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Put simply: The basics of good cooking are rooted in molecular gastronomy. The more volatile flavor components foods have in common, the more likely it is that they will work deliciously together.
Part of creating masterpieces in the kitchen is learning how to successfully match similar flavor genes from one ingredient to the flavor genes of another ingredient. So for instance, the sweet yet earthiness of parsnips pair perfectly with the same flavors found in the rutabaga. Match this with the subtle, sweetness of shallots and you have a perfectly balanced, wonderfully delectable combination.
The process of effectively matching flavors is what makes food pairing and wine pairing exciting to taste and experiment with. It is precisely this desire for experimenting with the most mouth-watering, innovative and unexpected tastes that has propelled Spanish-based restaurant, el Bulli, to the ethers of haute cuisine.
Topping numerous best-restaurant-in-the-world lists, el Bulli is the quintessential molecular gastronomy experience. Here, inventive food pairings reign supreme: cucumber gin tonic with candied citrus peel, prepared tableside with a jug of liquid nitrogen; white asparagus with toffee and tarragon with yoghurt, served with white asparagus soup; and almond turnover with Szechuan button mushrooms, cucumber balls, in liquorice and yuzu.
And unexpected pairings aren’t limited to food of course, at el Bulli or elsewhere. In recent years, fine restaurants throughout the world have taken to substituting wine accompaniments with other innovative drinks—both with and without alcohol.
Inspired by the idea of catering to diners that did not want to drink alcohol with their meal, beverage directors in some of the world’s best restaurants are looking beyond the vineyard in search of alternative drinks that can hold their own in the pairing world rather than offering nondrinkers just a lackluster “still or sparkling?”
The result has been enormously successful. Sommeliers are no longer simply praised for the wine selection, but now their homemade sodas too. Gaining in popularity, these homemade fizzy creations in flavors such as ginger ale and herb-infused are finding their place beside more traditional bubbly. Complex juices, milks, teas, and brews—like elixir of Asian pear with yuzu juice or almond milk and versju vinegar—are some other popular sans alcohol tasting menu options.
Like all strong food trends, non-alcoholic and molecular-based food pairings are omnipresent on food blogs. A recently released Belgian site called “Foodpairing” is gaining accolades for its molecular mapping of 250 ingredients. It shows which foodstuffs have the most flavor components in common with others. The idea is that cooks at every level will experiment with the different variations and uncover new worlds of taste.
“They Go Really Well Together” is another site drawing the attention of molecular gastronomy foodies around the world. This event, also launched off a food blog, offers three ingredients that interested takers must try to use together in delectable, never-before-thought-of combinations. The first year’s ingredients: chocolate, garlic and coffee.
Experimenting with different flavors and food combinations is what cooking and drinking—and eating—is all about, so don’t be shy. Get into your kitchen and try something different tonight.
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Hi! This is Caitlin…After the show we had some great callers phone in praising combinations like pepper and strawberries, salt and watermelon, and mango, red onion, and cilantro (yum!). If you have any favourite off-beat combintations, post them here!