What better time to trot out our favorite deceptive culinary tricks than April Fool’s Day? We devoted a section of Modernist Cuisine to trompe l’oeil because it is particularly suited to the Modernist movement. Though it has a long history, dating back to dishes such as mock turtle soup in the 19th century, culinary deception has been embraced in recent years by chefs such as Wylie Dufresne, Andoni Luis Aduriz, and René Redzepi.
The key in each of the tips below is to both surprise and delight the senses. There are no malicious tricks here. These tips serve to enhance the senses, present food in creative ways, and keep guests living in the moment. It wouldn’t serve our purposes to develop recipes that don’t taste good!
- Raw “Eggs”: One of our favorite culinary tricks to play on visitors to our lab is to convince them that we are serving them a raw quail egg. Anjana Shanker, development chef, who usually whips up this recipe, has gone so far as to make up a story that we discovered a nest of quails on the roof, and started domesticating them for their eggs. In reality, we serve spherified passion fruit and lemongrass in a real quail egg shell. Watch the video above to see what happened when the guys from Tested.com dropped by. Anjana’s technique is included in the video as well.
- Mystery Meat: Trompe l’oeil dishes have a long history of substituting one food for another. Besides being just for fun, this is often due to economic reasons (such as mock turtle soup or surimi) or dietary restrictions (as in veggie patties). Sometimes, it can be both! This April Fool’s Day, enlist a vegetarian friend to help play a trick on party guests by casually eating what appears to be meat. Our favorite and most convincing dish is to creating bulgogi out of watermelon, originally designed by Andoni Luis Aduriz at Mugaritz. Cut 2.5 cm / 1 in “steaks” out of seedless watermelon (leave a little bit of the white part of the rind in as a fat cap). Soak the watermelon in a brine (20% water and 1% salt) for two hours. Pat the watermelon dry and dehydrate the slices at 55 °C / 130 °F until dry and leather-like, about 812 hours.
- Eat Dirt: In the video below, we use chocolate cookies to make fake dirt to go along with our fishing-lure-molded gummy worms. This is the fastest and easiest way to make fake dirt, but in Modernist Cuisine we have a savory version using black bread, chicory root, mushroom powder, and a few other ingredients. We’ve also made fake coals out of cassava roots, simmered with fish stock and squid ink (another recipe inspired by Aduriz).
- Impregnated Fruit: Sometimes it’s not the eyes that play tricks, but preconceived notions. When your guest bites into an apple, they expect it to taste like an apple, but by using Modernist techniques, you can impregnate said apple with flavors, such as curry, for a delightful surprise. Vacuum seal a peeled and cored apple with apple juice and spices for 12 hours. Then place the bowl in a chamber vacuum sealer and pull the vacuum three times, holding for 15 minutes the final time. If you don’t have a chamber vacuum sealer, you can also achieve this effect with a whipping siphon. One favorite combination is to infuse celery with apple juice. Place the celery in the siphon, and cover it with apple juice. Then charge with two cartridges of nitrous oxide. Chill it for two hours before serving.
- Healthier Substitutes: Sometimes a bit of culinary deception can improve your health. At El Bulli, Feran Adrìa once served grated cauliflower in lieu of couscous. Use a microplane to grate the cauliflower until it is the size of grains. This surprise is especially effective after serving your family real couscous three nights in a row.