"Imagine a world where liquid nitrogen is a kitchen must-have and your food gets cooked in a vacuum... This is not tomorrow's world. This is happening in restaurants up and down the country." Well, not quite up and down the country. There are still plenty of eateries in Britain where gammon steak with a grilled pineapple ring on top is still on the menu, despite the best efforts of Heston Blumenthal on BBC2. But the times they are a-changin' and if you look hard enough you can find some amazing chefs in my country producing the food of the 21st century.
Earlier this year Observer Food Monthly (OFM) in partnership with Audi A6 produced a special entitled "The Future Of Food", including some interesting and informative features and a series of films involving four of the most revolutionary young chefs in Britain. These are, to use the phrase that Heston Blumenthal hates so passionately, molecular gastronomists using cutting-edge philosophies, innovative technology and scientific techniques to re-define our concept of food. I've met two of these four chefs and I'm very well aware of who the other two are.
The first film featured El Bulli-trained Nuno Mendes, head chef at Bacchus on Hoxton Market. I wrote about Nuno's amazing food in this recent post and was so impressed with his food when I ate at Bacchus that I added Nuno to my section on the chefs who most influenced my culinary development.
In the film, Nuno re-invents the traditional Great British Christmas Dinner for the world of gastrovac machines, sous-vides, foams and gravy gels. If it wasn't for the fact that I'll be busy working here at Comerç 24 in Barcelona over Christmas, I wouldn't hesitate to join Nuno for Christmas Dinner in Hoxton. In fact I'd probably volunteer to help out as an extra hand in the kitchen.
But as I can't go myself, perhaps I can convince one or two of my London foodie friends to pay a festive visit. To get you in the right mood, here's the film of Nuno Mendes talking about Christmas Dinner and explaining how he makes it.
Watch out for the throw-away line "It was developed by a chef in Spain". That's Ferran Adrià Acosta he's talking about - his erstwhile employer and mentor... and the world's number 1 ranked chef!
The second video clip involving a chef I've had the pleasure of meeting features Daniel Clifford, of the tiny but elegant Midsummer House in Cambridge. There's a picture of me and my family relaxing in the garden after a fantastic lunch to celebrate the end of my second year at college.
Daniel has been working with Dr. Jane Parker of the Reading University Department of Food Biosciences, exploring new ways in which food science and gastronomy can be brought together to understand and improve the flavour of food.
This is an area that I'm really interested in myself, and I'm a regular reader of blog.khymos.org, the food blog dedicated to molecular gastronomy and, through its feature "They Go Really Well Together" (TGRWT), to flavour matching through the identification of common chemical constituents. If you've yet to try pigeon with chocolate, you may be in for a pleasant surprise one day!
The third video clip features Simon Rogan of the Michelin-starred Cumbrian restaurant L'Enclume, and the final clip features El Bulli-trained Anthony Flinn, now running the acclaimed Anthony's restaurant in Leeds. In "The Tour", actor and gourmet Alistair Mackenzie experiences Simon Rogan's 10-course tasting menu including such fantastic dishes as Pumpkin Soup & Manchego Foam, Pork Cheeks & Chocolate (yes, that damned chocolate gets everywhere!) and Sea Scallop & Curry Leaf Custard. And he learns how pans of water can be boiled on a stone cold kitchen hob. Finally, in a piece of unashamed commercial plugging for the Audi A6 that is nonetheless a pleasure to watch, science correspondent Alok Jha is shown by Anthony Flinn how a gourmet meal can be cooked inside the car, using the turbo-charger guard as a frying surface, a heat exchanger inside one of the car headlights as a water bath and the bonnet as a serving plate. Watch him aerate a garlic cappuccino through the windscreen spray!
If you didn't understand my earlier comment about the gammon and pineapple, make some time to watch these video clips and learn a bit about where 21st century cooking is headed. It's no coincidence that two of these four chefs trained at El Bulli. It's the reason why I've moved to Barcelona to train with someone who spent nine years as Ferran Adrià's senior sous chef. If you are in the UK, do become a regular reader of OFM. I do hope they won't mind me showing these clips to you.