Adara: Demystifying Molecular Gastronomy

It’s a popular belief among food professionals that “molecular gastronomy” is nothing more than magic and trickery.  Marcella Hazan, commented on Hot From The Kettle that “[c]ooking is what I am interested in, not magic. I can be entertained by magic, briefly, I am sustained by cooking, my life long.”  

Earlier this week I visited with Chef Tre Ghoshal at 77 Walnut Street, the site of Adara, Montclair’s new modern American restaurant.  We sat in the upper dining room and talked while carpenters worked in the lower dining room. From the moment I entered Adara, I was immediately taken by the overall warmth of the restaurant; it was not the super sleek, pretentious, modernist space I anticipated.  The walls are painted in warm earth tones, the floors stained a rich dark cherry, and the new chairs were cushioned and comfortable, creating an atmosphere of refined cordiality.

I read Mrs. Hazan’s quote to Chef Ghoshal, and asked, “So, is it magic?”  According to Chef Ghoshal “it’s just food.”

The name Adara is used in many cultures, Hebrew, Greek, Irish, Arabic, and in each culture the word has its own meaning. To Chef Tre Ghoshal, who is of East Indian descent, Adara means one thing: love.  And when one understands the passion that motivates Chef Ghoshal, the name is certainly apropos. 

Chef Tre Ghoshal has been cooking since he was thirteen years old.  He is soft-spoken, patient, motivated by genuine enthusiasm, and exact about his culinary interpretations. Most notably, despite his lofty ambitions and unabashed avant garde slant, he is humble and has great respect for traditional cuisine.

Chef Ghoshal, began his career with Joe Bastianich, and further describes his background as that of an “honest cook,” making “turkey meatballs and red sauce.”  So how did the love affair with “edge cuisine” begin?  “I’m thirty years old,” Ghoshal explains, “and I’m a part of modern food culture. I was inspired by Ferran Adria, Grant Achatz, and Wylie DuFresne.  They really opened my eyes and made me feel like I can’t look back. I had been cooking all of my life, but when I discovered that [molecular gastronomy] angle of cooking I could never see the food world the same again.” 

 The Adara kitchen will operate with immersion circulators, liquid nitrogen, and smoke guns, but Chef Ghoshal maintains that “there is a lot of honest cooking involved.” Ghoshal says, “The equipment that we’re using that’s new, so to speak, are also being used in kitchens across the country, molecular gastronomy or not.”

And what about the outlandish, scientific ingredients?  To this, Ghoshal replies,  

“When was the last time you turned around your Heinz Ketchup and read the ingredients? What is called molecular cuisine has really been a part of our every day food that we buy at ShopRite and Pathmark. There are things that have xanthan gum, and citric acid, and agar-agar - a jellifying agent, is a vegetable derivative.  We’ve been ingesting these ingredients for time and memoriam. It’s already in our diet, it’s been in our diet, and I’m simply applying these ingredients in different applications and compositions.”

That leaves one big question: affordability.  The menu does offer a twelve course Grand Tour, with complimentary bottle of champagne, priced at $165.  But meals of that magnitude, those once-in-a-lifetime-meals don’t easily lend themselves to regular consumption intestinally or economically.  How does Ghoshal plan to build a repeat clientel on that style of dining? Unlike Ferran Adria’s legendary, molecular cuisine restaurant, El Bulli, Adara is not designed to operate at a loss.  In fact, the main financier behind Adara has worked in risk management for 35 years. 

Ghoshal built a menu that features affordable a la carte selections  for the “regular” client, where the price is not disproportionate with the intellectual and gastronomic thrill.  I got a peek at the Adara menu which will offer first courses priced between $12 - $18 and second courses between $28 - $38.   Some stand outs include, “duo of duck” ($34), described on the menu as bundle and confit/green curry/papaya/lemongrass sorbet.”  There’s also “pork belly with five flavors” ($30), mustard, napa cabbage, rye, root beer, and hickory.  And an entrée called “acqua di gio” ($35), featuring sea scallops, baby octopus, peas and carrots, bacon and chaat.

Adara will also offer the mini-bar option. For $32 per person, the intimate bar at Adara can be reserved for parties of four, or for two parties of two.  The mini bar menu will include a mocktail and amuse-bouche, a first course, and dessert.   

Then there are the prix fixe tastings. A three course prix fixe is priced at $59, a five course at $79, and a seven course  at $105.  Each prix fixe option will be accompanied by house-made aerated brioche, and two amuse-bouche.

Adara is, in proper Montclair fashion, a BYOB.  Mocktails are reasonably priced at $8, are undoubtedly molecularly inspired.  Some will be served in slanted glasses, or on chargers with a glass accompanied by a mix-in shot.  A mocktail named Tulsi will include lychee caviar, and Lady Grey will feature lavender vapor.  I looking forward to a mocktail named Nude Buddha, made with sparkling Asian Pear, fennel, ginger mint, egg white and jasmine bubbles.  

In a town that prides itself on diversity, the modern American cuisine of Adara should be a welcomed addition to our restaurant profile.  After all, it’s not another Italian restaurant!  But when a chef like Tre Ghoshal comes along, with a concept like Adara, it could be easy for some to simply focus on sensational details of cuisine, like shrimp cocktail via atomizer. But full appreciation of any food, peasant or molecular, requires one to understand where the food came from, how it was handled, and who put it there.  Once this is grasped, the food transcends simple sustenance and becomes an entertaining, fun and informed experience.

Adara will be opening on October 12, 2011

77 Walnut St.

Montclair, NJ 07042

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