The Art of Cooking
All living organisms despite their spectacular, wondrous and sometimes bizarre diversity have at least one thing in common, the need of food to survive. The way this fuel is consumed varies significantly too. We need to eat and to that end devote a large amount of time and effort toward food preparation, far more than is needed for merely utilitarian nutritional purposes as food can be a great source of pleasure. It can engage our senses, minds and emotions just as much as carefully crafted architectural design and can take us from simply surviving to positively thriving.
Traditionally the kitchen is the heart of the home. This humble room has come a long way from little more than a preparation table with an open log fire crowned by a pot of bubbling broth to the modern almost science laboratory incarnations used by some chefs today. Whether it be a traditional homely or ultramodern restaurant kitchen the heart remains beating and strong.
But a kitchen is as nothing without those that make it beat. Be it a family cook with children at their feet or a great chef with regimented subordinates, their goals are the same, the creation of good food.
A lot can be learnt and translated from the approach the great chefs take to the creative process. From the more traditional cooks to the modern day alchemists, they have been a source of great inspiration for me.
One of the most creative minds in gastronomy today is Massimo Bottura. He is a restaurateur and chef patron of Osteria Francescana, a three Michelin star restaurant in Modena, Italy which has been listed in the top 5 at The World’s 50 Best Restaurant Awards since 2010.
Described as the Jimi Hendrix of Italian chefs he is not afraid to break convention whilst still respecting tradition.
“We have to do everything from a contemporary perspective without losing the poetry of those hundreds and hundreds of years of our history”.
Innovation in cooking when considered with due care and attention can produce sublime results. The sometimes divisive movement of ‘molecular gastronomy’ takes cooking into science fictionesque processes and techniques. The progenitors of this subdiscipline of food science were a Hungarian physicist Nicholas Kurti and French physical chemist Hervé This, both keen cooks. They had one goal; to understand…
“I think it is a sad reflection on our civilization that while we can and do measure the temperature in the atmosphere of Venus we do not know what goes on inside our soufflés” -Nicholas Kurti
Excusing the obvious irony, the Frenchman is famed for developing a new way of cooking eggs he called ‘l’oeuf à soixante-cinq degrés ’, the 65°C egg. He shook the culinary world when in 2002 he revealed to famed French chef Pierre Gagnaire his discovery, declaring that not only an egg cooked at 65°C would be unmatched in flavor and texture but also as long as the temperature remain constant, cooking time is not finite.
“Heat it for one hour or eight hours the result will be the same.”
This temperature is high enough to perfectly set the albumen but low enough to keep velvety liquid yolk. Water baths with digital temperature control are now ubiquitous in modern restaurant kitchens and not just cooking eggs!
Scientific understanding, precision and technology are characteristic of this style of modern cuisine. But without understanding the emotional aspect of cooking it is a waste of time and the co-creator would seem to agree as evidenced by one of his books ‘Cooking is love, art, technique’.
A proponent of this modern style of cooking is Heston Blumenthal of The Fat Duck, one of only three restaurants in Great Britain to hold three Michelin stars. However, he dislikes the term ‘molecular gastronomy’ preferring to call his scientific approach ‘multi-sensory cooking’, reasoning that eating is “one of the few activities we do that involves all of the senses simultaneously”. His dish ‘Sound of the Sea’ is probably the most complete expression of multi-sensory cooking. The presentation is that of a scaled down stretch of coastline complete with sea ‘spume’, edible sand and headphones emerging from a conch shell hiding an iPod playing the sound of the sea gently lapping against the shore and seagulls cawing in the distance.
In 2006 this type of chef had become common enough for Heston along with Ferran Adrià, chef of the revolutionary El Bulli in Spain, Thomas Keller of The French Laundry in the United States of America, called “the best restaurant in the world, period” by Anthony Bourdain, and Harold McGee, the writer of ‘On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen’, a book which provided so many chefs with the technical understanding required for this nouveau (the biggest names in the business essentially) to issue a joint statement seeking to distance themselves from these usurpers.
“We do not pursue novelty for its own sake… tradition is the base which all cooks who aspire to excellence must know and master… Our open approach builds upon the best that tradition has to offer… we may use modern thickeners, sugar substitutes, enzymes, liquid nitrogen, sous vide, dehydration and other non-traditional means but these do not define our cooking. They are a few of the many tools that we are fortunate to have available as we strive to make delicious and stimulating dishes.’”
I believe this rule apply to any creative industries. We shouldn’t get lost in the world of hi- tech gadgets and scientific precision. We should design with our hearts and let technology to bring our work further.
Many of the chefs I have mentioned are widely held as greats in their industry. I think Danish chef Rene Redzepi’s of Noma in Copenhagen, winner of the best restaurant in the world award for four of the last five years describes perfectly what it takes to be so considered…
“Get ready to work. Work very hard. When it starts to get painful, work. When it’s almost unbearable, you keep working, until that just becomes the norm. I don’t believe there’s any way around it. If you want to reach for that mountaintop, get ready to work more than you ever have.”
Good food like good design makes people happy, more happiness in the world can only be a good thing…
Great food like great design changes the world…
Jana Pflimpflova, Lead Designer
Fig.1 Biscuit of sobrasada salami by Ferran Adrià, ElBulli
Fig.2 by Heston Blumenthal, Fat Duck
Fig.4 by Ferran Adrià, ElBulli
Fig.6 Massimo Bottura
Fig.7 by Ferran Adrià
Fig.8 & 9 Noma
Fig.10 Oops i dropped the lemon tart by Massimo Bottura
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