments.
9. Keep a written record of what you do! It would be a pity if you couldn’t recreate that perfect concoction you made last week, simply because you forgot how you did it.
10. Have fun!
Heat causes many changes in food, but few appreciate how important it is to know at what temperature they are cooking and at what temperature the desired change occurs.
These tips for molecular gastronomy relate to the technical and scientific aspects of food preparation and eating, and I plan to elaborate on each of the points in separate blog posts. However, according to Hervé This’ definition of molecular gastronomy, one should also investigate the social and artistic components of cooking. A good example of this is the “Five Aspects Meal Model” developed at Grythyttan in Sweden (Gustafsson, I.B. et al. Journal of Food Service, 2006, 84.). Although intended for a restaurant setting, the general idea can also be applied for home cooking.
The meal takes place in a room (room), where the consumer meets waiters and other consumers (meeting), and where dishes and drinks (products) are served. Backstage there are several rules, laws and economic and management resources (management control system) that are needed to make the meal possible and make the experience an entirety as a meal (entirety – expressing an atmosphere).
Or to put it differently: average food eaten together with good friends while you’re sitting on a terrace with the sun setting in the ocean will taste superior to excellent food served on plastic plates and eaten alone in a room with mess all over the place.
One last thing: once you’re finished in the kitchen with your culinary alchemy, your gastro physics, your cutting edge science cuisine, your molecular cooking, your hypermodern emotional cooking, your science food or whatever fancy name you attach to it – remember the social and artistic components when you serve the food. Just so people won’t refer to you as a techno chef, a mad scientist or a modern day Willy Wonka. After all, molecular gastronomy is about the science of deliciousness, not technical wizardry.
Questions and topics for future blog posts are welcome at webmaster [a] khymos.org (substitute @ for [a]) or as a comment below.