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updated: 11/8/2012 2:36 PM

Move over Mom: No bat's wings or witches brew needed to cook up ebidle pillows

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  • Science and cooking intersect at molecular gastronomy, or modernist cuisine. Here a pillow of calcium lactate-infused yogurt sits like a pillow on a bed blackberries.

    Science and cooking intersect at molecular gastronomy, or modernist cuisine. Here a pillow of calcium lactate-infused yogurt sits like a pillow on a bed blackberries.
    Bill Zars

By Jerome Gabriel

When people think about Halloween, they think about: Boo! Scary! Chills down your spine. They think about witches and bubbling caldrons. You could be a witch or a wizard yourself this Halloween and cook up some not-so-scary treats with molecular gastronomy.

I learned a little bit about molecular gastronomy, which means cooking with chemicals and other substances, when I was at the Palatine Public Library's Teen Chef Camp this summer. Chef Thomas Bowman, who opened his own restaurant Baume and Brix earlier this month, showed us how to use chemicals to make food do things you think food shouldn't be able to do.

I asked chef Bowman to tell me some more about himself and molecular gastronomy.

Did you like science as a kid? As a kid I loved science. It was my favorite subject. I like science because I like to know how and why things work.

What does the term molecular gastronomy mean? Molecular gastronomy, in a nutshell, is the science of food. It is the understanding of how and why food works, what it is composed of and what happens when it is prepared. It literally is breaking food down into its base elements and creating new dishes and techniques by reconstituting the final outcome at a molecular level.

What got you into molecular gastronomy? A quote by Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin first got me into M.G.: "The discovery of a new dish does more for the good of man kind than the discovery of a new star." Since then I have constantly striven to make completely unique dishes. I don't like to read or use other peoples' recipes or cookbooks. I know how food works so I can test and make my own recipes that I know work with my techniques.

What is your favorite molecular gastronomy technique? My favorite M.G. technique is liquid nitrogen shattering. You can take raspberries, black berries, or any citrus fruit and freeze it in liquid nitrogen and then shatter it into individual droops for the berries or citrus vesicles. Droops are the individual little segments of a berry and vesicles are the individual little tear drop-shaped pods of a citrus fruit. It makes for dramatic presentation and it hits the palate it a different way than it ever could before.

I've always wanted to work with liquid nitrogen myself, but it didn't come with the kit that I got. My Mom got this kit called Molecule-R and it has all sorts of compounds and tools that makes foams, gels and food in soft spheres.

I wanted to make yogurt ravioli because it was like what chef Bowman made with us this summer. I like yogurt parfaits, so I thought serving the yogurt with berries made sense.

A word from Mom: Chicago has become a center of molecular gastronomy with chefs like Bowman, Horamo Cantu of Moto and Grant Achatz of Alinea and Next changing the way we look at food and dining.

But is it a passing fad, or here to stay?

"The term 'molecular gastronomy' is already on its way out; it almost has a negative connotation in the food industry today," Bowman said. "The thought is that molecular gastronomy is only expensive pretentious food when in reality it is used in every day products all around us on a day-to-day basis and has for a while now.

"Modern Cuisine is the preferred term. I don't think it is going anywhere because as chefs we constantly push ourselves to do new and better things and science and technology help us with that."

That said, these techniques and substances are novelties for home cooks. I don't plan to make balsamic caviar for tomorrow night's salads, but it sure would be fun to try for my next dinner party.

And if it gets my kids interested in learning about science, we can make yogurt pillows and lemonade spaghetti every night.

• Jerome Gabriel, a seventh-grader, has been helping in the kitchen since he could hold a spoon. His mom, Deborah Pankey, is the Daily Herald Food Editor.

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