How would you feel about biting into a smoked salmon bagel with capers and cream cheese? Many would enjoy this tasty snack that is eaten sans fork or spoon. But at Humber College in Toronto,. Chef John Placko is making people rethink what they know about bagels and other foods by showing them they can enjoy the same flavours with utensils.
Beet puree, for example, is turned into spaghetti while ice cream custard that is frozen solid on the outside turns creamy and rich on the inside after being dipped in a bath of liquid nitrogen.
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It’s all part of a series of courses on molecular gastronomy that is being offered to the public starting at the end of March. Participants learn techniques of molecular gastronomy such as spherification, carbonation, gelification and sous-vide, to name a few.
“Molecular gastronomy is a modern style of cooking,” explains Placko. “It takes advantage of kitchen technology and ingredient innovations to create great tasting food with unique textures and flavor combinations.
“It’s also about replicating the same perfect result each and every time with the use of unique equipment in the kitchen like the Pacojet, Thermomix, immersion circulators and vacuum sealers.”
Made famous by chefs like Ferran Adria from El Bulli restaurant in Spain, and other world top restaurants like Fat Duck and Noma, the molecular gastronomy trend has moved across the world and reached restaurants and bars in North America. It is most often used in different forms by mixologists to create unique drinks.
“Most of the Top 10 restaurants in the world today rely on their own team of dedicated chefs working on research-driven cuisine (molecular gastronomy). This is what sets them apart from the rest,” Placko says.
During the session I attended, we were able sample the scientific food. The melon caviar served up in perfect silver spoons was full of flavour and burst on its own. It would be a perfect addition to any beverage.
Meanwhile, truffle-oil-scented snow was pungent in aroma, but a small taste offered up big flavour. The price of truffle oil can be costly, so by mixing it up with maltodextrin, the flavour is absorbed, ensuring that only a small amount is used. The dish I found most interesting was the kangaroo tenderloin cooked sous-vide, seared with a blowtorch and served on compressed watermelon.
In the sous-vide method, the protein is sealed in a bag with flavour to marinate and is cooked in water at a very low temperature for a long time depending on what results you want. An example offered in the course was a poached egg that had been poached for one hour — most eggs only take about three minutes to be poached in a pot of boiling water.
There is a lot to learn about this delicious science and I think the fact that almost all the top restaurants in the world incorporate molecular gastronomy at different levels would interest just about any foodie or chef.
“Most of the people who have signed up for the workshops are professional chefs, foodies and food stylists,” says Placko. “There is, however, no substitution for a solid grounding in classical cooking skills and techniques. Molecular gastronomy adds a layer of advanced food preparation and cooking techniques — with a bit of fun mixed in.”