Tuesday, January 31, 2012

ING: The Culinary Physics of Honey Nut Cheerios

ING (imagining new gastronomy), the brainchild of Chef Homaro Cantu, unites Asian comfort with the genius of a “to the right” molecular gastronomy. No matter what you call it, the focus is presentation. The results: Alchemy… pure and simple. 
The 2006 Iron Chef winner, Cantu makes use of both liquid nitrogen and lasers to construct his dishes. What amazed me the most was that his printed food strip -edible paper- helps chemotherapy patients taste again.
My father was an inventor so it was no revelation that Cantu holds six patents with 16 or more pending.
What do I love about inventors? They are the ultimate risk takers.
On a quick tour of the kitchen, I was amazed at how small it was. One of the chefs joked that he had to document -on his resume- that he was skinny enough to cook there. That surprised me too. Not an “over fed” chef in the bunch. It was either the recently placed pool table to the south of the kitchen for exercise or a recurrent dose  of liquid nitrogen. 

The 6 course menu was launched on an oragami cube. My first clue that something unusual was about to happen. Separating the cube was almost as complex as the dinner. You had to do both slowly and methodically in order for the magic to break free.

So, let’s get back to the Culinary Physics of Honey Nut Cheerios?

Yes, this General Mills cereal is not just for breakfast anymore. The combination of the rum, honey, lemon and frangelico was stunning. In fact, every wine, beer and drink selection was so skillfully paired it was an essential part of the entire food experience.

So what is the secret of the rum? Mix a cup of Honey Nut Cheerios with 12 ounces of rum. Infuse overnight. Strain. Simple as that.

My favorite food? A cheese ball with triple cream, fruit cake cracker (a fruit cake with Gran Marnier and dehydrated) in a mulled wine reduction.

Salud to the chef who made a mind-boggling chain of sweet potatoes and then smothered it in vanilla parsnip, balsamic, truffle and hazelnut.

My least favorite dish: The Turducken was like a slice of deli meat but the crispy fried brussel sprouts…they were amazing.

The wines – the German Rebenhof, Urziger Wurzgarten, Riesling Kabinett Mosel 2009, the Picket Fence Pinot Noir Russian River Valley 2009 and the Italian Colterenzio Gewurtztraminer, alto-Adige 2010 were magnificent as was a surprising Anderson Valley Brewing Company Winter Solstice ale that was paired with a Baozi venison, caramelized onions, carrot and cherry.

We also experienced several rounds of Cantu’s famous miracle berries -- a West African fruit that trips up your taste buds by blocking bitter and sour tastes. When you eat one, it makes everything sour taste sweet and for me, who loves sweet, this was the ultimate encounter.

I don’t often describe service as flawless but ING’s was. All of the waiters were well-informed and no matter how many questions I threw out at them, there wasn’t one who could not deliver an immediate answer. Impressive! The service component is as essential to the complete experience as the food and drink so how lucky we were to be having the best of all three. And the price point? $75 a head was a bargain for the unbelievable quality and quantity of food.

If I had my choice of Chicago restaurants for the overall experience, ING’s would be it.

Bon Appetit and check out the Valentine’s Day special.

Now, if only I could find a valentine.