Desserts at Uchi
Austin is not really a hotbed of the technologically fascinating and often expensive culinary manipulations currently known as molecular gastronomy, but that could be changing. For example, chef instructor Tim Kartiganer is adding a class entitled Molecular Gastronomy to the fall course schedule at the Culinary Academy of Austin because it is a subject that interests him. When I started searching for practitioners of the innovative food-science techniques here in Austin, all responses steered me toward Uchi pastry chef Philip Speer. Uchi restaurant is a solid financial success that has achieved both local and national acclaim. According to Speer, those things make it possible for him to experiment with new gadgets, techniques, and ingredients. "I'm lucky enough to work in a restaurant where the owners are eager to put a good portion of profits back into the business. That means the very best ingredients and equipment are available to our kitchen staff," he says with pride.
Speer's mastery of molecular gastronomy innovations allows him to enhance menus with "fried" liquids, dessert ingredients turned into stable foams or tasty powders, and fruit gelées that can become beads or spheres (rhubarb pearls, anyone?). He is also able to render all-vegetarian components thickened with natural ingredients such as agar-agar or carrageenan, rather than gelatin, an animal product. Speer's summer dessert menu offers an elaborate coffee panna cotta egg that breaks to reveal a limpid mango "yolk" hidden inside and a milk tasting comprising fried milk (frozen cubes of pastry cream dusted with puffed rice and deep fried), toasted milk (a crisp tuile made from powdered evaporated milk), ice milk (milk sherbet), and chocolate milk (softly gelled chocolate) garnished with chocolate oil. The loyal Uchi clientele can't wait to see what he'll come up with next. Speer explains it like this: "Most people come to Uchi with the attitude [that] they are going to try something new that night. I'm lucky they are willing to take that ride with me."