By Christian Volbracht, dpa
COLOGNE–Swiss chef Denis Martin is serving a dessert with the aid of a balloon. The inflated balloon is placed in a container with liquid nitrogen to shrink it. Then the balloon is removed and slowly begins to expand at room temperature before it is punctured with a needle. The burst balloon reveals a piece of chocolate. It’s just one example of how Martin combines entertainment with dining.
The recent “Chef Sache” cooking summit in Cologne, Germany, got to grips with the future of haute cuisine. Restaurant critic Juergen Dollase predicted the current trend for top-end gastronomy served in stylish temples of food would soon draw to a close. “They are going to die out, along with their aging clientele,” he said. The younger generation disdains many dishes that are highly regarded at the moment and Denis Martin is trying to counter that by presenting them in new ways. Black pudding, apple sauce and potato mash is a favorite German food. Martin freeze-dries and pulverizes the pudding before serving it with tiny globules of apple sauce. “They love eating it!” he exclaims. Another dish in Martin’s repertoire is based on an envelope: the envelope contains pigeon breast vacuum-packed in a plastic bag, which has been cooked for 12 seconds in a microwave. The guest opens the letter and serves the dish, thus adding a level of surprise. The term “molecular cooking,” once all the rage, has gone out of fashion. However, its method of using liquid nitrogen to cool, dry and pulverize ingredients is as popular as ever. The trendy new method of cooking is termed “fermentation,” whereby ingredients are altered using enzymes and bacteria. German sauerkraut has always been made this way but chefs are trying the method on other foods including meat. Rene Redzepi is a leading light in this type of cuisine. He uses lactic acid to cook boletus mushrooms and redcurrants. Redzepi allowed his audience in Cologne to sample a pate made from fermented grasshoppers before revealing what they had been eating.
At home in his restaurant, Redzepi uses the pate to season grilled fish heads served with wild herbs gathered at the coast. Redzepi also served his audience with pureed Danish forest ants.
“Why eat small insects? If you eat mushrooms then you have already eaten countless numbers of worms,” says the chef.
Redzepi’s vegetarian alternative to meat is to dry beetroot in an oven so long that it tastes very like a piece of meat.
Another trend in top-end cooking is creating small gourmet landscapes on the plate. Joachim Wissler from Germany was voted one of the 10 best chefs in the world by a panel in London this year.
One of his dishes uses rose petals pickled in brine to decorate the plate.
Sven Elverfeld has taken traditional German dishes and reinvented them, such as herring served with an elderberry marinade and pumpernickel cream.
For dessert, pastry chef Pierre Lingelser has taken Black Forest gateaux and added ham chips and cherry schnapps aroma to give the cake an extra touch.
All of the chefs agree it’s essential to surprise guests without serving dishes that are too complicated. Top-level cooking needs to innovate, but it must remain tasty, according to Elverfeld.