Food with a touch of drama...

fine dining

Food with a touch of drama...

At Farzi Cafe in Bengaluru, if you order dal chawal, you will surely get dal chawal. But it won’t be the usual bowl of white rice, yellow dal, a spoonful of pickle and salad. Instead, what you will be served is a leaf-plate holding arancinis on a bed of achar, drizzled with chutneys and topped with a fried, rolled papad.

Sure, this ‘modern’ version of the dish is going to taste more or less like you would expect, but there’s something different. And I am not talking about the fancy appearance here. It’s different at a much deeper, molecular level.

Say hello to molecular gastronomy, a trend that is finding an increasing number of takers across the country and the world, and changing the face of fine dining.

So, what is it?

Himanshu Saini, executive chef at Tresind Dubai, says, “Molecular gastronomy is about understanding science and its application in food. It’s about studying the ingredients at the molecular level to learn about their physical and chemical transformation.”

You might wonder what the point of such extravagant techniques is if the taste is more or less going to remain the same. But molecular gastronomy isn’t just about appearances. It is, in fact, about appealing to all the five senses of the diner through food. So, when you’re served the aforementioned dal-chawal, the red fried balls catch your eye, the spicy and tangy chutneys tantalise your tastebuds and the crunchy papad adds texture to your meal.

Technically speaking, molecular gastronomy is the science of food. It’s when you choose to serve a chutney in the form of a foam; when you serve refreshing mojito as spheres; when you present an accompanying sauce in the form of a jelly. It’s a marriage between art and food.

Sounds quite modern, doesn’t it? But molecular gastronomy isn’t a new concept. Its roots date back to 1988 when a chemist and a physicist coined the term, while experimenting with food and ingredients. Over the next decade, this modernist food trend got pushed to the background until those like British celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal brought it back into focus.

Remember Heston’s flowerpot tiramisu? What looked like an exact replica of a flowerpot was in fact a delicious combination of crystallised, crunchy chocolate soil, marsala mascarpone cream, a dark chocolate disk, Bailey’s worms and a mint leaf.

Molecular gastronomy is about welcoming new, unusual ingredients into your meals. Think progressive food.

Not your usual fare

As Zorawar Kalra, the founder and managing director, Massive Restaurants Pvt Ltd (owner of Farzi Cafe, another top molecular gastronomy practitioner) says, “Progressive Indian food has endeavoured to showcase unique elements, so that a dish might be presented differently, but with familiar flavours. Your eyes might not recognise them instantly, but your brain will. Uncommon vegetables such as ridge gourd, pumpkin and bitter gourd, which were rarely ever included in the menus across commercial restaurants, comprise these unique additions.”

It’s exciting!

While molecular gastronomy is a rage internationally, it is only just taking its baby steps in India. One of the main reasons for this is the fact that we are pretty comfortable with the way our cuisine is right now. Given a choice, we would still prefer our dal chawal in the original way. But many exciting experimentations have managed to get us flocking to restaurants like Farzi Cafe, Tresind, Caperberry, Indian Accent, The Bombay Canteen and Pink Poppadom. After all, wouldn’t you want tiny spheres of mojito burst in your mouth or enjoy traditional sweets like mishti doi in the form of a cheesecake?

Zorawar attributes this trend to diners becoming more adventurous today. He says, “While there is a segment that still prefers traditional Indian food, the well-travelled younger generation is ready to experiment in order to find newer and finer flavour.” And given the wide spectrum of Indian cuisine, one can only imagine the number of possibilities for inventing molecular gastronomy techniques.

Chef Himanshu, however, believes molecular gastronomy isn’t cuisine-bound. “It makes the chef’s life easier as it helps them understand the little details of the ingredients’ reaction. This motivates them to think out of the box,” he explains.

But while this adventurous contemporary cuisine is finding many takers, it is also receiving a lot of flak for being pretentious and in some cases, unhealthy too. Zorawar agrees, “Molecular gastronomy is a much-abused word with many restaurants having used it as a gimmick. This has not just ruined perfectly good dishes but also led to a division of thought with regard to the application of this concept. Not all dishes at our restaurants are molecular, but when we do use these techniques, they are meant to improve the quality of the product; it’s not just for theatrics.”

A dying trend?

Chef Himanshu seconds this opinion, “I think its important for people to understand it molecular gastronomy first. It doesn’t just mean producing foams, smoke, spheres or the extensive use of liquid nitrogen. People and chefs might say that it’s a dying trend but I don’t see it that way. The visual evidence of molecular gastronomy in the dishes may not be required any more, but there are hundreds of other things which form an intrinsic part of any recipe in modern kitchens that chefs are using world wide.”

Sure, molecular gastronomy may have ruffled some feathers in the food industry. But to establish a strong base of practitioners, it would take a lot more than foam chutneys, spherical desserts and olive oil ice cream. Till then, foodies can relish all the yummy experimentations that come their way, with the theatrics or without.

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