Haute cuisine for large numbers: the molecular gastronomy

Ettore Bochia and haute cuisine

How many cooks are necessary to prepare a gourmet dinner for 3000 people? Is there a kitchen big enough to have them all working together at the same time? The expertise in molecular gastronomy allows you to…

1. Molecular Gastronomy

A lot has been said lately about molecular gastronomy: some things were correct but a lot weren’t! Let’s (very) briefly explain what it is and most of all what it’s not.

Paradoxically we could say that molecular gastronomy is a way of understanding food more than a way of cooking. In fact it is not a particular cuisine (ie. Seafood Cuisine), a “cultural” characterization (ie. Italian regional cuisine) nor a cooking technique (ie. Baking). Molecular gastronomy is nothing but a scientific approach to cooking. An approach that starts with physics, involves chemistry and thermodynamics and gets to analyze the physiology of taste. All of that to understand what happens to food and to our mouth. Knowledge about these elements is partially already at hand thanks to science and can partially be achieved thanks to the research and the scientific method, the same used by Galileo, Newton and Von Braun. I like this definition: molecular gastronomy is scientifically aware cuisine.

Carpaccio di branzino con cagliata d'uovo e cialde croccanti di amidi al nero di seppia
Carpaccio di branzino con cagliata d’uovo e cialde croccanti di amidi al nero di seppia

2. Gastronomy and Science
The vast majority of us cooks
received a training based on the effects: what happens if I boil an egg for 7 minutes? I get a hard boiled egg.

Molecular gastronomy focuses on causes and tries to give an answer to questions such as: why is it that an egg that boils for 7 minutes becomes hard boiled? How many other ways there are to obtain the same effect? Etc. Even something as simple as a hard boiled egg or some pasta, if considered from this point of you is a molecular gastronomy phenomenon. The scientific expertise (that every cook should have), the professional curiosity, the experimentation, the research and – that’s essential! – the talent of some chefs allowed them to create completely new techniques and recipes, such as my turbot cooked in melted sugars and the ice cream frozen with the help of liquid nitrogen. Due to somebody’s casual management of knowledge, molecular gastronomy started being considered “the Oddities Cuisine”.

People can use their knowledge as they prefer (do you remember the Sorcerer’s Apprentice?) and if they want to create oddities they are more than welcome to, but others (like me) use their expertise only to design new tasting experiences, to create new recipes and elevate the standards of the old ones and to control more precisely the processes. All of this without leaving the field of the highest level of cooking, achieved working exclusively with excellent ingredients, respecting their wholesomeness and the health of our customers. This is my idea of haute cuisine and it is the only field I wish to play in.

Molecolar cuisine

3. Some figures
After this general introduction, I’d like to talk about the control over the transformation processes, that the molecular cooking techniques allow me to control up to the tiniest detail. It is thanks to this control that we can create haute cuisine menus even for very large numbers, without having to use huge teams of cooks and with great flexibility.

At the Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni, the same team of 16-18 cooks that manages the daily routine of the two restaurants (about 130 meals a day, excluding the personnel) can manage, at the same time, also (for example) a wedding and a convention with completely different menus, besides the “a la carte” service offered at the restaurants. Around 650 meals: five times more!

Another example: for the inauguration of the particles accelerator (LHC) at the CERN in Geneva (October 2008) we organized a very high quality buffet for 1800 people with a team of no more than 35 cooks: 280 kg of ice cream and 32.000 finger food in a variety of 30 recipes! With the compliments of the highly selected guests. The same thing happened for the launch of the Costa “twin” cruise ships Luminosa and Pacifica. For a seated dinner for 4000 people on the ships, with a sumptuous menu of the very highest quality, I managed two teams of cooks for a total of 200, extremely well trained of course.

Ettore Bocchia

4. Haute cuisine
Haute cuisine
means, first of all, high quality in the dish and often very elaborate recipes. Molecular cuisine, giving you control over the processes and the chance of designing the dishes starting from the ingredients and depending on the aims and bonds, solves most of the problems. For example, using inuline (a prebiotic sugar obtained from lettuce or from the bulb of dahlias) to sweeten a biscuit, it will remain crunchy even if immersed in ice cream, leaving us the time to prepare thousands of portions and to serve them still perfect. This was only an example but I could tell you that, depending from the logistics of the location, we can plan the humidity and the percentage of gluten of the ravioli dough in order to serve them perfect (and let me underline that: perfect!), even if any waiting or heating is required. The problems created by large number can butcher haute cuisine but molecular gastronomy allows the “miracle” of solving the biggest part of this problems without having to hire (and pay) hundreds of cooks in endless kitchens that, in real life, do not exist!