Culinary alchemy

Note: there is a link I can’t remove for some reason in the middle of this post. It does take you to an interesting website, but I can’t move it to where I want to! Oh the joys of WordPress and not using my own computer…..

Wellington on a Plate is not just about burgers, cocktails and gourmet dining, it is also a chance to go to events from guided foraging to talks to demonstrations. On Monday evening I attended a molecular gastronomy masterclass at Le Cordon Bleu, delivered by chef Francis Motta. The term molecular gastronomy is used to describe ‘a style of cuisine in which chefs explore culinary possibilities by borrowing tools from the science lab and ingredients from the food industry’ (reference here). Other definitions state that it is a branch of food science seeks to examine the physical, how food is transformed when undergoing the cooking process.

Chef at the start of the evening

The evening saw a presentation of spherification, gelification, a squid ink tuile, a recipe for a mocktail that could be easily turned into a cocktail with a little gin, and a brief demonstration of the use of liquid nitrogen in the kitchen. The demonstration took place in a lecture theatre/kitchen within the school as you can see below.

Demonstration in progress

We were told about basic spherification (like the caviar of beetroot you can see being prepared below) and reverse spherification. Both techniques use sodium alginate to form a gel membrane that encases the other ingredients. To try this at home, you would need to stock up on all the right chemicals (see the picture above), have the time (the beetroot caviar needs to rest for 12 hours after being mixed) and enjoy the science of it all as well as the taste.

Beetroot caviar in preparation
Reverse spherification: mango, orange, carrots sphere

The term molecular gastronomy is most commonly used to describe a form of culinary style adopted by chefs such as Ferran Adria and Heston Blumenthal. However, they and others have shied away from the expression, preferring to use phrases like modernist cuisine for this type of cooking. Molecular gastronomy is seen as food science, whereas modernist cookery is more concerned with re-inventing cuisine and breaking away from the old rules. I do understand this – these people are chefs and not scientists – but there is a lot of science and experimentation present in the preparation of cooking (think of baking and what happens when you add baking powder).

Anyway back to the evening, and to the creation of spaghetti parmesan, made from parmesan dissolved in boiling water, passed through muslin, mixed with agar agar, poured into a syringe attached to a flexible tube, and then piped out into strings of spaghetti. A great trick, but I’ll stick to regular spaghetti topped with loads of parmesan for the moment!

Making spaghetti parmesan
Spaghetti parmesan

We got to taste all the creations of the evening: the ‘spaghetti’, beetroot caviar and lemon caviar (which was another demonstration of gelification), topped with a squid ink tuile.

Serving up tasting portions
Making the squid ink tuile
The squid ink tuile
Beetroot caviar, spaghetti parmesan and caviar of lemon
Reverse spherification: mango, orange and carrot sphere (lovely!)
Cucumber cocktail – takes a day to make

The evening ended with freezing marshmallows with liquid nitrogen – always a fun thing to see – which were handed out to the audience at the end. All in all, an interesting evening but don’t expect to see any reverse spherification demonstrations from me!

Marshmallows get the liquid nitrogen treatment

Have any of you tried any of these techniques?

You can find Thistles and Kiwis on Facebook, and also on Instagram@thistleandkiwis.  As for Twitter….am totally inactive these days.  If you want to get in touch, email me on


  1. No, I have never tried any of these techniques and don’t plan to any time soon. I’m just a simple home cook. 😉 Sounds like an interesting evening, though.


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