We picked flowers and grass, tossed them in little frying pan, scooped the dirt and packed it tightly into a jelly mould, flipped it out onto a plate and then pretending to eat and drink the ‘food’ we’ve just prepared on a tiny stool – games of cooking in miniature plastic kitchen used to be one of my favourite games when I was a kid, we called it, Masak-Masak, in Malay. It is still one of my favourite game to date except with real food in real kitchen with real fire.
I am a very visual person and truly believe that there are no boundaries when comes to creativity, including cooking. It is something that I love doing which I get to explore and experiment with new flavours, new textures and new techniques. Whether is home-cooked classics, finesse fine dining ensemble or even the scientifically challenged molecular gastronomy (MG), I love them all. I haven’t had much experience with the latter one, in fact, none. But I have always been inspired by Heston Blumenthal and his innovative style of cooking and definitely would like to find out more about MG myself. When I heard about the MG workshops by Leigh Hudson at Chef’s Armoury during the SIFF month, I quickly grabbed the opportunity and signed up to learn some basics.
With a maximum of eight students, the workshop is led by Leigh Hudson and his assistant, Eddy, at the Chef’s Armoury shop in Rosebery. They will run us through a series of MG basic theories demonstration including foam, spherification, reverse spherification and sous vide.
Leigh kicks off the workshop with a brief demonstration on how to make white soy foam using a stick blender over a bowl of thick soy lecithin. Leigh tells us that it can be a time consuming process and boring, hence we quickly move on to the next demonstration since he already has some of the foam prepared earlier.
Eddy takes in charge of the next demonstration by making capsicum caviar pearls. He slowly presses a heavy book down onto nine syringes loaded with equal measure of capsicum juice mixed with sodium alginate, the colorful rain drops fall into a tray of calcium chloride solution that sets each drop into caviar pearl. The pearls are then collected and rinsed in cold water to get rid of the calcium chloride.
In the mean time, Leigh is preparing our first dish, slicing a fresh piece of kingfish he bought from the fish market the same morning effortlessly. Once all the components are ready, it is time to prep up our first dish.
Our first course of this evening is kingfish sashimi with white soy foam, served on a bed of shredded daikon. On the side is a sushi rice roll, topped with capsicum pearls which look just like salmon roe, but every bite is a subtle burst of peppery juice.
Inspired by a dish Leigh had in Japan recently, he serves up the next dish with a big fat stalk of seasonal asparagus which has been lightly blanched, sprouting out in a cute glass jar filled with white miso foam. Utterly cute how it is presented, the asparagus is still slightly crunchy whilst the miso foam is light and airy.
The second plate is half a tomato wedge with the core removed and filled with tomato jelly. The sweet tomato is an intense burst of umami, accompanied with Chef’s Armoury own recipe of Japanese style Kewpie mayo which is an infusion of dashi powder, yuzu juice and rice vinegar for acidity.
It’s time for some miso soup, but in reverse spherification method. The miso stock this time is mixed with calcium gluconate, Leigh scoops up a spoonful of the stock by using a measuring teaspoon then drops it into a tray of sodium alginate in one swift movement to form a ball. The miso will start to form a membrane on the outside and when it is thick enough to whole the liquid inside, the balls are then transferred to a hot water bath.
The glossy sphere of miso soup looks just like an egg yolk sits in a puddle of green scallion oil. Leigh warns us to act quickly with our camera as the soup should be ‘eaten’ immediately when served, simply because the chemical is still active and the sphere will gradually getting firmer.
It is a weird sensation when the delicate sphere bursts inside my mouth and suddenly is filled with rich miso soup.
Next dish is a quirky modern take of the traditional Oyako-don (parent and child), a comforting Japanese dish of chicken and egg, steamed over a large bowl of rice with sweet onions.
Leigh has soft-boiled the eggs in a water bath at a constant temperature of 64 degree for hours. He then uses an egg clacker to pop the top of the shell off, leaving a clean cut to pour the soft egg out. It is a perfect soft egg with the yolk just cooked through to hold its shape while is still runny on the inside.
He only uses the yolk with a little bit of egg white for this dish, then fills the egg shell with onions cooked in dashi stock before finishing it off with sushi rice on top. That’s the egg part of the dish done whilst Eddy has already been busy preparing the chicken part in the kitchen.
The egg dish is paired with chicken kushikatsu, mini chicken skewers rolled in panko crumbs then deep fried to crunchy golden brown. Leigh suggests us to dip the chicken skewer into the egg yolk and give it a swirl until it is nicely coated with the runny yolk.
Next we are presented with a palate cleanser before moving on to next dish. Shaped of a sakura flower, the yuzu jelly is sticky and sweet, we are advised to roll it in the fizzy sherbet made from citric acid and sugar.
Little did we know that there are actually some kingfish inside vacuum-sealed bags are having a nice hot water bath at the optimum temperature at 70-degree until Leigh fetches them out to prepare our next dish, including cubes of daikon and carrot in another bag. This delicate dish demonstrates the magic of sous vide by locking in all the flavour inside sealed bags while cooking. The flesh of the fish is silky smooth but I am more impressed with the carrot, they are intensely sweet.
“Usually we have yabbies for the next dish, very cute in the bowl when served with heads poking out. Unfortunately they are not available when I went to Fish Market this morning, so we will have marrons instead,” Leigh explains. We are not arguing.
He uses a non-stick cast iron Naked Pan, which is not coated with nasty chemicals like polytetraflouroethylene and flourinated ethylene propylene but created by kiln firing the pan at a high temperature until an iron oxide forms, hence the name ‘naked’. The marrons sizzling away in the hot pan and turn bashful red within minutes.
The marrons are cooked in butter red miso, the buttery saltiness of the miso accentuates the sweet juicy flesh immensely. But at the bottom of the bowl is a puddle of mashed potato foam, pumped out from a siphon canister. It is a potato whipped cream, light as feather and dissolves into a smooth puree inside my mouth.
Leigh also leaves the siphon canister at the table so everyone gets to give it a try.
The pre-dessert dish is a good chance for us to get more hands-on and have a go at reverse spherification. One by one, we step up and grab a teaspoonful of the coffee shot mixed with calcium gluconate then drop it into the tray of sodium alginate and quickly lift the spoon out of the water so that it doesn’t look like tadpole with a tail.
Instead of hot water bath, this time we wash the coffee sphere in a bowl of iced water as it is supposed to served chilled in a porcelain spoon with evaporated milk. It brings the inner-child out in all of us, it is fun to see everyone swallows the coffee ball together with the milk, the eyes widened in surprise as soon as it pops inside the mouth, and slowly a smile is hanging on their faces while swallowing the chilled milk coffee with glee.
In the mean time, Eddy also has an impromptu surprise for us, something he has been experimenting at the back in the kitchen earlier on. He pours half the shot glasses with Calpico, a non-carbonated soft drink made from milk and lactobacilli, then pipes whipped cream over the top. It is a fun cream soda but much lighter with sweet and tangy fruity flavour of the Calpis.
Our final course is a dessert of green tea parfait, a wheel of smooth green tea ice cream is rolled in crunchy macadamia praline crumbs, served with azuki beans and green tea soil. A perfect light dessert to conclude our workshop.
Overall it is an interesting evening for GM newbie like me and definitely picked up a few tips and tricks along the way. It makes me feel like discovering science all over again and ready to experiment. I simply can’t leave empty handed and also bought a few gadgets including a siphon canister, a GM kit which happily I share half with Phuoc and also a GM book by ALINEA restaurant in Chicago. I already have a few ideas that I can’t wait to explore.
Chef's Armoury 747-751 Botany Road, Rosebery (between Queen and Morley Avenue) Tel: +61 (02) 9699 2353 Opening hours: Monday to Saturday 10.30am-4.30pm