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The Science of Cooking

Beth Ribblett

Chef Didier Ardoin 's passion, creativity, enthusiasm and talent are evident in everything he creates. A Sous Chef at Cafe Degas, Didier is incredibly adventurous and innovative with food so it should be of no surprise that I first heard the term "molecular gastronomy" from him. Watching how animated he became and the way his eyes lite up when he talked about it have made me want to learn more about this type of cuisine that is turning the world of cooking upside down . And we have planned an upcoming wine dinner with Cafe Degas that will molecular cooking elements, so I needed to know a little more about what I was getting myself in to!

As a traditional cook and foodie, this seems a bit out of my reach but a fascinating trend that I feel obligated to educated myself about. Here's a little of what I've learned and I welcome any comments from those of you who have something you'd like to share.

Molecular cuisine is the end product of molecular gastronomy, a term coined in the 1980s by Herve This (pictured to the right), a French scientist, and Nicholas Kurti, a former professor of physics at England’s Oxford University. Working out of a laboratory in Paris, the two men broke foods down into their most basic components – molecules – to find scientific answers to age-old culinary mysteries: Why do some foods combine well, while others don’t? How would you give ice cream a tobacco flavor? From the preparation of a broth, to a chocolate mousse without eggs or the explanation of a rising soufflé, molecular gastronomy explains the chemical and physical phenomena that happen during cooking at the molecular level. .

As a result of this crossover between science and cooking, outstanding restaurants around the world are applying scientific principles to create and serve unusual dishes such as tobacco-flavored ice cream made with liquid nitrogen and sardines on sorbet toast. Utensils such as blowtorches, pH meters, and refractometers, which were previously relegated to science laboratories, are now creeping into the kitchens of those who practice molecular cuisine.

The guiding principle in molecular cuisine is to create dishes based on the molecular compatibilities of foods. For instance, unripe mango and pine share a molecular structure, so they might be tasty if combined. That's the theory, anyway. Molecular gastronomists combine white chocolate and oysters for the same reason. The photo on the left is a great example of this, Smoked salmon lollipops! (by Liam Maloney)

I know some of this sounds a bit crazy, so I found this great video about molecular gastronomy featuring the man behind the science, Herve This. Check it out and if this piques your curiosity, reserve a seat at our dinner on March 18th at Cafe Degas where traditional French cuisine will be combined with elements of postmodern (Didier hates the term molecular cuisine) techniques and paired with wines from the south of France! Also, I'll be doing an interview with Didier in the upcoming weeks on the menu for the event and how he'll be applying the science of cooking!