FORGET turkey and all the trimmings: this Christmas you could be dishing up a festive feast with test tubes and syringes.
A molecular cuisine kit has gone on sale that encourages wannabe Heston Blumenthals to cook up the sort of culinary wizardry more regularly found in the kitchen of his experimental restaurant the Fat Duck.
Purchasers are encouraged to try out dishes such as “foie gras, muscat and dark chocolate lollipops”, “pulled duck confit with white wine and orange spaghetti” and “puffed peanut chicken fries with pastis mayonnaise”.
But aspiring chefs may be a little perplexed by some of the recipe instructions in the kit’s accompanying book, which call for the use of syringes, ice baths and silicone tubes.
The kit, which costs £29.99 from Harvey Nichols in Edinburgh, includes pipettes, tubing, silicone moulds and other pieces of equipment more commonly found in the science lab than the domestic kitchen, and could make for a particularly explosive Christmas meal.
“It’s giving people the opportunity to create the sort of dishes they’ve seen on television or heard about at home,” said a spokesman for Harvey Nichols.
“It’s something that’s a bit different, it allows you to create a meal that looks spectacular and tastes quite exciting. If you’re having a dinner party around the festive season you can really play about with it and surprise your guests because it’s not going to be something they’re going to have anywhere else.”
However, Fiona Burrell, who runs the Edinburgh New Town Cookery School, was not convinced. “My view is that actually I would much rather people cooked real food and got to terms with balancing flavours and things like that,” she said. “It’s probably fun, and it’s always fascinating watching Heston Blumenthal do his thing, but it’s not what I think of as cooking.”
The kit guides the aspiring experimental home chef through a range of molecular processes such as making emulsions – sauces ranging from foams to mayonnaise – a range of gels – in which a number of flavours are combined into one gel – and spherification – introduced to molecular cooking in 2003 by now defunct Spanish restaurant El Bulli, where flavoured gel liquids form the shape of a sphere when plunged into an ice bath.
Other recipes on offer include gelled pina colada, chocolate-balsamic macaroon, spherical tzatziki and apple and beet tea.
Roy Brett, head chef and proprietor at Ondine at the Missoni Hotel in Edinburgh, said: “It’s a bit of fun at the end of the day. You’ve got to take it for what it is – some people will enjoy cooking like that, but if anyone asks me round for Christmas lunch and it’s a test tube turkey roast, I’m not going.”
Molecular cooking has grown in popularity thanks in part to Blumenthal, who is renowned for the weird and wonderful creations in his restaurant the Fat Duck at Bray in Berkshire. On TV shows such as Heston’s Feasts, he has created dishes with liquid nitrogen and dry ice, and is known for dishes such as snail porridge, meat fruit and bacon and egg ice-cream.
The movement was founded in 1992 by French chemist Herve This and Hungarian physicist Nicholas Kurti, who applied scientific methods to cooking food including making meringue in a vacuum chamber and cooking sausages across a car battery.
Kurti explained his fascination for the cooking method by saying: “I think it is a sad reflection on our civilisation that while we can and do measure the temperature in the atmosphere of Venus we do not know what goes on inside our souffles.”
Burrell said the popularisation of molecular cooking could, however, spell its demise. “In the 1980s you had people bringing in nouvelle cuisine and some did it very well but the more it expands into the world the more it gets diluted, and as it went further away from the original concept it started to get itself a bad name and people moved on. I suspect with chefs in kitchens the more that happens with molecular cooking the more they will just move on to the next new thing.”
Brett added: “Some people can handle that type of cooking very well, but there are very few in the professional market who can. There have been lots of attempts at what Heston and El Bulli do and they’ve not done particularly well, but in the right hands it can be really good.