Molecular Gastronomy: Culinary Art Meets Science
Published Apr 1, 2009 - (Updated Dec 3, 2012)
Featured in Vallarta Lifestyles Magazine, Winter/Spring 2009 issue.
Having dinner at a gourmet restaurant, seduced by the flavors and aromas of the spectacular dishes before you, it’s easy to forget that cooking is, fundamentally, the result of a series of chemical and physical processes. Coined in 1988 by physicists Nicholas Kurti and Hervé This, the term “molecular gastronomy” refers to the study and research of such processes, along with the use of natural ingredients, new techniques and state-of-the-art equipment for food preparation. For two decades, a number of superstar chefs around the world have embraced the movement, wowing diners with innovative culinary creations involving flavorful foams, emulsions and other cutting-edge techniques at their own restaurants.
Looking to maintain its place in an increasingly competitive arena, local restaurant Le Kliff has been following and studying this movement for over two years and, by the time you read this, will have incorporated molecular gastronomy precepts into many of their menu offerings. Intrigued? So were we when we were invited to take a tour of their kitchen, where the lines between art and science are blurred, and the outcome is sheer delectability.
Scheduling up to 200 weddings a year, due to its privileged cliff-top location between Mismaloya and Boca de Tomatlán, Le Kliff is considered by many to be Puerto Vallarta’s top wedding destination. Aside from this, however, this family-run restaurant has strived for excellence since its inception in 1983, resulting in a local institution known for outstanding cuisine, spectacular sunsets and prime seats during the whale-watching season, December to March.
General Manager Carlos Guzmán, who oversees day-to-day operations at the restaurant with the rest of his family, first became aware of molecular cuisine by constantly reviewing top-restaurant lists published by authoritative sources such as the Michelin Guide and Condé Nast. He found that three restaurants, elBulli in Spain, The Fat Duck in England, and The French Laundry in Napa Valley, were consistently winning the most prestigious international accolades. Coincidentally, all three of their chefs, Ferran Adrià, Heston Blumenthal and Thomas Keller, respectively, had successfully incorporated This’ teachings into their own creations. The fortunate choice of Ciaran Duffy, who has worked beside Heston Blumenthal as part of The Fat Duck’s apprenticeship program, as their guest chef for the annual Festival Gourmet International for the past two years has also been a catalyst in the new direction Le Kliff is pursuing.
So what can you actually expect to find on your plate for your next dinner at Le Kliff? Ferran Adrià, whose popular elBulli receives 2,000,000 reservation requests per year with an 8,000 annual capacity, developed and sells his own line of texturas, natural products and additives used to produce flavorful foams, caviar and ravioli, among other derivatives. Implementing these products and techniques and imbuing them with local flavor is, thus, up to each individual restaurant. This has been a gratifying challenge for Le Kliff chef Everardo Robles, who relies on Adrià’s products and combines them with fresh mangoes, hibiscus iced tea (commonly known as agua de jamaica) and even chili peppers to produce a bold statement that bridges time-honored Mexican flavors with fresh new trends.
Le Kliff has also embraced sous-vide, or “under vacuum” cooking, a method used by the aforementioned Thomas Keller in which ingredients are sealed in a plastic bag and cooked for a longer time at lower temperatures. Cooking with this method requires a specialized thermal circulator that keeps precisely heated water in constant movement. The outcome is food that maintains its original appearance, flavor and texture, and also all its nutritional value.
Guzman sees Le Kliff’s evolution as a work in progress, one in which his culinary staff is provided with the tools to continuously develop their craft, while enticing guests with new and innovative dishes. And for us, it is a welcome opportunity to appreciate and enjoy the results in the comfort of our own backyard.