Science in the kitchen, dining with art

By Caroline J. Howard, ANC

Posted at Jan 20 2011 11:51 AM | Updated as of Jan 20 2011 10:40 PM

MANILA, Philippines - Food is an experiment, and it happens right in the kitchen. But one bar and restaurant that recently opened in Manila pushes the possibilities of food by tapping a technique called "molecular gastronomy", while immersing diners in the midst of art. Science in the kitchen, dining with art 1

Opus, a new establishment at the Newport Mall in Resorts World in Pasay City, is the latest creation of the same minds behind Embassy and Republiq.

"'Opus' means masterpiece or your greatest work in Latin. Along with my partners, we've brought our greatest work together under one roof," said Chef Carlo Miguel of "The Biggest Loser Asia" (BLA) fame, one of the 11 creative minds behind Opus.

The venue boasts of posh interiors highlighted by a chrome centerpiece, luxe seats, and scenic murals inspired by the masters.

Science in the kitchen, dining with art 2  "The design of the venue--we put a lot of thought into it, [including] the artwork on the walls, the lounge, a fantastic chrome art bar as a centerpiece.

"We want to raise the bar on nightlife in the Philippines. We're catering to sophisticated people who want to go out and enjoy themselves and want to enjoy their meal. They find that in Opus," said Chef Carlo.

'Food is my opus'

Chef Carlo is also the man behind the restaurant's menu.

Since he came back from the reality show, Chef Carlo has become a father, and has also co-fathered the restaurant and provides its direction in food.

"Food is an art form and food is my opus. What I've done with my food is I've taken it to a whole new level, something that hasn't been done before in the Philippines," he said.

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Dark chocolate fondant with salty caramel ice cream and malt foam

Chef Carlo is referring to molecular gastronomy, what online dictionaries define as "a discipline practiced by both scientists and food professionals that studies the physical and chemical processes that occur while cooking." It supposedly "seeks to investigate and explain the chemical reasons behind the transformation of ingredients, as well as the social, artistic and technical components of culinary and gastronomic phenomena."

"I'm working with a little bit of science in the kitchen which you'll see in the dishes thru the menu. Basically you use chemicals and techniques to change the flavors and textures of the food to present them in a modern way. The molecular gastronomy enhances the flavors and the experience of everything, visually and on your palate," Chef Miguel said.

"One of our signature desserts is a dark chocolate fondant with a salty caramel ice cream and a malt foam. All the foams are stabilized with soy lecithin so they can keep their air, otherwise they collapse," he added.

Chef Carlo then gave us a preview of two dishes that incorporate molecular gastronomy.

Grilled Japanese eel, sauteed foie gras and a touch of science

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Grilled Japanese eel, sauteed foie gras and salad of pickled radish and cucumber jelly

 The grilled Japanese eel and sauteed foie gras with a salad of pickled radish and cucumber jelly is one of the restaurant's signature starters.

Instead of using gelatin, Chef Carlo employed a chemical called agar-agar to make a cucumber jelly with which he wrapped some salad mixed in with picked radish with vinegar, sugar and spices. This he then garnished with caviar pearls he made from scratch.

He dropped the pickling juice of the radish, which he mixed with the chemical called sodium algenate, thru a bottle and into another chemical called calcium chloride. He then quickly rinsed it in water and dried it off, ready for use.

He served this with a seared foie gras, lightly seasoned with salt and pepper, and the grilled Japanese eel or the unagi, decorated with some micro arugula, and a drizzle of olive oil.

The caviar pearls actually added a burst of flavor to the dish.

"The pearls deliver sweetness to the whole dish," Chef Carlo explained. "Without them, the dish doesn't have balance. They're there for a reason."

Sous vide beef short ribs

For the main course, he prepared sous vide US beef short ribs with horseradish potato puree and shallot jus.

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Sous vide US beef short ribs with horseradish potato puree and shallot jus

The short ribs is vacuum sealed with herbs and spices and cooked in the sous vide with the immersion circulator at exactly 58-degrees Celcius for 48 hours. The procedure ensures that the beef stays medium rare. At 55-degrees, Chef Carlo said, the collagen in the beef begins to break down, making it tender. And while it normally takes short ribs 2 to 3 hours for braising, this procedure makes it possible to serve the beef medium rare.

He seasoned the beef with sea salt and cracked black pepper, and seared it in a cast iron skillet coated with olive oil for the roasted feel and texture the dish needs.

As an accompaniment to the dish, he boiled and slightly roasted some French beans, baby carrots, and a creamy mashed potato flavored with prepared horseradish which he brought to a puree consistency by adding more cream.

The meat was cooked just right and had a bold flavor complemented by the marsala and pureed mashed potato.

Passion for reinvention

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A slim Chef Carlo Miguel lords it over at the Opus kitchen, after placing 1st runner-up in 'The Biggest Loser Asia'.

 Then of course, we couldn't resist asking Chef Carlo what being part of the BLA meant to him.

"It was a life-changing experience for me, probably the hardest thing I've ever done in the hardest few months I've ever lived," Chef Carlo said. "It wasn't just a big change physically. Mentally and emotionally, it was a big change for me as well."

During the course of the show, he lost about 150 pounds or more. Today, he has gained weight and is trying to put on some extra pounds, balancing it with thrice-a-week trips to the gym to work out for bulk.

His experience in BLA taught him to eat right and to be conscious of what he takes in and puts out.

"I've learned to eat food that are not fattening. It shouldn't be boring because if it were, you'd likely break out from it by eating something very bad for you. You need to be happy with what you're eating. I do that by using a lot of spices, herbs which don't add caloric value but add a lot of flavor.

"Weight loss is simple. It can be counted in an equation. It's called the energy equation. It's basically calories in versus calories out. Your intake versus your output. Your output has to be higher than your intake so you'll lose weight," he explained.

By now a master in the kitchen, Chef Carlo has mastered his diet, and himself, and continues a new passion for reinvention.

Opus is at the 2/F Newport Mall, Resorts World Manila, Pasay City, tel. nos.: +632-856-0128, +632-856-0914.