Becoming a Molecular Gastronomist
Anyone can learn and apply the techniques of molecular gastronomy to basic dishes and preparations. If we re-examine one of the pasta-cooking rules we presented in the introduction, you can see how the application of a little science can save time and energy. Adding oil to boiling water does not, in fact, prevent pasta from clumping. Why? Because oil and water don't mix, which means the oil stays on the surface, far from the cooking noodles. Instead, add a tablespoon of something acidic, such as vinegar or lemon juice. A weak acid inhibits the breakdown of starch and reduces stickiness.
For many people, this will be the extent of their hands-on involvement with molecular gastronomy. But that doesn't mean they won't appreciate the products of molecular gastronomy. Luckily, there are several chefs around the world who readily embrace physics and chemistry in the kitchen. The accompanying table lists some of the most renowned chefs who apply the principles and techniques of molecular gastronomy. But be forewarned: If you decide to visit one of these restaurants, you'll need to make reservations weeks or even months in advance. You should also be prepared to pay handsomely -- $200 a head or more -- for the experience.
If, after dining at one of these molecular gastronomy hotspots, you decide you want to become an avant-garde chef yourself, there are options. A few universities are introducing molecular gastronomy programs for postgraduate students. For example, the University of Nottingham has partnered with Heston Blumenthal to create a doctoral track. The three-year course of study provides a unique blend of science and gastronomy, with ideas and inventions devised in the laboratory being tested and refined at the Fat Duck. Several cooking schools are also incorporating molecular gastronomy in their courses. At the French Culinary Institute in New York City, students can learn about sous vide techniques, hydrocolloids and other applications of food and technology.
Either way, as a student of cooking or as a lover of fine food, molecular gastronomy is sure to open up new vistas -- and awaken your palate to a new definition of delicious.