Chef Victor Martin dish, placescases.com
- Events, Explore Sofia

Is gastronomy science or art?

Reading time: 6 min.

In my post about Best restaurant of the year 2018 awards ceremony by Bacchus magazine I mentioned that this event is not only entertaining but also educational.  According to the Experience Economy by Joseph Pine and James Gilmore[i] these are two of the four main features for an exciting and memorable experience. Read more about it in The Experience Economy in action with the cooking class of Chef Heinz von Holzen on Bali- Part 1

The educational part was coming from the master classes that precede the ceremony itself and take place during the day. Chefs, culinary hobbyist or  gastronomy fans can learn a lot of interesting things there.

This year there were lecturers from the Basque Culinary Center. Fernando Palacio and Adrian Leonelli, who are teachers there, told us about the most modern techniques in cooking.

According to Chef Palacio and Chef Leonelli, innovations in gastronomy are influenced by the use of traditional products and local items, as well as by borrowing from foreign flavors, tastes and cultures.

From them I learned what nixtamalization is, as an example of using old traditional ways of cooking with a modern reading. This technique makes the products with a crispy crust and soft creamy texture from the inside. And even more interesting is that the Bulgarian grandmothers and aunts used it in the recipe for pumpkin jam named Rachel, using calcium hydroxide to get this contrast between the external and the inner part of the product. Moreover, our lecturers were very well informed that this technique was long known in Bulgaria. 😊

Globally fermentation is a very trendy traditional method, you know it- sauerkraut, pickles, etc. Chef Boykovski in Karmare, Sofia, experiments a lot with it and is doing many interesting things. 😊

He also created a dessert for which the mimicry (mimetic) technique is used. Outside you see a walnut, it smells like walnut, has the color of a walnut, but it’s actually made of pumpkin. He named it a pumpkin pie. 😊

We saw a video that showed the modern technique lyophilization (freeze-drying). The product is dried by first freezing and then, by sublimation, which is transforming a substance directly from frozen aggregate state into gaseous to obtain dehydrated product. Thus, a crispy texture is also achieved, which gives a lot of playfulness to the dishes. In addition, fragrances are concentrated, while the appearance of the product is preserved. This technique is also used in the preparation of astronauts’ food. When they are in space, they hydrate it back with cold or warm water and voila-lunch is ready! You see, the gourmet cuisine, or better said, the molecular cuisine has already penetrated space. 😃😉🚀🛰

We have seen distillation, in which by heating, evaporation, then condensation, one can separate the liquid constituents from the solids. It also concentrates the flavors but the final product is cleared from color – that is, we have a transparent liquid with flavors. Does this technique remind you of anything- brandy and any other spirits is done the same way. The people, proud owners of cauldron for rakia distillation in Bulgaria, apply this culinary technique. Cheers! 🥂

Do you know what a spherification is? In short, it’s  caviarization 😊 or making jelly pearls from some sort of caviar. I’ve tried these in Karmare and in Cosmos, Sofia. This technique uses sodium alginate and calcium chloride, but I have seen Bulgarian Chef Danny Spartacus to do it with  agar in cold water. This is not the original way of Chef Ferran Adria, who introduced spherification to gastronomy, but it is still spectacular.

By Centrifugation (sedimentation) one can clarify broth- we get  concentrated scents from the source product, we preserve the taste but we achieve also transparency and viscosity of the liquid. Ideal for consume soup.

In my opinion, gastronomy needs a lot of academic learning, not only learning from practice. Knowledge in chemistry, physics, biology, geography is required to get products with particular quality and origin to achieve exactly the taste and the olfactory effect you’re looking for. No wonder, why there aren’t many universities, offering programs dedicated to gastronomy, and in most cases it is a master’s course. There are special schools such as the Basque Culinary Center in San Sebastian or HRC in Sofia where people can study it.

For example, Dimitar Shopov Chef- Instructor in the culinary school Food Connection, in Sofia, told us a lot of interesting things about Jamon Iberico . Behind the wonderful gentle taste of the famous Spanish-melting steak or sausage cut, there is a lot of knowledge in biology, including genetics, geography, and finally cooking skills to create a masterpiece on the plate.

Mentioning traditions above, we should regard the topic about sustainable development. Tsvetan Dimitrov told us about the new project by Cosmos restaurant, to seek out old Bulgarian recipes and products and to take care of preserving their production and quality. This is the Green cheese, which is made only in Bulgaria in Cherni Vit village, the Branza, the Krokmach, the purple potato, the Chestnut from Bregani village, the Lunar Beans– delicasies you can taste in the Cosmos restaurant. Chef Valeri Neshev from Before 10, was the first to undertake his own endeavor in this field.

Some of the techniques in the avant-garde kitchen, about which the two Spaniards from the Basque Culinary Center told us, are completely related to the vision of the dish on the plate.

Trompe-l’œil is a term from art that means creating a 3D image in a plane. It is also used in gastronomy, for a great visual effect on the plate.

Landscaping is another method for achieving an interesting landscape-like dish. At Hotel Corona Dolomites in winter resort Andalo, Italy, we had a dessert that looked like a forest  spot with a crust of chocolate, looking like a tree bark, a sponge that imitated moss and chocolate dust like soil. Should I eat it or just aesthetically enjoy it!

And what comes out is that, besides knowledge of different sciences and exceptional practice, one needs an eye of an artist. Do not forget mathematical calculations for the proportions of the products, and if one is a chef, a training in management is mandatory.

Not to mention that there should also be considered a multitude of different aspects of individual nutrition, including psychological and sociological, to meet the diverse expectations of their clients. Allergies, diets, substance intolerances,  “I’m on keto “,  “I’m vegan “,  “I don’t eat this”, “Gluten harms me”, “I read that this or that technique makes the product carcinogenic…”, “Baby, you can’t eat dessert, it is bad for teeth “,” Salt is harmful- I want it to be a salt-free meal. ” … I’m sure a lot can be added to this list.

Video watching time: 6.11 min

In his book The Sociology of Food: Eating and the Place of food in Society, Jean-Pierre Poulain says that until recently, there were no sociological studies specifically dedicated to food. It has always remained on the periphery of science. There have been some conclusions from other studies with different focus coming mostly from anthropology.  It turns out, however, that there is a growing need for sociology to pay serious attention to food. The individual dietary regimes, modern diets, mass psychoses for its quality and safety, the reasons for obesity or anorexia raise many questions. Gastronomy has evolved due to extensive try and error experience,  traditions, or vice versa-breaking traditions, but no one has tried to make a larger study of its interaction with society. Jean-Pierre Poulain proposes to be established a science, Sociology of Food, in order to explore the importance of nutrition for society.

At the master classes organized by Bacchus magazine, Chef Victor Martin from Trigo, Valladolid, who had just won a Michelin star, missing part of his equipment, sunk somewhere in the airport cargo warehouses, still managed to make an interesting demonstration. Just like Chef Massimo Bottura from Osteria Francescana in Modena, who made a meal representing only the crunchy part of the lasagna’s end, Chef Martin demonstrated a dish, representing the paella crunchy part from the bottom of the pan. He spread layers of cooked with broth rice and slices of beef on paper and left them pressed by weights to obtain a tight sandwich. Then he seared it on the pan and garnished it with wild mushrooms, bacon and alioli. Later at the grand dinner, he made the most delicious baby lamb, with an extremely crispy crust, and a very gentle texture inside. It was unique! Read more about the grand dinner in Which were the best restaurants in Bulgaria for 2018 according to Bacchus Magazine- Part 1?

Chef Martin, Chef Bottura wanted to create a dish from the best part of a beloved by everyone meal to please their customers. Crazy but genius!

Any chef who wants to make a career in gastronomy is obliged to study in a good restaurant with a distinguished Master Chef. Most choose to learn in France, to absorb the secrets of French gastronomy. There is a plethora of such dedicated enthusiasts, persistently mastering complex skills and techniques like the ones above. However, to become ones of the most distinguished masters, and attract customers from all over the world with their gastronomic performance, they need tons of fantasy and creativity. That is already pure art.

It turns out, that gastronomy is a very complicated pursuit. For some it is just a craft, for other household obligation, for a third- hobby, but for one other group of people it is a mission for life and philosophy.

I believe this is true for the people who won the awards for Best Restaurants of the Year 2018. About them, you can read in Which were the best restaurants in Bulgaria for 2018 according to Bacchus Magazine- Part 1 and Part 2?

But there is one more thing- a desire for change and development. There is no ceiling, there is only aspiration. This is exactly what keeps the customers-flow constant.

No chef should fantasize that he/she has become the best and has nothing more to learn, because somewhere else there is a young person, who is full of curiosity, enthusiasm and creative energy and will become the new favorite of the gourmet audience.

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Are you looking for info on good restaurants, hotels and any nice places around the world and in our country? Then dig into the categories of placescases.com to find something just for you.

Do you ever wonder how some places are so very different from others in service, environment, as a general experience? This means you are also interested like me in the topic of The Experience Economy by Pine and Gilmore. I’ve tried to recognize those places which apply it in practice its principles, whether deliberately or accidentally, and I think it is worth to consider them. Right click on category The Experience Economy.

[i] The Experience Economy, updated edition, Harvard Business Review Press, Boston, Massachusetts, by Joseph Pine and James Gilmore

 

    

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