Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Future Food

This post is my entry into the Fork Magazine writing competition which was judged a few weeks ago.

I didn't win so I thought I would put it up here for the hell of it!


Future Food

Restaurant Review – L’Avenir
Much has been written about L’Avenir, the newly opened palace of neo-futurist nano-
cuisine from the notorious Shorai twins Nueva and Nuevo. Given the twelve month
waiting list which built up in the few weeks before launch I thought it only appropriate
that I should give my dear readers a report from the meal I was lucky enough to
experience last week.

The hovercopter flight into the remote restaurant complex shows off the stunning
location. We swoop over swathes of newly greened coastal region of the Atacama
Desert and the vast seawater greenhouses in which ingredients are grown and
power for the complex is generated. Just out to sea, huge fields of genetically
engineered algae look like a patchwork quilt - divided by species and more
importantly flavour. The pilot flies low towards the beach so that the strongly spiced
scents from the algae enter the cabin. This overture to the evening’s events is an
exhilarating start to what will turn out to be a truly unique dining experience. The
chopper lands and we are whisked off into a darkened building that houses the
preparative equipment for our meal.

I emerge like a new-born into the main dining room, blinking in bright lights and
astonishment after the hour in the sensory deprivation booth. I am led by the hand
to my solo dining table by the now infamous serving holograms. Ethereal and
androgynous in their beauty, attentive yet discreet in their service I now understand
why this magnificent front of house solution should replace fallible waiting staff in any
high end restaurant valuing its reputation.
Back to this bizarre practice of pre-dinner solitary confinement. The premise is that
after an hour in a pitch black, silent and odourless box you will experience your food
as if it was your first ever meal. Every aroma, flavour and texture will be like a new
dawn to you and, after my initial scepticism, it turns out to be a truly enlightening
experience. The booths were introduced by Nuevo, the wild child of the pair of head
chefs, who spends most of his working day in his “ingredients crèche” creating
new ideas whilst off his nut on hallucinatory narcotics. His innovation of his flavour
combinations are matched only by the robotically technical brilliance of his sister,
Nueva. This combination has rendered many critics speechless in wonder at the
creations to come out of this revolutionary kitchen. But not this critic, my friends, no
I will endeavour to do justice to my experience of this wondrous meal in these few
paragraphs.

The first titbit brought to my table is an exemplary example of how to utilise artificial
meat to its greatest potential. Most of you won’t remember what the air dried ham
of Italy or Spain tasted like. I was lucky enough to taste one of the few remaining
legal hams, a few years ago in a barn just outside Seville. Even though it was a good
ten years after the international livestock ban came into force in 2017, the ham was
sublime. In a nostalgic attempt to recreate the feelings of hams past, this amusing
morsel of cured and air dried cultured meat is delicately placed on an Iberican acorn
weevil cracker. This playful and celebratory use of insects runs throughout the multi
course tasting menu and is certainly a refreshing change to the now ubiquitous use
of candied locusts that festoon every dessert that wannabe superstar chefs come up
with.

The restaurant is quite rightly proud of the drinks list. The burgeoning Nordic wine
regions are represented with sublime examples, from the crisp, mineral whites from
northern Norway to the rich, ripe fruit reds of Denmark. There is even a beautiful
specimen of an Icelandic ice-wine which comes with the next course, a compressed
cube of jellyfish infused with aniseed producing algae and wrapped in nori. This
paper thin sheet of seaweed is the most traditional ingredient found in their kitchen,
such is the dedication to pushing the boundaries of possibility with engineering and
design in food.

The dishes arrive to the table in various amusing methods, sometimes delivered
from within the serving holograms themselves. Flavoured aerosols are emitted
from their fingertips, solidified with edible plasticising agents that can be plucked
from the air with your teeth. In the early part of this century, this use of synthetics
would have been derided, even mocked, as molecular gastronomy. Then it would
be copied, commercialised and cheapened by every chef who fancied themselves
as progressive. This is no longer a problem now that copyright laws have been
extended to include menus, recipes and cooking techniques.

The final dish on the menu is another cute look into the past and a first for me. To
recreate the ethically dubious and now highly illegal French classic, foie gras, the
Shorai’s have utilised a very unique product. They have discovered a particular type
of stag beetle larvae that will gorge itself on rotting corn before settling down for its
incubation period. This extreme feeding gives the flesh of the larvae a rich, creamy
texture and a delicately sweet flavour. This wonderful ingredient is simply shown off
here on a slice of lightly toasted brioche.

It may seem that I can’t stop fawning over this temple of modernity but this is the
first time in the past twenty years or so that I have eaten anything resembling the
sophistication and wit of the gastronomic heyday of the 2010’s. Since the necessary
evils of the global food laws governing production of meat and seafood came into
force it seems that the soul has been ripped out of restaurant dining. Here, if only
for an evening, I almost forgot that the world’s diet has been forced to change so
dramatically.

I’m brought back to the present with a bump when, as dictated by the nutrition law,
I’m handed a card with a complete nutritional breakdown of what I have just eaten.

This is the future after all.


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