Delving into the world of molecular gastronomy.
Dominique and Cindy Duby – a husband and wife team based in Vancouver – create some of the most unique chocolates in North America. Forget plain old flavours like hazelnut or strawberry. Instead, consider a filling of apricot chanterelle or stilton rhubarb. This is molecular gastronomy. By using equipment more suited for a
laboratory than a bakery, the Dubys concoct unique culinary experiments – some successful, some not so much, but all of them always educational.
How did you become attracted to the food industry?
Dominique: I was born in Belgium, and always wanted to travel. After reading about Michelin three-star chefs in Europe, I thought becoming a professional chef would be one way to see the world. I began training in Belgium as a cook, and then switched fields and went to Paris for pastry training at Lenotre, an internationally renowned pastry company.
Cindy: Growing up in Richmond, I always loved to bake, but my family used to eat very simple deserts, like a slice of fruit. In high school, my home economics instructor inspired me towards a career in cooking, after I was exposed to different kinds of mousse and black forest cake. After graduating I trained at a vocational school, and then joined Dominique at Lenotre. We’ve both continued to take courses in nutrition and other aspects of the culinary arts, including studying culinary arts at the University of Alberta.
What is molecular gastronomy – how is it different from other kinds of cooking or baking?
Molecular gastronomy is not really a style of cooking or baking, but rather an approach to culinary arts. Starting in the 1990s with people like the Adrias in Spain and Dr. Hervé This in France, chefs and bakers began applying scientific procedures in their baking and cooking. Dr. This is actually an organic chemist who loved to cook at home, and noticed that baking and cooking are similar to chemical experiments. We currently do some research with the University of British Columbia’s (UBC) chemistry department, and everyone there agrees. This new, scientific style of baking and cooking allows for new tastes and textures. For example, vacuum cooking prevents moisture from affecting the texture of an ingredient like a nut, allowing it to stay crunchy much longer than with regular methods of preparation.
What drew you to molecular gastronomy as a field?
At first, we didn’t know what molecular gastronomy was, but were both interested in learning the “whys” and not just the “hows” of cooking. We wanted to learn what makes different cooking ingredients react the way they do. We start our research much like scientists do, with a specific hypothesis in mind that we test under different circumstances. A lot of what we do is pure research, and if something is successful, we’ll then apply the principles learned to a specific dish or product. For example, working with UBC, we researched the consistency of ingredients under a variety of temperatures, and then applied this research to create “hot ice cream.” We’ve always been interested in a scientific approach to our culinary work. We’ve studied various aspects of food science, from mycology to nutrition, for at least a decade. However, we did not begin to purposely apply that knowledge and technique to the culinary and pastry arts until five or six years ago.
Why make the switch?
In early 2000, we met with Albert Adria from elBulli, who is one of the founders of the field. After he showed us some of the techniques possible through molecular gastronomy, we started to think of our work differently – as a scientific process rather than a series of steps leading to a final product. We should stress that our work is not exactly molecular gastronomy, a term coined by Dr. This that refers to the pure science behind experiments involving food. However, our work is inspired and executed through food science, a technique we’ve been involved in since 2004, when we created our inaugural chocolate collection.
How do you create your products?
We have a small artisan atelier filled with quite unique pieces of equipment that allow us to produce products of consistently high quality. Our equipment is similar to what one might find in a science lab. Rather than mixing bowls and ovens, we use tools like test tubes and a centrifuge to mix things much faster and with more consistent results than we can do by hand. Sometimes our experiments don’t work out – such as when we tried to use an ultrasound machine turned up to its maximum level to mix a ganache. For this reason, each of our products requires a long time to create. We compare our work to three-star restaurants in Europe. These establishments have more than 40 cooks serving almost as many clients – if you want quality, that’s what it requires. While our chocolate products are certainly a lot more expensive than mass-produced alternatives, if our customers want something different, that is the only way it can be achieved. Quality takes time, and so costs money.
Why decide to open your own business?
As soon as we came back from Lenotre in Europe, we wanted to make great desserts for the local market. Unfortunately we were way ahead of the times, and things were tough at first. Customers just weren’t willing to pay the costs we were charging for our hand-crafted cakes, which had a very short shelf life due to a lack of preservatives and the freshness of the ingredients. While in Europe, molecular gastronomy has been around for a while, in North America it is not well known, except for a few key restaurants in the U.S.
How has the world of molecular gastronomy changed since you first found out about it?
Now, people think of it more from an academic, rather than a practical, standpoint. We’ve begun to approach a process or task from the perspective of critical thinking. Rather than focus on the end result of a cooking process, we are concerned with the causes – why an ingredient reacts a certain way.
A chef who stops learning is a retired chef. The more you learn, the more you realize how little you know.
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