Molecular Gastronomy Seminar (page 2 of 2)Home >> Experiences
Lunch was served at 1 PM by the students of the Ferrandi school. Nothing memorable there, but I got myself a good table. Clockwise from the bottom left: a 23-year-old pastry chef at a 2 Michelin star traditional French restaurant, a diet consultant, Susi Gott Séguret, a charming lady (behind the bottle) who runs the Swannanoa School of Culinary Arts in Asheville (USA) and speaks fluent French and the French historian and her daughter. Not on the pictures but also at my tables were the two comedians from La Marmite à Malices. Lovely people all of them, and our shared serious passion for food cemented the lunch. I picked up lots of tips from the pastry chef and learned about truffle-for-tobacco crop substitution policies in North Carolina. The historian lady was still in conference mode so we could get some more details on these fascinating subjects. A lunch is about the company you keep, and that was a nice lunch!
Tools & Toys for Space-Age Foodies
Each of us was kindly offered a panacotta beaker (picture above) in a pineapple juice sauce thickened with Locust bean gum, one of these fancy thickening agents used in molecular cuisine. Food for thought indeed!
Anne Cazor then demonstrated a very precise cooker that can maintain the same temperature in the whole pot up to one tenth of a Celcius degree. This helps you get consistently eggs with a very novel consistency - that of a 3 minute egg or a 300 minute egg. The ladies above were inspecting three eggs cooked respectively at precisely 62°, 65° and 68° Celsius for one hour each.
The gentleman at the center of the picture works for Kalys, a French chemical wholesaler who supplies top gastronomic restaurants with molecular cuisine chemicals. As these products come as white powders in plastic jars bearing fancy latin names, so you think of them as chemicals whereas in fact most are extracted from plants.
Looking up at the mirror above the auditorium kitchen during a break.
Professional Cooking Classes in France before and after Molecular Gastronomy
Before: 'The way you add the salt is more important than the quantity you use. And you never put the salt on the egg yolk or the salt would cook it'. Everybody laughs at this reenactment of a popular kitchen legend slayed by Mr This' many experiments with mayonnaise. He was sitting next to me, beaming with that feeling of fulfillment. After 20 years Mr This had really changed the way cookery is taught in France.
After: 'We could have used egg yolk to emulsify the oil but today we'll do it with another emulsifier to illustrate what molecular gastronomy has taught us about the role egg yolks play in mayonnaise.' They do it, then taste. 'But chef, I kind of preferred the regular version'. The moustached chef replies: 'Boy, even science has its limits.'.
'Now we'll make gougères' - 'But chef, gougère is such a has-been dish, today what people want are pizzas!'. 'So we'll make a gougère pizza, or choux pizza. We'll call them chouzzas'.Gougère is one of the most fascinating chapters in Hervé This' seminal book 'Culinary Revelations'. As an homage to him, they prepared the gougères, carefully adding one egg after the other, while explaining all the scientific knowledge now included in cookery classes thanks to Mr This. 'I was so depressed to see my students make nicer gougères than me in my classes that I was forced to find a foolproof method. You have to heat the water-and-flour mixture back to 80°C before adding the eggs or it won't work. If you do they work every time. And please, do not grate the cheese but keep it in small cubes when you add it. If you want a crust bake at 180°C, if you want them moist inside bake at 160°C. I like them moist.' A batch of piping hot 'chouzzas' were circulated for our appreciation - very tasty in fact.
As soon as the demonstration was over, Kevin the trainee chef (above left) rushed out of the kitchen and returned dressed up in his Sunday's best. He walked up to me and, seeing my camera, asked if I could take two pictures of him with Mr Hervé This, one with his pocket camera for immediate broadcast to his friends and another with my own. I bet this will be an important picture to him given the considerable respect enjoyed by Mr. This in France.
I managed to snatch this picture of a pastry class in progress at the Ferrandi school as I was leaving the building.
Hervé This's seminars are a contemporary equivalent of 18th century literary salons where beautiful ideas are shown, discussed and paraded like works of art. Attending a seminar with Dr Hervé This in the early 21st century was like spending a day in the kitchen with Antoin Carême in the 19th century or with Escoffier in the 1920s. Carême and Escoffier only invented so much and mostly built on what other chefs had made before them. Today's chefs certainly have access to more ingredients and better tools. But these were men who influenced the cuisine of their respective centuries in a decisive way. Hervé This has many precursors and Harold McGee's book On Food And Cooking covers a lot of ground later travelled on by This. But it was This who not only changed forever the way French chefs look at their recipes, and how cooking is taught in professional French cooking schools. As for molecular cuisine, the fashion of breaking up ingredients to reassemble them using high-tech tools and edible chemicals, This is the origin of this movement. Will we still eat alginate pearls and liquid nitrogen meringue in 100 years? Probably not. But you and I won't be around either. If we want to enjoy the culinary Zeitgeist of our times, this is a mighty fine opportunity.
There will be another similar seminar on June 24th 2008.