inChef Series – John Placko on Molecular Cuisine

You may recognize Chef John Placko since he's been a resident of Mississauga for 17 years, and you may have also spotted him more recently doing some food science kinds of things known as molecular cuisine on Canada AM, Global 16:9, Inner Space, and Breakfast Television.

Chef Placko is a Mississauga-based modernist Chef sharing his expertise through his workshops via the Molecular Culinary Academy in Mississauga. This cuisine is also referred to as modern cuisine, avant-garde cuisine, experimental cuisine, new cuisine, emotional cuisine, and kitchen science, just to name a few.

After a lengthy 35 year career as a chef for a variety of operations around the world and as a corporate chef for some of the largest food companies, he decided to follow his passion and venture off onto his own focusing on modern cuisine.
He has travelled the world to eat and learn from some of the best world renowned chefs and his food ventures have taken him to famous eateries such as El Bulli, El Celler de Can Roca, Comerc 24, Mugaritz, Noma, The French Laundry, The Fat Duck, and Arzak. Thousands of dollars and a lot travel points later, he was inspired to pursue another dimension of culinary excellence where science meets food.

The forefathers of this movement are known as some of the best chefs in the world; they hold top ratings and Michelin stars and include the likes of Ferran Adria of the former El Bulli in Spain, Grant Achatz of Alinea in Chicago, Jose Andres of minibar in Washington D.C. and e in Vegas, Heston Blumenthal of The Fat Duck in England, Thomas Keller of the French Laundry in California and Per Se in NYC. You may also recognize one of these chefs, Richard Blais who has trained under famed world chefs and was a contestant on both Top Chef and Top Chef: All-Stars as well as appearing on Iron Chef America.

For those of you who may not be familiar with the combination of science and food, originally referred to as molecular and physical gastronomy, let me take you back to an example of a spin on ice cream which you may remember, it was called Dippin' Dots and was created by microbiologist, Curt Jones, "using a process of cryogenic encapsulation…a scientific way of saying he used super-cold freezing methods to make little beads of ice cream." You may remember that back in the 90's, there was a random Dippin' Dots dispenser at Square One Shopping Mall.


I recently met with Chef Placko to hear more about what he is doing:

Tell me about Modern Culinary Academy.
Modern Culinary Academy has been in existence without the name for about 5 or 6 years now and it was branded Modern Culinary Academy last year after I left the corporate world to start up my own business. It encompasses the awareness and education of modern cooking techniques, equipment, ingredients for chefs, pastry chefs and foodies. There was such an interest in this style of cooking, the equipment, the ingredients that I found it became very difficult to have a full-time job, and doing this, so I decided to leave my corporate job and do this full-time.

Why did you choose Mississauga to set up shop?
I find that over the last 17 years that I have been living here, pretty much all the activities, demonstrations, educational sessions, everything that I've done with my corporate life seem to revolve west of the (Hwy) 400. A lot of food companies are here, as well as colleges, so it just seemed natural to set up shop and operate out of Mississauga.

How did you learn how to do all this?
I was actually working at Campbell's in the R & D department, so I was familiar with the science behind food. I went to a conference in 2006, at the Culinary Institute of America in Napa Valley and Ferran Adria was leading a group of chefs there and it was called The Taste of Spain, and I got to see firsthand the ingredients, the techniques, the presentations they were doing and I was totally mesmerized.

Who inspired you to do this?
My biggest inspiration is Ferran Adria - that really lit the fire that changed the course of my career.

What do you hope to achieve?
Although molecular cuisine is a fairly niche area, I believe it's growing and will continue to grow and will be part of every restaurant's style of techniques to some degree, some more so than others. I'm hoping to help bring that awareness, the education to the foodies, chefs and pastry chefs, to help them get there.

What is an example of what I would see on my plate in a restaurant that serves modern cuisine?
What a lot of restaurants like to do is create something that's familiar to you by description and by its ingredients combination, so an example would be a deconstructed guacamole. So you have all the elements of guacamole but deconstructed in different textures, but when you eat it, it reminds you of a guacamole, so it's familiar but with a huge twist.

Why is there such an interest in modern cuisine?
I think one of the biggest reasons you have the best restaurants in the world using these techniques that they borrowed from science is because customers would fly from all over the world to dine in these restaurants, so consistency is critical. So they rely on science and equipment to create that consistency that allows the guest to experience an incredible meal every single time they go.

Is molecular cuisine considered healthy and good for you?
If we think about the cooking techniques, like the sous-vide cooking technique, the people that actually brought the sous-vide supreme to the market were two doctors that were really concerned with people's nutrition and the way they were eating. So they actually developed a unit that you could bring home and use at home so that you could cook foods with a level of consistency, but also little or no fat whatsoever, or even to cook more inexpensive cuts of meat for a longer period of time to create a nice, tender meat product. So it actually does lend itself to some very healthy ingredients and dishes. On the ingredient side, I would say that 90 - 95% of the ingredients that we use in molecular cuisine are all natural ingredients that come from marine life, seaweed, root starches, and gums.

What is the future for molecular cuisine in Mississauga and are there any places in Mississauga where someone could experience some elements of molecular gastronomy?
I haven't come across any restaurants in Mississauga that have elements of molecular cuisine. However, there may be a restaurant opening up in Mississauga that will be dedicated to molecular cuisine in the near future, hopefully in 2013. It will probably be the only fully molecular cuisine restaurant and bar in the GTA that's practicing and delivering deconstructed food and molecular cuisine.


Check out www.ModernCA.ca for more information.

Fire Away…

Favorite restaurant in Mississauga? Viet Thai Restaurant
Favorite ingredient? Any seafood
Most overrated ingredient? Truffle
Your go to meal? Soft boiled eggs and toast
Favorite molecular technique? Spherification - turning liquids into liquid centre pearls
Favorite molecular cuisine dish to make? Liquid nitrogen ice cream puffs
Who would you love to cook for? Heston Blumenthal
What would your last meal on Earth be? Soft boiled eggs and toast
Name one thing people would be surprised to find in your fridge? Reverse that - no beer or wine
What is a food trend that needs to end? Cheap and poor quality food products

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