What’s This Cotton Candy Doing on My Salmon?

Sara Duplancic

It’s not a gimmick. Seafood wrapped in cotton candy and liquid nitrogen as a staple ingredient sound impossibly hard for the taste buds to process, but pioneering Chef Jose Andres will take you on a savory tour where the kitchen meets the laboratory, featuring an avant-garde cooking technique, molecular gastronomy.

In addition to being named GQ magazine’s chef of the year, the Spanish American Chef Andres has won almost every culinary award America has to offer. The wait list to his famous Minibar restaurant and bar in Washington D.C. is over a month long.

Molecular gastronomy has a young history, dating back to the early 90s when chefs began breaking food down into its component parts and recombining them in ways previously unthought of. Analyzing and restructuring the physical properties of food became known as food science and later, more officially as molecular gastronomy. The cooking technique embraces science – from Physics to Microbiology to Engineering – and technology.

This transition from traditional kitchen to culinary lab has created food that floats at you, explodes in your mouth, and steams out of your nose. According to Chef Andres, food and the way it is presented is as much about the tongue and the stomach as it is about the brain and the eye.

Molecular gastronomy has led chefs like Andres to create culinary spectacles like caramelized popcorn drenched in liquid nitrogen, temperature-layered cocktails, and meat-and-potato dishes where both the meat and potatoes are turned into foam and shaped like packing peanuts. Or a dish might include a boiled egg where the egg white is surrounded entirely by the yellow egg yolk. So would a food like Pringles be considered molecular gastronomy because the ingredients are reconstituted, flavor powder is added, and some chips are even imprinted? No. Pringles are junk food. One of the mainstays of molecular gastronomy is that the food is made of raw ingredients, mostly fruits and vegetables.

In a 60 Minutes interview, Chef Andres said, “I believe that the future is vegetables and fruits. They are so much sexier than a piece of chicken.” Molecular gastronomy is charming Americans into changing their eating habits and making diners rethink how to get the maximum amount of flavor in the minimum amount of food.

No matter how many spices and sauces are used, meat will always lose its flavor after five seconds of chewing, and for the next 20 seconds, you’re stuck chewing a tasteless blob. With pineapples, beets, and asparagus, that doesn’t happen because fruits and vegetables make more exotic experiences for the taste buds. And when a food is combined with its counterpart liquid, solid, and gas forms, the whole process becomes really cutting-edge.

If you’re looking to experience molecular gastronomy wonders in the Bay Area, visit Vesu in Walnut Creek or Humphry Slocombe in San Francisco’s Mission District and sample the peanut butter curry, hibiscus beet, red wine and coke, carrot mango, and government cheese ice creams. Oh, and don’t forget the prosciutto.

Olive Oil Pancakes
as featured on the Ellen Degeneres Show

1.5 cups flour
1.5 cups buttermilk
1 egg (egg white separated)
4-5 tbsp. ground chocolate
2 tbsp. sugar
1 tbsp. olive oil
½ tsp. sugar
Pinch of salt

Mix all the ingredients except for the egg white, chocolate, and olive oil. Beat the egg white in a separate bowl and add to main mixture. Add the olive oil and fold mixture. Add ground chocolate slowly while stirring.
Coat a frying pan with olive oil and spoon batter into pan making pancakes about four inches in diameter. Flip the pancake when small bubbles begin to form on the edges. When pancake is golden brown remove from heat and garnish with honey and mint leaves.