If you are looking forward to celebrating life once Covid-19 has been suitably crushed, you could think of a special meal that melds cutting-edge technology with environmental concerns. Before the pandemic took over the world, chefs were working on using Artificial Intelligence (AI) as a tool in the kitchen. Haute cuisine has been undergoing a radical transformation, with chefs embracing new techniques and technologies to wow your palate. In January this year, at the annual luxury gastronomy event, Madrid Fusión (madridfusion.net), renowned chefs and food brands came together to explore the future of fine dining.
Creating new flavours
Does AI have a role to play in gastronomy? IBM has developed a tool for Cerealto Siro Foods, a Spanish agro-foods brand, which can predict which ingredients are trending in different parts of the world, based on big data from social media, blogs and other channels. Sony’s AI tool takes it up a bit further by pairing ingredients based on their flavour profiles and offering innovative combinations that chefs can then use in new dishes.
“We put information at the service of the chef, from a million recipes and more than 5,000 ingredients, their nutritional information and their flavours,” said Michael Spranger, a researcher at Sony. The tool threw up a bunch of ingredients and Chef Romain Fornell of the Michelin-starred Barcelona restaurant Caelis created a dish on the spot — a parmesan crisp using Tou del Tillers (a dehydrated Catalonian cheese), pimento peppers and oven-roasted nori.
There are the naysayers, of course. Chef Dabiz Muñoz of the 3-Michelin-starred Madrid restaurant DiverXo said, “Those of us in creative cooking shouldn’t use it. We cannot dehumanise cooking like this; we are, after all, the last free strongholds of human talent.” However, Chef Andoni Luis Aduriz of Mugaritz, a 2-star-Michelin restaurant in Spain, which is considered one of best in the world, took a more balanced approach. “It’s just another tool that provides vital information to complement a chef’s talent,” he said.
While technology may be the enabling tool to the future of haute cuisine, sustainability is also a buzzword. Australian Josh Niland of Saint Peter in Sydney has pioneered a technique called fish “ageing” that seeks to eliminate waste. “It’s just careless that we throw half of the fish into the bin,” Niland said. His technique of removing the scales, thoroughly drying the fish, and then resting it over several days helps him extract the maximum flavours. “This technique does not produce dried fish. Through ageing, we can increase its shelf-life from 3-4 days to even 30 days,” he said.
On the other side of the world, twin chefs Ivan and Sergey Berezutsky from the acclaimed Moscow restaurant Twins Garden are in the process of patenting their vegetable wines.
“We always ask one question — why not? Why are we only using grapes to make wines? We grill yellow tomatoes, ferment them and barrel-age the wine, which is similar in flavour to a young port,” explained Ivan Berezutsky. This same philosophy also led them to create a squid trompe l’oeil of sorts — a 3D-printed squid created from bean paste, inserted with a hydrogel containing algae, garlic and parsley. “Why shouldn’t an allergy sufferer eat fish? This is like a squid, with the shape and taste of a squid, but without the squid,” Berezutsky said.
Meanwhile Elena Arzak, the head chef of Arzak, the 3-star-Michelin restaurant in San Sebastian, Spain, has worked with enzymes derived from fruits such as papaya, pineapple, kiwi, orange and fig. “We marinate meat and fish in fruit enzymes to improve their texture and increase their flavour. However, these need to be worked on at the right temperature as heat inactivates their action,” said the fourth-generation restaurateur.
A Michelin-starred restaurant that only serves dessert? CODA in Berlin’s edgy Neukölln neighbourhood calls itself a dessert bar and restaurant, but its experimental seven-course tasting menu will turn everything you know about sweets on its head. First up, Chef René Frank completely shuns refined sugar and white flour.
“Using industrial sugar limits artisanship,” said Frank whose desserts are sweetened with ripened fruit or from a reduction of fruit and vegetable juices. CODA’s desserts also push the boundary between sweet and savoury by using salty and umami flavours from cheese, bonito flakes, and even anchovies. Frank demonstrated on-stage his sugar-free and gluten-free carrot cake made with rice and buckwheat flour where the sweetness came from reduced carrot juice at the Madrid Fusión.
Food for future
Almost every chef believes sustainability in fine-dining is the only way forward. Take Begoña Rodrigo, one of Spain’s top female chefs who champions roots and tubers such as turnip, parsnip and sweet potato at her restaurant La Salita in Valencia, or Niland, who advocates nose-to-tail dining by using everything from fish scales to offal and eyes. The most fervent believer is possibly Chef Joan Roca of El Celler de Can Roca, a 3-star-Michelin restaurant in Girona, Spain, twice named the best in the world. He detailed the menu he had presented at the Climate Summit held in Madrid in December 2019, which made the statement “la tierra se agora” (the earth is exhausted). Roca said fermentation and preservation were techniques that prolonged the shelf life of fruits and vegetables. He also stressed on minimising meat on the plate and instead using vegetables; for example roasted beets, charcoal-grilled watermelon, and slow-cooked peppers can all mimic meat flavours.
“Cuisine is the language for telling stories and proposing solutions,” he concluded. “We need to turn it into a tool of transformation.”
Prachi Joshi is a Mumbai-based travel and food writer