Today’s post is about innovation in the food industry. Yes, it is a big topic. For example, at one time, the oven was a revolutionary innovation over the spit roast. I’m narrowing this down to one chef – Grant Achatz of Chicago, Illinois and his Michelin 3 star restaurant, Alinea.
However, the innovations of Chef Grant could not be covered in one blog post. I’m going to focus on one – The Anti-Griddle.
Before I get into what the anti-griddle is, I first need to give a brief outline of Molecular Gastronomy. MG is an innovative approach to cooking that combines science, technology and the search for new taste combinations, textures and plating. Here is a short video from Modernist Cuisine on how to create the Ultimate Hamburger using molecular gastronomy techniques.
Another example from Chef Grant is the edible balloon. He wanted his customers to experience something wonderful at the beginning of the meal. His childhood memory of a balloon led to the creation of an edible balloon using a sugar formula. In the Netflix documentary (described below) you can see the waiter bringing out the balloon to the customer and the look on her face is exactly what you would expect – delightful surprise.
That longing to create a sense of wonder with food is what captured my imagination. I started to watch the Netflix series Chef’s Table. I became so interested in cooking that I signed up for the Culinary Arts program at George Brown College. Culinary Arts is designed for home cooks to improve their skills.
However, in the second season of Chef’s Table I watched, and then re-watched, Grant Achatz’s episode. I realized there was more to cooking than the basics I was learning. It was then I decided to switch to the Culinary Skills program – a much more in-depth learning stream.
The episode affected me in another, personal way. In the documentary, we learn that Chef Grant was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer of the tongue. Through a series of chemo and radiation treatments at the University of Chicago he was cured of the cancer. However he lost his ability to taste. What is a cook without the ability to taste? It was a learning experience in team reliance. Eventually he regained his taste.
At this same time, I was diagnosed with melanoma cancer. I had to have a tumor removed from my eye. I was going to drop out of George Brown, but Grant’s determination against the odds convinced me to stay with it. I remember showing up for the Essentials cooking lab with a huge patch on my eye.
My courses at George Brown held my interest in cooking through this darker period (I had 3 more tumors develop). I learned about how techniques and innovations were continually being introduced into the culinary world. I learned about the Anti-Griddle in Food Theory class.
Chef Grant experimented with flavour foams and gels. By changing the temperature, making them colder, the texture of the foam can be changed. Liquid nitrogen was the most common element used to change temperature quickly. Grant thought of a way to create a flat surface where he could add many pieces of the food. Instead of cooking them, the anti-griddle would freeze them. The texture on the outside would be firm but the centre would be creamy or moist.
Here is a video demonstration of the anti-griddle being used for a variety of foods.
A refrigerant is pumped through tubes below the griddle. This keeps the surface at a temperature of -34 C. It was so successful at creating a wide range of new culinary items that Chef Grant arranged with a manufacturer, PolyScience, to mass produce them for the industry and the home cook.
The Anti-Griddle is both a product innovation as well as a process innovation. The process of using freeze temperatures to prepare food for consumption is a molecular gastronomy technique. The Anti-Griddle is the product that provides a way to increase the efficiency of the process.
Desserts are the first thing that comes to mind because we associate ice creams and Gelato with cold. Here in this video, is a deconstructed banana split using the anti-griddle.
However here is a recipe for doing oysters with horseradish cream pearls.
And for those of you who enjoy a chilled Margarita on a hot summer’s day, the anti-griddle is the one to do it.
The Anti-Griddle is an important innovation as it gives the cook an innovative tool with which to devise new recipes, explore new textures, display a new canvas.
“As Chef Grant explains at the beginning of the episode:
“Rules! There are no rules. Do whatever you want”