The meal begins with an appetizer of pearls filled with an apple-flavored liquid, lemon granita, and discs of caramelized sugar. The entrée is a serving of magically transparent ravioli, paired with a mixed drink with a smooth vanilla foam across the top. Dessert comes as a lemon sorbet topped with dehydrated (crispy) basil leaves coated in a meringue of Methyl Cellulose and Xanthan Gum. The restaurant serving this meal would be NAPKIN, a world-class, pop-up restaurant that would serve to launch the new culinary field of molecular gastronomy in Indiana.

Some of the today’s most dynamic changes in the world of food research are coming out of this field of molecular gastronomy–also known as micro-gastronomy. In technical terms, micro-gastronomy is a subdiscipline of food science that seeks to investigate the physical and chemical transformations of ingredients that occur in cooking. It focuses on the same social, artistic and technical goals as the general culinary arts. In practice, this generally involves the study of current food processes and the invention and introduction of new tools, ingredients, and methods into the culinary arts.   

With Indiana’s position as a leader in both agricultural and biotech industries, it has a unique opportunity to invest in the growing culinary field of micro-gastronomy. As researchers and chefs develop new ways to deconstruct and reconstruct food, there is a great amount of potential for both food culture and agricultural business to improve, or even revolutionize, the status quo. While farm-to-table may be the trend of the day, the food industry is quickly finding itself being thrown into a more technological and scientific advanced era, and lab-to-table could easily be posited as the next great trend in food culture.

NAPKIN, a new pop-up restaurant, would act as the launch point of the state’s foray into the field of micro-gastronomy. By bringing in the world’s best chefs, scientists, and food researchers, the space would facilitate an experience of highly engineered food and topical conversation that would make a lasting impression on the community both local and abroad. Following the residence of the pop-up restaurant, the momentum would be carried both by micro-gastronomic research at the Indiana Biosciences Research Institute and by curated events that will introduce chefs and consumers alike to the possibilities of micro-gastronomy. By fostering the growth of the field, Indiana could become a center of yet another area of the food and agriculture industries.  

This position as an industry leader is not just about having new and unique dining experiences, though. Because micro-gastronomy relies primarily on molecular compounds rather than normal perishable ingredients, the practice opens up a new realm of opportunities and challenges for agricultural business. With a reduced need for whole ingredients, producers could drastically reduce the cost of transportation and logistics by selling only valuable extracts. Even more than this, new combinations of simple compounds could open the door to new foods that could provide nutrition at far lower costs (with the added bonus huge variety of customizable flavors). As researchers continue innovative explorations of food, there are sure to be even more potential applications–both exciting and intimidating.

Date: 2013

Collaborators: John Beeler and Michael Kaufmann

Logo Design: Oliver Blank