Firstly, what term should we be using to describe this type of cooking? Avant-garde? Modernist? Molecular?
Well, really, all cooking is molecular in some form or other… For me it’s just modern cookery – and even that’s a slight oxymoron because some of the techniques we are using are so bloody old! They’ve just been reinvented.
How do you use some of the techniques of ‘modern cookery’ at Paris House?
I think they’re used to add intrigue and interest and excitement to a dish. So there’s definitely a creative, theatrical element that you can’t achieve without them. And I would say it introduces a level of consistency that, again, is unachievable without them.
There is always a fine balance to be made between adjusting natural products, natural characteristics to achieve what is in essence an aesthetic improvement, without suffering the loss of flavour or the other negative effects that sometimes you get with these products. It is well documented that people eat with their eyes, and by improving the aesthetic appeal of a dish you make it more enjoyable and more of an occasion. So the trick is to improve its aesthetic appeal more than you decrease its flavour profile. It’s a bit like seasoning: if you put just the right amount of seasoning in you shouldn’t appreciate the seasoning is there but you are enhancing the dish.
Do you generally find that the chefs you employ at Paris House come in with a good grasp of these techniques already, or do you have to teach them on the job?
I’d say there’s a very small minority of people that are comfortable with it, especially at the youthful end of the scale. But we do have the odd one. I’ve got two who are very focussed on that kind of style of cookery. And on the flip side I’ve probably got four or five who have never heard of sodium alginate, let alone know how to use it.
As a country or cuisine we seem to be a little suspicious of modernist techniques whereas other countries seem to have embraced them. Why do you think this is?
I think there’s probably a lot of uncertainty; people don’t know how to use the products really well and they end up turning dishes into chemical collections of jelly that taste of plastic. And I suppose people’s misconception then is that they think that is what those products make.