Alchemical Gourmands Featured

The ultra-modern gastronomic trends of a molecularly aware chef
by 14 April 2010

Executive Chef of the Terrazza Serbelloni and Mistral restaurants of the prestigious Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni of Bellagio on Lake Como, where he has worked since 1992, Ettore Bocchia has achieved international renown for having created a high-quality all-Italian cuisine. His scientific study of what “happens in the saucepan” during the cooking processes has not only led him to discover how to perfect traditional recipes, but also sparked his appetite for creating new ones, using genuine products to experiment modern cooking methods. Never veering from the path of balance and the most authentic flavour. Luxos went along to investigate.

What does “molecular gastronomy” mean?
Molecular gastronomy is a knowledge of the molecular aspects of the chemical processes used to transform food, such as cooking, freezing/chilling and recombination with other molecules. It is more a scientific than empirical approach that enables the chef to disprove or improve the traditional practice of preparation. The knowledge gained from it therefore opens the horizon to possibilities that can live in perfect harmony – like in my case – with the quality of traditional Italian cuisine, its simplicity and genuineness.

What initiated your molecular research of food and what inspired it?
Pure curiosity. Leading me to meet Davide Cassi, a lecturer in the physics of matter at Parma university. In 2002, my book Il gelato estemporaneo e altre invenzioni gastronomiche (Sperling & Kupfer, 2002), which translates in English into “The Impromptu Ice Cream and other Gastronomic Inventions” was published, a manifesto of Made in Italy molecular cuisine accompanied by a series of recipes including ice cream chilled with liquid nitrogen, turbot cooked in a mixture of melted sugars and sugar-free meringues.

What are you currently working on?
A year ago the results of my work with Vincenzo Brandolini, a researcher and lecturer at Ferrara university, came out in a book on the brand new culinary applications of inulin, such as Béarnaise sauce without butter, lighter and healthier by far than the original recipe.

To what extent does working at one of the most prestigious grand hotels in the world, Villa Serbelloni, help?
The relationship of mutual trust created over the years enables me to explore new gastronomic frontiers and use exclusively the best Italian ingredients. Further, working in a hotel where guests tend to stay also for long periods pushes me to optimize the quality of the dishes, even before their aesthetic impact. My molecular cuisine is a challenge and a move towards healthy eating.

What is the state of play in Italy from the perspective of gastronomic experimentation?
The past few decades have seen Italy make huge strides forward, nevertheless, if we want to compete with French and Spanish cuisine, we must valorise even more the unique products for which Italy is famous.

Pear Layer Tart with Vanilla Ice Cream

To make the crispy waffles

200g icing sugar
80g almond flour
80g flour
5g baking powder
200g egg whites
135g chilled hazelnut butter
65g inulin
2 tablespoons of blended honey yeast
Mix the powders then add the egg whites, the butter and the honey and stir into a smooth paste.
Stand for 30 minutes before spreading a thin layer on a silpat or a piece of baking paper. Cook in a ventilated oven until golden brown. Remove the hot waffle and cut into 12cm x 3cm rectangles before letting cool (three per portion).

To make the Caprino filler
125g cream cheese such as Philadelphia
125g fresh Caprino cheese
250g double cream
75g sugar
Pinch of fleur de sal
Mix the ingredients together and whisk with an electric mixer.

To prepare the pears
4 pears
1 litre of water
300g sugar
Slice of orange peel
Peel and de-core the pears. Cook in the water with the sugar and orange peel. Drain and cut into fine slices.

To prepare the ice cream
50g egg yolks
100g sugar
450g double cream
150g milk
25g glucose
½ a lemon peel
1/3 of a vanilla stick
1/3 of a cinnamon stick
2 pinches of fleur de sal
4 coffee beans
Mix the red ingredients with half the sugar. Pour the milk, half the cream, the glucose, the lemon peel, coffee beans, salt, vanilla and cinnamon into a saucepan, heat and bring to the boil. Stir in the egg yolks. Bring back to 85°C and lower the heat, then stir in the rest of the cream. The final mixture can be chilled using liquid nitrogen.

For the jelly
250g red wine
25g sugar
25g glucose
A touch of cinnamon
Lemon peel
Cook and reduce the ingredients to 150ml and add three sheets of isinglass.

Spread a layer of each mixture on a serving dish in the following order:
Top with the ice cream to complete the dish