Spanish chef Ferran Adria, the father of so-called molecular gastronomy, has always been ahead of his time and this week he was the undisputed star of the Tokyo Taste "world summit of gastronomy".
Around 20 of the world's top chefs converged on the Japanese capital for the summit, organised by the Hattori culinary school, which drew massive crowds of Japanese foodies.
AdvertisementThe Spaniard showed off his latest creation - a machine that can for the first time make a caviar egg with olive oil inside.
The chef at El Bulli near Barcelona - dubbed by Britain's Restaurant magazine as the world's greatest table - pioneered molecular gastronomy which delves into the science behind the food.
Adria's other creations include powdered foie gras, a caramel made of Modena vinegar and a Chinese-style preserved egg with a liquid yolk.
In a technique he calls "spherification," Adria uses a gelling agent to create foods that combine different textures or temperatures.
He showed a mango ravioli and a half-frozen grapefruit, crusty on the outside but juicy on the inside.
He also presented the "caviar egg" machine designed in his laboratory. Using the contraption and some drops of olive oil, he produced small eggs which are solid on the teeth but have a soft interior like caviar.
"Perhaps in 10, 15 or 20 years we can make caviar with this," Adria said.
He said that such inventions should not be seen as science fiction, adding that he could not believe his eyes when in 1992 he saw his first induction cooktop, which heats the pot rather than the plate for more efficient cooking.
"I'm convinced that in 10 years, these machines will become routine," he said, predicting that Spain "is going to remain at the forefront of cuisine for years to come".
But not everyone is convinced.
Another top Spanish chef, Santi Santamaria, caused a stir recently by saying Adria "fills up plates with gelling agents and emulsifiers from the laboratory" which could pose a "public health problem".
The use of additives is strictly controlled in the food industry but not in restaurants.
France's Joel Robuchon, whose restaurants in eight cities routinely gather Michelin stars, expressed awe for the Spaniard's creativity, but also said his methods set a potentially risky example for less-talented chefs.
"Ferran is someone I admire a lot and I consider him to be perhaps the greatest chef in the world," Robuchon said.
"But all of the additives that he puts in - when he's the one doing it, I don't have any doubt, but when it's done by others, it's risky," he said.
Robuchon showed off his own methods that are completely free of additives - cryoconcentration, which uses cold to store aroma, and compression, which takes the air out of fruits and vegetables to stop them rotting.
"What we're researching is to put as much natural aroma in the food as possible," Robuchon said. "Nowadays people use a lot of additives but you can do the same thing without using lecithin, for example."
He demonstrated how to make a granite of Japanese sake while preserving the alcohol and aroma. First he places it in an ice-cream maker and then in a cold strainer to remove the water from the ice crystals.
Robuchon said the same method could even be used to make cotton candy out of alcohol without using any additives.
French chef Pierre Gagnaire gave credit to Adria but said the media should not "obsess" over his techniques.
"Molecular food isn't my thing," Gagnaire said. "Some people do it well but others don't do it well."
"This is the new 'new cuisine' and it's going to lead to major things. But if this becomes too intellectual, it will get unbearable."
But Juan Mari Arzak, whose restaurant in Spain's Basque country has earned the Michelin guide's coveted three stars, rose to Adria's defence.
"You should leave Ferran alone," he said. "He's a genius. He has the greatest imagination that cuisine has ever or will ever see.
"One ought to watch what he does and see what you can take from it for yourself."
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