It will be no surprise to hear that I prick up my ears when chefs talk nutrition. We certainly have seen many embrace growing, global trends towards health – both in their personal wellness, but also in their top end kitchens. And these days with allergy alerts even the humble corner-cafe-cook, could do with some basic nutrition knowledge of special diets. But what’s really exciting is how cutting-edge chefs are pushing the boundaries of modern food by leading us back down the garden path, back to traditional diets and uncovering nutrition science secrets along the way. Let’s take a closer look:
Think like I have never thunk before.
What an amazing experience to attend a recent lecture demonstration with two of the world’s futurists and most intellectually challenging chefs including Andoni Aduriz of Spain’s Mugaritz (Theatre of Ideas as part of the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival). Billed as a playful, stimulating and evocative session, and a “signpost to the future of global cuisine” we were not disappointed. By demonstrating signature dishes (including a black dish – the lights were turned off and all that was left was taste), both chefs took us on a journey through their philosophy on the art and science of food and how the spark of inspiration is formed. Honey I shrunk myself and am in the brain of Andoni Aduriz and Massimo Bottura. One minute I’m back in my students days, lab coat on with my Bunsen burner in the biochemistry lab. Next I’m hurtled into a grand gallery exploring revolutionary conceptual art. Did I say that this was about food?
So if you’re a nutrition lover like me, wondering what’s the link, let me explain. Andoni has taken the world of molecular gastronomy and turned it back to a new-found emphasis on simplicity. Which means he is looking back to his childhood traditions and even further to inspiration from traditional diets. Take his modern use of lime water traditionally used in the preparation of maize products like tortilla’s to help release the B vitamin niacin (vitamin B3) and prevent deficiency disease known as pellagra. Andoni uses lime water in a process known to nutrition scientists as nixtamalisation to soak fruits and vegetables like Jerusalem artichoke. This causes calcium pectates or a second skin to form on the outer surface before cooking and changes the internal structure and taste. When cut and plated Jerusalem artichoke is light, white and flaky – indistinguishable when nestled next to crab meat. While the emphasis here for Andoni is on turning food upside down, he clearly recognises and speaks of the importance of the preservation and bioavailability of nutrients in food.
He talked too of his involvement with traditional diet research at a Spanish University, because “development of cuisine is about the mind of culture”. You can read about my personal ideas on the power of traditional diets too. And my belief is that the more that chefs, nutritionists, food scientists and health researchers respect each others turf (and garden path) but also generously share and explore common ground – the more we improve the future of food.
The other thing you need to know about Andoni is that he has strong links to this part of the world, through his former head chef, Dan Hunter now back in Oz and at the Royal Mail Hotel, Dunkeld Victoria. Here’s the enviable Flickr stream from their recent event with Andoni “The Origin of Things”.
According to Matt Preston (event host) writing about the top world restaurants:
While Andoni Aduriz might have started as a modernist disciple of Ferran Adrià, he now more closely follows the land and the sea that surround him. Local fish abound and flowers, wild greens and herbs seem to be everywhere in the 11-course meal. A minuscule dice of squid and carrots in a squid broth comes strewn with delicate white carrot blossoms. A bowl of herbs and veg is loaded with different basils and the surprisingly sweet petals of lily and marigold.
The guys at Mugaritz also love a culinary gag, whether it’s potatoes covered in a grey edible clay so they feel and look like stones, or blackened veal that appears to have spent three hours too long on the barbecue. (It’s been dyed to look burnt and is a perfect pink when cut.) “We are a terrible restaurant. We serve our guests stones and burnt meat,” riffs maître d’ Jose Ramón Calvo.
The funniest joke of all is the two envelopes every diner finds at their place asking them to choose whether they want to “rebel” or “submit” with their choice of menu. I ask Calvo how the two menus differ. “They don’t!” he laughs, suggesting they are just playing with diners’ minds.
And to get a feel of Mugaritz (before a fire earlier this year) and those two envelopes here’s a segment from Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations.