CARACAS, Monday May 16, 2011 | Update
102nd Anniversary
Technology is cooked al dente

Vacuum cooking, aromatic component sensors, and robots capable of executing several actions at the same to gain time at stoves. However, what has technology given to cooking and what has taken away from it? Do we eat healthier and better thanks to that development? Valentina Semtei, director of Laboratorio de Sabores; Carlos García, chef of Alto restaurant; and Jacobo Milgram, director of the company Smart Cook de Venezuela discuss at the table those and other questions

Monday May 16, 2011  09:26 AM

Cooking history has been long and changing since the invention of fire. Here it works: we have devices allowing to vacuum cook by creating an artificial low pressure and lack of oxygen environment for cooking that preserves textures, aromas and flavors. We are talking of gastrovac. Another way of cooking called foodpairing identifies the aromatic components of the different foods to establish which ones can be combined well among them and in this manner create new recipes. In addition to those, there is rotaval, a tool for solid distillation at low temperatures with a vacuum pump.

"Since the product being distilled is not cooked, original aromas and flavors are perfectly kept, without being altered by heat action," explains Valentina Semtei, director of Laboratorio de Sabores, a Caracas company that owns some of the technological advances being developed in the world of cooking.

"We make all those devices available for the research and development of Venezuelan gastronomy. I believe that cooking is a way of building identity," she adds.
Foodpairing was created by a Belgian bioengineer, Bernand Lahousee, based on the principle that different foods can be combined well among them when they share key elements of their aromatic components.

"At the beginning a great deal of those techniques were seen as great mysteries. Today every restaurant with a modern touch has already incorporated them. Unfortunately, not all of them are applied accordingly," points out Jacobo Milgram, the director of the company Smart Cook de Venezuela, a line of cooking products.

Home-made heat
Even though most of technology items are expensive, some of the new ones have begun to enter the home. For example, the Thermomix, a sort of cooking robot able to squeeze, liquefy, grate, whip, chop, crush, knead, emulsify, mix, and vacuum cook among other functions; all of it by combining a series of speeds, times and temperatures.

"That device also weighs the ingredients while being used. It is widely used in Europe and has recently reached American markets," says Semtei.

Milgram stresses vacuum packing machines. "They preserve food in better condition. Vegetables, meat, fish, cheese, among others, maintain their color, taste and aromas better. They are available in the Venezuelan market starting at Bolivars 300." (USD 69)

People keen on cooking enthusiastically purchase such "toys" -smoking guns, dehydrators and siphons. "Sous-vide devices are beginning to be introduced, and they are promising," says Semtei. They vacuum cook at a controlled temperature. "They are like a water oven or double boiler where cooking time and temperature can be programmed," she explains.

One such device designed for the home, compact and easy to handle is already in the market. For many years, the advantages of vacuum cooking have been seized throughout the world for restoration purposes. However, that technology had not taken the leap to be available at home. It allows us to obtain textures, aromas and flavors, and keeps nutrients.

Now, what has technology given and taken away from cooking? Do we eat healthier and better thanks to such developments? People called to this table state their opinions.

"Technology has taken away from cooking certain manual tasks which used to be fully made by hand, but it has given food a better treatment. It is now easier to have food going the table correctly cooked," says Milgram.

"Some critics and cooks have said that flavors, traditions and some techniques are lost, and it could be true; but new possibilities have also been opened.

Healthy food depends on the cook and the technology we are discussing," points out Carlos García, chef for Alto, a restaurant that uses some of such devices.
The chef emphasizes that certain devices preserve almost 75 percent of food nutrients. "This is very positive for one's health, but there are other technologies (chemicals that molecularly alter food, enzymes, flavor enhancers). This is another very different story," he notes.

Semtei adds, "Any technology that supports the creative process of new dishes and flavors is welcome, provided that it is based on honest cooking with good ingredients. The point is not to forget for whom we cook: for the guest, the one who issues the final verdict."

Translated by Mercedes Alonso

The end of a cycle

Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Brazil on March 13 to demand the ouster of embattled President Dilma Rousseff, carrying banners expressing anger at bribery scandals and economic woes. A banner read "We don't want a new Venezuela in Brazil." Estampas
Alianzas Estampas