I don’t really know where to start when writing a piece on Heston Blumenthal, the coolest and most exciting chef in the world. A man that has kept me fascinated, inspired and enamoured for many years. Initially with his ‘molecular’ gastronomy, or his ‘deconstructive’ cuisine, all terms that don’t only apply. He keeps challenging the way we eat, and keeps moving things closer to the magical, engaging our minds and memories in the meals he makes. He says that eating and drinking are the only activities that engage all our senses.
I recently came across an article that proclaimed that ‘molecular gastronomy is dead’ and I think at this juncture it would be good to revisit the meaning of it.
As explained by Wikipedia:
Molecular gastronomy is a discipline practiced by both scientists and food professionals that studies the physicaland chemical processes that occur while cooking. It is also the use of such studied processes in many professional kitchens and labs. Molecular gastronomy seeks to investigate and explain the chemical reasons behind the transformation of ingredients, as well as the social, artistic and technical components of culinary and gastronomic phenomena in generalExamples of molecular gastronomy.
Example areas of investigation:
- How ingredients are changed by different cooking methods
- How all the senses play their own roles in our appreciation of food
- The mechanisms of aroma release and the perception of taste and flavour
- How and why we evolved our particular taste and flavour sense organs and our general food likes and dislikes
- How cooking methods affect the eventual flavour and texture of food ingredients
- How new cooking methods might produce improved results of texture and flavour
- How our brains interpret the signals from all our senses to tell us the “flavour” of food
- How our enjoyment of food is affected by other influences, our environment, our mood, how it is presented, who prepares it, etc.
Example myths debunked:
- You need to add salt to water when cooking green vegetables
- Searing meat seals in the juices
- The cooking time for roast meat depends on the weight
- When cooking meat stock you must start with cold water.
So the way I see it is that molecular gastronomy is merely the deeper understanding of cooking and playing around with different techniques. I dont think it is dead. but I agree with my friend Jane-Anne, who says that for it to really be appreciated, it is best practiced by the top end of the chef spectrum, and by the likes of Heston Blumenthal.
It is also only one aspect of the story behind the meals that Heston creates.
I was privileged to meet him and attend his talk at The Good Food & Wine Show in which he spoke about how the Fat Duck started and the initial hostile reception from Bray locals. He spoke about the role our olfactory system plays in food, and how the memory of a spice can actually wire the brain to believe that it is different tasting to what it is in reality. About how we process things by what we see visually, and how we believe what we see vs. what we actually taste.
He then took us on a visual journey behind the creation of two of his most famous meals the ‘sound of the sea’ and the ‘mock turtle soup’. I was delighted by this, as I had heard so much about both and seeing it almost brought to life on a big screen, with the creator himself talking us through each stage was a particularly memorable moment for me.
What struck me a yet again and I have watched most of his TV series, was that the integrity and flavour of the food is always important, that multiple process and innovative techniques are applied in order to get the very best out of a particular food, or flavour. To intensify it, to make it better. To then re package it in a way that takes the diner on an adventure, seducing them into a mysterious world far beyond what they could have expected or imagined. Engaging all their senses, mystifying.
So much thought is applied to it. So much research and testing to get to this magical place.
I find this quest for something extraordinary quite thrilling, and will continue to dream and live in hope of experiencing it in person one day.
To read more about Hestons visit, Abigail Donnelly (food editor of Taste Magazine) had brunch with him and wrote about it here.