Alice Eats Wonderland: Molecular Gastronomy Metamorphosis
- October 23rd, 2010
- Posted in Cooking . Experience . Experience . Savory . Seattle-ing . Sweet . Traveling
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Every great journey should be a metamorphosis, and I can think of nothing more life-defining from the canons of literature than Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. In deciding to embody Alice for this, the sixth challenge for Project Food Blog, I was able to approach food from a whimsical perspective, but by the end of the challenge whimsy gave way to growth and in fact I find myself renewed for having seen it through. If you enjoy this journey, why not vote for it?
To Alice, eating and drinking is not about sustenance; rather it’s to evoke transformation. This is intrinsically linked with my own approach to food. Yes, I love to eat, but I especially like it when the food that passes my lips inspires mental and emotional reactions that lead to enveloping-contentment far beyond the physical. It’s like umami in the sense that you cannot put your finger on it but when it happens, it makes the bite that much richer, and yes, it can even change your life.
Ludwig Bemelmans said, “The true gourmet, like the true artist, is one of the unhappiest creatures existent. His trouble comes from so seldom finding what he constantly seeks: perfection.” I’m no true gourmet, but I do strive for Bemelman’s ideal. A handful of times throughout my years, I’ve taken a bite that has brought me to tears (and no, I am not talking about eating magic mushrooms here).
Maybe that makes me a food nerd of the highest order, but one of my major life goals in writing this blog is to share that singular passion for perfect food with the world. And to have a brillig-ly jabberwocky time while doing it, so let’s party, tea-party people. Wonderland, here we come, through the Looking-Glass House.
Because a major tenet of the challenge was to fit the food into a cooler provided to us by Project Food Blog and Buick Lacrosse (bedazzled a la Mad Hatter), portability drove my selections. I started the journey the way Alice did, with a “drink me” bottle of magic potion. Alice said, “It had, in fact, a sort of mixed flavor of cherry-tart, custard, pine-apple, roast turkey, toffee, and hot buttered toast.” I thought about how to recreate it and I remembered Heston Blumenthal did an Alice-themed menu for The Fat Duck a few years ago.
Sure enough, he made the potion using the method of infusion seen here. I started with all six of those foods and infused them into milk for 12 hours. Then I strained out the solids and thickened the layers with iota carageenan (1% by weight) so they would hold without bleeding into one another and blurring the individual flavor profiles. I carefully layered them into bottles (with the help of my two co-conspirators, Emme and Andrea). While this drink may sound strange, it was pleasantly-staggering for the senses to distinctly sequentially identify all those flavors. It certainly made me think, even if it didn’t literally make me shrink.
I chose to miniaturize teacups, and rather than fill them with tea which might have been messy, I made blueberry foam “tea” instead. Taking a page from the Mad Hatter’s playbook, I constructed edible teacups from white chocolate using plastic hemisphere molds.
The only really difficult part of this dish is tempering the chocolate. The rest of it involves pouring chocolate into the molds, suspending them upside down until they solidify then popping out the cups. The handles are chocolate piped onto parchment and hardened, and the saucers are easily formed using round cutters. White chocolate “glue” holds everything together.
My favorite creation of the day was a riff I did on incorporating the Royal Hearts Family into the feast. I made a Royal Flush hand of cards by “tuile-ifying” dehydrated coconut milk. I stenciled out card shapes and sifted the coconut milk (along with isomalt, glucose and fondant sugar) inside the stencils.
Then I heated them at a very low temperature in the oven until they had congealed to paper-like consistency. I stenciled the heart shapes much the same way except I used paprika tuile powder instead. The added bonus- I discovered an idyllic flavor-pairing in the process: coconut and paprika. It’s worth a lick or ten.
Once again obfuscating the line between food and object, I created the Mad Hatter’s pocketwatch from an oversized raviolo in beurre noisette (since they butter the watch in the book). I filled the raviolo with a thin layer of Dungeness crab, and painted the backwards numbers on the “face” using squid ink. A little edible gold finished the look.
For the main course I deviated slightly from Alice. I thought paying homage to one of the most lauded restaurants of bygone days, The Quilted Giraffe, was related enough by sheer decadence plus I traveled back in cultural time for the dish’s inspiration. Charlie Trotter said of the Giraffe, “It was not just the food, it was the whole experience,” and I think that embodies Alice to a tee (yes, that was a really bad pun), which is why these crepes made the cut.
Barry Wine, infamous owner of The Quilted Giraffe (and this talented blogger’s father) used to serve a crepe formed into a beggar’s purse filled with caviar and crème fraiche, tied with a chive. I chose to roll the crepes instead so they’d look like little scrolls, and I am certain the golden (whitefish) caviar I used was not as decadent as the beluga from the days of old, but they were blissed-out bites of easily-portable culinary alchemy gone great.
Our blogs exist to record momentous occasions in the kitchen and elsewhere. We share our culinary creations and in the process little bits of our souls make their way to the page as well. Project Food Blog has forced me to go deeper inside to eek out posts worthy of your esteemed eyes, and for that I am grateful.
Much has been said about the project, competitive blogging in general, popularity contests, et cetera. The fact remains that regardless where you stand on these divisive issues as a blogger or reader of blogs, if you decided to take part in this contest and focused on the challenges with zeal, you couldn’t have helped but learned something in the process- made a transformation, just like Alice. Yes, I’ve *lost* my Saturdays (and most of the week, to be quite honest) but I’ve gained focus, an outlet for my madness where people seem to appreciate it, and a few new life experiences that I won’t soon forget. I deeply appreciate your votes in getting me this far, and I hope you’ll help me to continue the journey by voting again RIGHT HERE or using the Project Food Blog widget on the right side of the Salty Seattle homepage.