Spain’s famed chef and owner of Ebulli Restaurant in Rosas, Spain, Fernan Adria, is the originator of alchemy dining. Gourmet Magazine has termed Adria “the Salvador Dali of the kitchen – the most creative chef in the world, father of modern Spanish cooking.” Others say, “he’s the most innovative man in the history of cooking.” One of his fetes, he served raviolis, not made with pasta, but with calamari flesh, then he filled them with warm gel of coconut, mint and ginger. This is but a sampling of unexpected textures and twists found in food alchemy. Little wonder, Pittsburgh’s Chef, Kevin Sousa, went to great lengths to study Adria’s concepts, catch the man’s enthusiasm and bring it back to Pittsburgh.
“We take a lot of local and seasonal products and treat them differently,” Sousa explains. “We might take English peas and turn them into a hot jelly or a warm foam. Presentation can run from the elegant to the charmingly absurd. Food lends itself to theatrics,” he explains. In Alchemy, chefs enjoy taking liberties with foods, re-assigning flavors, playing with temperatures, scrambling textures merely to amuse and entertain. Soon, they will work a freeze-dry machine into their menu planning. Cotton candy machines have already arrived. Sousa, now 33, grew up learning the food business in his family’s Italian restaurant in McKees Rocks, PA.
The ground rules for Alchemy Dining are simple. Each dining presentation is limited to 12 persons for a detailed, narrated 16-course dinner. Guests sit around a horseshoe table formation, leaving ample room for host to place each plate and wine directly in front of each person. This also allows for personal information exchanges. Our host/narrator was Sousa’s close colleague, Jim Miller. He urged guests to use their fingers for greater taste mingling. Knives and spoons were there as well. Exquisitely plain, innovatively-shaped, custom white dinnerware accented all presentations. The cost for this occasion: Dinner $100 per person; spirit pairings $75.
The night of food magic continued with tricks as treats for menudo, lobster, bison and much more. A finishing flourish was a creation of Blueberry Cotton Candy and its companion, Gorgonzola Cheese.
Some future food antics will be: fried aioli … butter capable of being tied into a knot … tricks with liquid nitrogen … more tricks with agar-agar gel. Preaching the gospel of food play, Molecular Gastronomy” allows imaginative chefs to swap flavors, invert temperatures and fool with absurd textures. They will do this traditionally and with the help of machines which magically turn mundane foods into vivid foams, airs, mists, bubbles, siphons and whim.
(Note: The picture above features snails ala Ebulli.)