Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Eat rich or die trying: just desserts

Helen Thomson, biomedical news editor

I can’t quite describe what’s in my mouth. It’s sort of savoury, but with a hint of sour, a bit oat-like too. It’s overwhelmingly delicious. Luckily for me, this is the first of six puddings that not only use science to boost my sensations, but are also designed to reveal to me my true love and even how many years it will be until I marry.
I’m at Eat Rich or Die Trying, a quarterly dining club dedicated to desserts, located at the Kemistry Gallery in Shoreditch, London. Given it’s just around Valentine’s Day, they’ve pointed cupid’s arrow into the kitchen to produce a sugary feast that promises to guide diners from love at first sight to romance’s bitter end.
And that’s why words are failing me. My first course has been created by Blanche and Shock, a design studio and catering company in London who describe their dessert “as tingly and difficult to pin down as the first inkling of love.” By incorporating an umami element into the concoction – in this case using porcini crème fraiche – these clever chefs designed a puzzling plate that is disconcertingly delicious but difficult to work out why. Umami is the taste of glutamates and nucleotides that is now widely accepted as the fifth sensation alongside bitter, sweet, sour and salty. Together with a spiced cox apple, tea bread and honey, the mixture creates a blend of flavours that everyone around my table agrees cleverly mirrors the experience of being attracted to someone, though none of us quite knows why.
As your granny will tell you, any decent relationship must next involve “courtship”. Andrew Stellitano from food design company Astarism is fascinated by the evolution of the love story. Tonight, for the second course, he incorporates a selection of ingredients prized for their power to stimulate or attract love. Central to the plate is a rice milk ice cream. Experiments in rats have shown that a chemical found in rice called cadmium mimics the effect of oestrogen in women, and females with high levels of oestrogen are perceived as more healthy, feminine and attractive, so perhaps he’s onto something here.
Stellitano’s dessert is garnished with a tuile, which I am encouraged to shatter and count the pieces – apparently to reveal how many years I will wait until marriage. Delicately, I tap my tuile. It cracks into four. I glance to my right, just in time to see my dining partner Sarah smash her spoon into the dessert, her tuile splitting into a thousand tiny pieces. Some fly off her plate and scatter across the tablecloth, others land on the floor. Snorts of laughter erupt around the table.
One after another, more love-themed desserts are placed in front of us. A soot and salt drop scone by ‘The Curious Confectioner’ is a highlight. With the prospect of six puddings on the menu, I’m pleased to hear that its ingredients include activated charcoal, a highly absorbent element thought to help aid digestion.
“Is it weird that I’m slightly nervous?” asks Sarah as we move onto the fourth desert, called ”The Marriage”, before tucking into the fifth, which supposedly represents the bitter sufferings of love. While spiced chocolate ganache does give a bitter twist to the meal, chocolate has another connection with love and attraction. Early in a relationship dopamine-rich brain regions associated with motivation and reward become highly active, and supposedly the more intense the relationship the greater the activity. The same regions are active when a person enjoys chocolate, according to Helen Fisher, an anthropologist from Rutgers University in New Jersey. It appears tonight’s molecular sorcerers have at last hit upon a dessert that really might entice feelings of love and attraction. It’s certainly very tasty.
Like all good fairy tales, my dessert reverie ends as the clock strikes midnight. The final treat is cookie dough cooked three ways, including sous-vide, in which the food is placed in a vacuum bag and heated gently in water. The chef says the idea is that the dough is cooked but retains much of the experience of eating dough from the bowl. Unfortunately the overwhelming flavour of aniseed and the resemblance of scrambled egg on my plate were just too much for my stomach to handle this late into the night.
For someone with a sweet tooth, love of science and food, and an overactive imagination, the majority of this evening was a delight. It’s just a shame this love story, like many in the past, left me tired, emotionally drained and with a bitter taste in my mouth.

No comments:

Post a Comment