My induction into the trend of food foam came in the form of lemony squid bubbles. At that moment I was curious as to why, at such an elegant establishment, someone had put shaving cream on top of my crab. Since then I’ve become more familiar with the growing trend of food-turned-froth, a culinary feat achieved with nitrogen, carbon dioxide, and a complicated chemical process known only by select chefs. I’ve tasted a variety of foamed food, from cucumber ‘air’, to curried froth on a poached egg, to ‘truffle bubbles’ – a delicacy I’m convinced was invented purely for the linguistic delight of ordering it aloud.
Nothing about a swath of lather on your plate will make you exclaim, “Just like mother used to make!” Or even, “Exactly what I’m in the mood for!” In fact, not much about it will remind you of food at all. It’s an entirely new category, a fusion of art, science and cuisine that I’d label ‘magical taste’ if I had any authority. So far, it’s served primarily as a topping or an amuse bouche between courses. Yet as the trend picks up steam, the list of that which can be aerated continues to grow: lamb chop, tropical fruit, herbs- it’s even rumored that one extremely exclusive restaurant offers a gin and tonic whip, served in an egg cup.
The foam trend climbs straight to the top of new-age dining, into the realm of the ethereal. Once dished out, it must be hurriedly presented to the diner before the bubbles settle. There’s something so en vogue about food that will collapse on the plate if ignored, and disappears into your mouth with satiric convenience: who has time to chew, anyway? Spooning a dab of froth off a doll-sized plate makes me feel chic, modern, one step closer to the mythical Manhattan model who subsist off cups of ginger-infused oxygen.
My squid bubbles tasted- and felt- like ocean spray. The pistachio foam with candied mint I once ordered with enthusiasm offered only the barest essence of flavor, and had me guiltily eying the chocolate mousse at the next table over. But then, that’s missing the point entirely. You don’t order foam to have something to sink your teeth into it, for its nutritional substance or rich flavor. There are no frozen pints of potato foam or chic aerosol sprays of gingered lime bubble in the supermarket. Because of their complexity and evanescence, foams are only available in certain restaurants, those interested in providing their guests with the latest fad and dressing up their entrees in haute couture. Critics have called the trend ‘pretentious’, but I applaud there being a food that’s half material, half experience, the way train travel used to be.
What are your thoughts about this kitchen chemistry? Has your tuna tar tare or crème brûlée ever been served with a beret of bubbles? Do you think there is any substance to be found within this trend, or is it just, well….fluff?