Time Out joins Tang’s super chefs, along with their nitrogen tank, blow torch, and decompression unit, in the kitchen
Apparently, in 20-years time we will all have our own liquid nitrogen canister, squeezed in between the oven and the dishwasher.
Cooking, it would seem, is no longer an art. It’s a science.
Sadly, this Time Outer doesn’t know how to cook, anything. Be it an art, or a science, it’s a mystery to me. But I refuse to let that get in my way. In fact, I’m going to bypass traditional cooking altogether, in favour of a more scientific route. A course in molecular gastronomy at Mina Seyahi’s, if not Dubai’s, most innovative eatery, Tang.
So, first things first, what is this bizarre cooking/science hybrid? Molecular gastronomy deals with the ‘sensory phenomena associated with eating’ and ‘the astonishing culinary journey your palette undergoes as it transforms the simplest of foods into the most amazing experiences’. Hmm, very interesting, but this could be a bit trickier than I thought.
The idea of using techniques developed in science to study food is not a new one. It dates back to the 18th century. But officially, the concept as we know it began in the late 1990’s with Spanish super-chef Ferran Adrià’s Girona-based eatery El Bulli and the Heston Blumenthal owned UK restaurant, The Fat Duck. Both of which regularly grace the world’s top restaurants lists.
So dedicated is Mr Adria to his art, he closes his restaurant down for weeks on end, to allow his staff to experiment and create new recipes. Mr Blumenthal, on the other hand, is now trying to distance himself from the phrase altogether, declaring molecular gastronomy ‘elitist’. Although, bizarrely, he claims to stand by the principals of molecular cooking which have inspired the minds behind Tang. In fact, Heston’s own idea of creating ice cream from the raw ingredients, mixed with liquid nitrogen, is one of the methods used by Tang’s second in command, Chef de Cuisine Stuart Sage.
So, with fear in my heart, but secretly excited about the prospect of using a blow torch, I head for Tang to let Stuart and his fellow molecular-mad chef, Chris, show me how it’s done.
I had no idea what to expect. Although I did hear that dry ice (liquid nitrogen) is also involved in this cooking-by-science business. This can only be a good thing. In Time Out’s world, dry ice always indicates that something exciting or untoward is about to happen. Surely this has to make cooking a whole lot more fun?
It turns out that it does. Stuart freezes then lets us try a tomato ‘espuma’ that has been set in liquid nitrogen. It tastes crispy on the outside yet unbelievably fresh in the middle and apparently has the potential to be a pretty good party trick. Supposedly, if you pop a piece of it into your mouth and close it immediately, smoke shoots out of your nose. Or at least it should do. Unfortunately I tried it three times without achieving anything so exciting. The best I could manage was a frozen tongue. Admittedly, this was more down to my ineptitude than any fault on the part of the tomato.
Smoke and mirrors aside, the time has come to try and learn something, so we decide to concentrate and put the tomato incident to the back of our minds. Stuart warms us up with a quick pep talk. He refers to his creations, none-performing tomato included, as you would your first born son. And well he might, getting to the level that he has reached has required more than a little fatherly commitment to the cause, and a whole lot of paraphernalia.
We sneak a peek in his kitchen cupboards and discover that his checklist of ingredients includes a whopping 1,400 products, from the brilliant liquid nitrogen to 26 different types of salt. Shame descends, as Time Out recollects that the last time we had visitors and raided our cupboards, we couldn’t even muster up the basics for a cup of tea.
While the general population treats food as a pleasant addition to the day to daily grind, Stuart, Chris, and their team, worship it. They spend their lives thinking up ways to push the boundaries of science. No stone is left unturned and each of them eats out several times a week at restaurants across Dubai, searching for inspiration to bring back to their lair.
Between them, these boys have deconstructed the Waldorf Salad, created caviar from beetroot and orange, turned mango juice into paper and made a Chinese cracker that melts in the mouth and tastes like hot chocolate, to name but a few pieces of their best work. And their quest for culinary discovery continues.
Here’s how to find out a bit more about what they do. You might even get bitten by the molecular bug yourself, who knows?
What to expect if you sign-up -First comes a welcome coffee in the Tang bar and a briefing on what molecular gastronomy is about. -Next, you get your first peek at the kitchen. -After this, you get to try basic molecular techniques with the chef’s supervision -Next, Stuart’s favourite ‘sous vide’ cooking. This involves cooking using air-tight bags which can be done at home. -After this, the Tang bar manager will show you how to make molecular cocktails in the bar area and explain how to do this at home. Look out for the candy floss machine. -Then, the exciting bit. Liquid nitrogen. This is the point at which you can taste the ice cream and espuma tomato, mentioned earlier. And please, if you manage to get photographic evidence of the smoke trick, send Time Out a picture. If you want to learn the art of Molecular Gastronomy at Tang, then dine out on what you have created, call 04 399 3333 to book. Classes cost Dhs750 per person, you can have up to four people per class.
Tang are also offering a Dhs295 summer menu if you’d rather sit back, relax, and let the experts do the cooking. We tried the beef and tempura vegetables. Delicious.