The New York Times had a fascinating story last week, Food 2.0: Chefs as Chemists. Cutting edge chefs like Wylie Dufresne of WD-50 in Manhattan, and Grant Achatz of Alinea in Chicago are experimenting with ingredients like hydrocolloid gums to create combinations of flavor and texture not found in nature, like a fried mayonnaise, or Mexican mole sauce turned into little lentil-shaped pellets.
I haven’t seen a lot of that kind of experimentation going on locally, maybe because it runs counter to the whole natural-sustainable-local-organic ethos that has been embraced by most of the top local chefs in town, from Lucia Watson of Lucia’s Restaurant, J.D. Fratzke of Muffuletta (soon departing for the Strip Club), Scott Pampuch of Corner Table, Brenda Langton of Café Brenda and Spoonriver, Lenny Russo of Heartland, etc.
But the one local chef I’ve found who seems to enjoy tinkering with molecular gastronomy is Ryan Aberle, executive chef at North Coast in Wayzata. His most original concoction is foie gras poprocks. The recipe is simple: he starts with unflavored pop rocks, available from www.chefrubber.com, and rolls them in a mixture of liquefied foie gras and tapioca maltodextrin. (Kids, don’t try this at home.) And in another recent experiment, Aberle created a 21st century of the bacon-wrapped pork tenderloin – after rolling slices of pancetta through a pasta sheeter, he brushed them with transglutaminase, an enzyme that chemically bonds proteins together – and then wrapped the pancetta tightly around the tenderloin. Instead of the bacon cooking more quickly than the tenderloin, it becomes the outer edge of a single cut.