Inspiration or emulation?
This is a dessert meant to look like something that is not a dessert. The question is, does a dessert need to look like a dessert or not? Which raises yet another question: what is a dessert supposed to look like? There are as many opinions as there are people. And no one is wrong.
Is this dessert inspired by nature or does it emulate nature? I don't have the answer to that, so this is not a rhetorical question. Yet, what is most important here that should not be overlooked is quite simple: does it taste good? If the answer is yes (which in my opinion it is), then does it matter at all what it looks like? This is a rhetorical question. It absolutely matters what it looks like. But does it matter as much as how it tastes? No. But it is a close second. To put it in a better context:
Flavor = A
Visual appeal = a (not B or b)
I think this dessert is intriguing and it makes me want to find out what is going on. I see it and I think of soil and plants (obviously), and if this will be good to eat or is it just for show. Is it just a dessert that is meant to shock more than anything else?
I think it is important to realize that if anything, it will make you think. We forget to really think about what we eat. It is so automatic that we don't take a second to ponder the food that is about to enter our bodies.
These are the components of the dessert (from bottom to top):
- Litchi jelly (agar gelled litchi juice; litchi reminds me of flowers (like elderflower) and fruits (like raspberries))
- Milk chocolate "soil" (frozen milk chocolate put through a Thermomix to obtain a fine powder; adds necessary sweetness and acts as a background flavor... a supporting role if you will)
- Meyer lemon and espresso curd (lemon and coffee is one of my favorite flavor combinations; tart)
- Almond and cocoa soil (a combination of almond flour, cocoa powder, sugar and butter, toasted in the oven; this adds a crunchy texture to the dessert)
- Matcha tea genoise powder (sponge cake made with matcha powder, diced, dehydrated and pulverized in the Thermomix; adds yet another texture, but also the herbiness (not a real word) of concentrated green tea)
- Balsamic vinegar crystals (pearl sugar, doused with balsamic vinegar, then dehydrated; contributes crunch, sweet and tart)
- Elderflower dew (elderflower liquor reduction combined with a neutral glaze; for the elderflower taste parallel with the litchi)
- Organic micro greens and sprouts (sunflower sprouts, tangerine micro-herb (looks like a fern), pea tendrils (yellow), wheat grass). The element of the greens and sprouts adds an extra herbiness and sweetness different from sugar.
I should also add that this was not only inspired by nature, it was also inspired by a line of desserts in the book "Natura" by Albert Adria, pastry chef of "el Bulli" in Spain. Not one of the ingredients or components in the "Terrarium" came from his book, it was simply the idea that nature, which is right in front of us, can be interpreted into food in other ways than we are used to. In other words, we find our food in nature, obviously, but can an image found in nature be translated into a dessert successfully? The answer is a resounding "yes". The trick is to do it wisely, otherwise there is a fine line that when crossed turns your dessert into a bundle of sadness.
Sean Pera, one of my collaborators at the CIA, initiated the idea for this dessert. After some discussion and brainstorming with the rest of the team we came up with an extended version of the original thought. This is one of my favorite things about my job, the collaboration and the thought process which yields such amazing results.