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Embracing molecular gastronomy: A different dining perspective

Dian Arthen
Dian Arthen

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Fri, May 27, 2016  /  12:19 pm
Embracing molecular gastronomy: A different dining perspective

Andrian Ishak demonstrating his molecular cooking skills at Namaaz Dining. (JP/-)

Is cooking a scientific or an artistic process? Enter molecular gastronomy.

The term was popularized thanks to French physical chemist Hervé This who, together with the late Hungarian-born physicist Nicholas Kurti, created the scientific term “molecular and physical gastronomy” in 1988, which Hervé later shortened to “molecular gastronomy”.

In his book “Molecular Gastronomy: Exploring the Science of Flavor”, Hervé notes that the science of food was initiated by chemists in the late 17th and 18th centuries. He defines it as "culinary transformations and the sensory phenomena associated with eating”.

This food technique was first introduced in Indonesia, where food trends constantly change, in 2012.

“There’s no exact date for when molecular gastronomy first entered the Indonesian market, but it became well-known when Andiran Ishak established his fine dining restaurant Namaaz Dining in 2012,” said food writer Kevindra Soemantri.

Namaaz Dining takes pride in labeling itself the first molecular gastronomy restaurant in Indonesia, serving Indonesian food as the basis of its signature dishes, as noted on the restaurant’s website.

Trust your GPS when attempting to locate Namaaz in Kebayoran Baru, the establishment doesn’t have a sign board. It’s very unique; while other eateries are going big with promotions and marketing, Namaaz serves the niche market with a private dining concept.

Inside the one-story restaurant, only 28 seats are available for diners. The room is dimly lit.

“[Our vision] is to educate [patrons] by deconstructing, for example, the popular traditional Indonesian pempek [fish cake], offering people a new perspective by allowing them the opportunity to try pempek through a multi-sensory dining experience,” said Andrian.

The self-taught chef said he advertises his restaurant through word of mouth and only accepts guests who have made a reservation days, even months, before. When people dine at Namaaz, they are served 17 courses, a menu that changes every six to eight months.

Andrian travels both locally and abroad to gain new inspiration for his constantly-changing menu. 

“Keep your mind open, because I think the food that you had, the food that you’ve experienced before, will affect how you perceive the food you’re eating now. What you see is not what you get; forget about what you know about food when you’re here,” he emphasized.

This sentiment was echoed by Zulkarnaini Dahlan, the executive chef at Colonial Cuisine and Molecular Restaurant, who said that it takes a big heart and an open-minded personality to appreciate molecular gastronomy.

The restaurant, located on the upper ground level of Lippo Mall Kemang in South Jakarta, was designed with a 1930s industrial era theme, with rustic indoor seating and a strategic outdoor area overlooking the Kemang skyline. While the food is influenced by French cuisine, Colonial Cuisine and Molecular Restaurant is known for its molecular bar which offers a new drinking experience.

Pisang Goreng "revisited" by Chef Zulkarnaini Dahlan.(JP/-)

Having worked in kitchens for more than 16 years, Zul said he had been studying molecular gastronomy for seven years now, through books and via the internet.

“I would say this is quite new for us,” he said.

“If you asked me, is it a trend, I’d say no because inside the kitchen, every little thing that involves a chemical reaction can be called molecular gastronomy. There’s no way that this technique will fade because it’s been there all along — in the past and the present — and I’m sure it will be there in the future,” Zul added.

It’s also worth noting that despite sounding rather scientific and the process mainly involving chemical theories, molecular cuisine is very much ok to eat every day.

“All the ingredients in molecular gastronomy or molecular mixology are of biological origin, meaning mostly from fruits or animals. [What we do is] we just transform what’s been in this world for centuries. Well, we inhale oxygen in our daily life; that’s already a chemical reaction so I don’t see any reason why you should be scared of a chemical reaction,” explains Zul. (kes)

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