Gastronomy: Moldy dishes: provocation and beauty in haute cuisine | People

A blue bread, a pear or an apple covered with white fluff, a nigiri of meat on moldy rice, a quince cake transformed into a colorful fungus… How can you eat something that, due to its appearance, you would throw away at home in a delicious dish in an avant-garde restaurant? The mold, in principle repellent, gives a lot of play in gastronomy. It is provocative, disturbing, a visual, flavor and texture challenge. They are appearances that deceive, trompe l’oeil, reality simulated by a chef’s magic wand.

Utopia, veal roqueforti ―a piece of meat sushi on rice inoculated with penicillium roqueforti reminiscent of the famous blue Roquefort cheese – and silk, a small white handkerchief made with the veil that forms the aspergillus oryzaeserved with a glass of sake -drink in which this fungus acts-, are dishes included in the 2021 menu of the Gipuzkoan restaurant Mugaritz. These are his most recent creations with molds, along the path he embarked on eight years ago. His video of an apple whose skin, inoculated with rhizopus oryzaetransforms into an “intriguing white hair”, has recently spread again on social networks, but it already had its impact in 2013 among the public of the San Sebastián Gastronómika congress, where it was presented.

The Danish René Redzepi, holder of the best restaurant in the world according to The World’s 50 Best, has also spread on his networks one of the latest experiments of his collective project Noma Projects: “Kaleidoscope of mold on roasted quince”. The changes in pigmentation, aroma and flavor attract the chef and his team: “Every day in the laboratory we use yeasts, molds and microorganisms to transform food, creating new flavors.”

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These days, another experimental chef, the Chilean Rodolfo Guzmán —whose Boragó restaurant is The World’s 50 Best Award for Sustainable Restaurant 2021— presents a moldy potato that simulates a bee on his menu. “It is a potato from Chiloé fermented and smoked with melí wood and on it we growspergillus awamori”, explains Guzmán to EL PAÍS, who has used the fungus that is involved in the typical drink of Okinawa (Japan). “This potato reminds us of the taste of the mushroom matsutakepollen and the Chilean truffle”, he says.

Mold, under control, provides provocative and beautiful dishes, with intriguing textures, and suggestive drinks, such as French Sauternes wine and tokaj from Hungary, in which the botrytis of the grape creates a liquid of extraordinary sweetness. And don’t forget the sakein whose fragrance the koji (tospergillus horyzae), a fungus that is also key in the elaboration of miso (fermented soybeans) and now ubiquitous in Western kitchens embracing Japanese cuisine.

There are frequently consumed foods in which naturally growing mold plays an essential role, such as cheeses roquefort, Camembert or goats. White skin coverage or blue and greenish streaks are caused by the contribution of fungi penicillium. And with them you play with care in avant-garde kitchens.

Restaurants that delve into the universe of microorganisms have the scientific advice of microbiologists and food technicians, and fermentations -an ancient use in many cultures- are now so fashionable that many chefs have created special items in their premises dedicated to the ferments.

But beware, what is made in laboratory kitchens cannot be made at home. “In restaurants that offer this type of dish there is a control that guarantees its safe consumption, an inoculation of a safe strain is produced under certain growth conditions. A mold that is generated at home spontaneously without control should be discarded, as some types generate toxic substances for the body. When a food rots, harmful substances are generated; On the other hand, when the result is fermented, it brings benefits, an organoleptic transformation is achieved”, says nutritionist Noemí Igual, head of R&D projects at the Alicia Foundation.

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“Eating or cooking something without safety is Russian roulette,” adds Toni Massanés, director of this food science center. But safe molds are, according to Ramón Perisé, at the head of the Mugaritz R&D and creativity team, “a technique with a long history and many possibilities. In the future we will see very interesting proposals taking our work as a source of inspiration”.

Fermented potato, from the Boragó restaurant.
Fermented potato, from the Boragó restaurant.Rodolfo Guzman

These contributions from chefs are also of interest to scientists. This was highlighted by the recent Science and Cooking World Congress in Barcelona, ​​where the R&D teams of three leading restaurants: Mugaritz, Noma and Momofuku, by Korean American David Chang. “We have rewarded the contribution of cooking to science, how these professionals help from their perspective,” says the chemist Pere Castells, president of the congress. He stresses that Mugaritz’s investigation in Biological hedges “It has made him one of the world leaders in research with his creativity through microorganisms.”

The Gipuzkoan restaurant has a long history in this regard, which has been recorded in scientific journals. “In 2014 we presented the lamb roasted with eucalyptus incense and its dry fur coat, in which a veil was served that was the mycelium of the mold rhizopus oryzae present in the preparation of tempeh. To develop the veil we were inspired by PDA cultures from laboratories. And this was the beginning of a work that was published in the International journal of gastronomy and food Science with the title Uses of rhizopus oryzae in the kitchen”, explains Perisé.

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That same 2014 more examples of dishes came out cooked for mushrooms, such as the so-called appetizer two essays: dry grilled mussels and an artisan veil of blue cheese. “We recreate a pintxo of the bars of Donostia, the roquefort with anchovies, with a blue fermented bread with penicillium roquefortis stuffed with anchovies, and we also made a cooked hazelnut nougat, a tempeh of cooked hazelnuts”, recalls the person in charge of creativity at Mugaritz.

His many moldy dish creations include noble rots, velvet apple and pear; the bread with tender fuet, a vegan fuet with dried tomato, avocado, spices and fermented paprika with rhizopus oryzae; live pasta with anchovies in vinegar, made with the mother of kombucha soy milk; brioche of olives and sherry flower…

“During all these years we have cultivated an almost perverse hobby around the universe of bacteria, fungi and microorganisms. Bordering the limits between the living and the dead, the beautiful and the decrepit, the rotten and the fermented, is irresistible to us”, they recognize in the Gipuzkoan restaurant.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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