The 6 Most Pretentious Dishes Rich People Pay Money For
When professional chefs get good and/or famous enough, they sometimes get the urge to experiment. And this isn't "Let's try hot sauce on the macaroni" shit here -- weird chemicals and gases creep into their recipes, which run the risk of becoming so complicated that the dishes are less like food and more like some weird, perverted form of modern art. It gets to the point where you need an instruction manual and a careful lecture from the waiter just to figure out what you're looking at, let alone how to eat things like ...
The Edible Balloon
There are certain foods everyone knows to never order on a first date because you just look ridiculous eating them. You probably want to avoid any kind of noodle-based dish, for instance, or anything on a stick. And if you find yourself at Alinea, a restaurant in Chicago, you might want to avoid ordering their edible goddamn balloon. Here's what you look like eating one:
Ridiculous. Or, if not ridiculous, sure to make your date jealous.
Of course, this "dish" couldn't be brought into a three-Michelin-star environment without slight modifications. Edible balloons are made from a viscous mix of green apples and sugar, which is carefully inflated into a balloon shape. The string of the balloon is dehydrated apple. The helium is still helium.
There are two ways you can eat the edible balloon, and neither offers a single chance of retaining your dignity. The first is to use the pin that comes with the balloon to pop it, after which you presumably spend the remainder of your dinner scooping up its sad remains from all over the table (and your face). The second is slightly less messy, but no less ridiculous: You press your face hole in the side of the balloon and suck it up, along with all the helium inside. This has the benefit of both making you look like a moron and giving you the helium voice.
We're betting that the second after you finish the edible balloon, the waiters come asking you complicated questions just for the hell of it.
The Zen Garden
Many high-concept dishes are not about the taste so much as they are about the experience. In other words, people eat them because they're expensive and have some neat gimmick. In a refreshingly honest move, Moto restaurant in Chicago actually seems to admit this with their signature zen garden dish, which is custom designed for playing with your food rather than, you know, eating it.
The zen garden is a cheese plate consisting of Camembert, spices, chocolate, and frozen, blended fruit. It has been painstakingly shaped into the form of a Japanese zen rock garden, complete with a little meditation rake you can use for arranging the elements in the garden for some contemplative peace and quiet.
As with real zen gardens, this provides much relief to those who have no actual problems.
Of course, the nature of the dish is somewhat undermined by the fact that the zen garden is just one plate in a tasting menu of over a dozen courses. You'll probably have to choose whether you want to actually eat it or just absent-mindedly doodle dicks in it until the next course arrives. Or maybe they wheel it out when it seems like a customer is too anxious. "Shh, it's all right, calm down. The zen garden is coming. Everything is going to be fine. Rake your cheese."
Molecular gastronomy is an umbrella term for various types of experimental cooking, known by most fans of ordinary food as "that pretentious horseshit with foams and gels." Although it doesn't actually involve any Molecule Man-style alterations of the food's biochemical structure (you can easily do that shit yourself by forgetting your leftover Chinese in the fridge for a week), it is all about radically altering the ingredients' shape and consistency. You know, like if you were to make lollipops out of octopus.
First came the name. Then they wrote the screenplay. Then then scrapped that and made it a dish.
The terrifyingly named octopop was conceived by Australian chef Adam Melonas at Dubai's Burj al-Arab hotel, presumably after he read the Necronomicon and mistook it for a confectionery handbook. Its basic idea is actually pretty simple: It's a piece of roast octopus on a stick.
However, in true mad scientist fashion, Melonas has added to the process until the end result barely resembles octopus or, for that matter, food. The waxy sheen and structure of the octopop are achieved by vacuum-cooking the octopus for 12 hours, then using a knife and an enzyme called transglutaminase (a substance commonly used to glue bits of meat together) to turn the perished cephalopod into a pretty, flower-like construct. The end result is dipped in spiced gel and stuck on a stick with some dill for you to try and figure out what the hell you're chewing on.
When you figure it out, handing these out from your van to kids suddenly seems creepy.
Because the dish is not quite complicated enough by itself, it is sometimes served with dill Pellegrino: San Pellegrino water that has been turned into a cold gas and infused with, yes, dill.
Since its conception, the octopop has become Melonas' signature dish. This, along with his other creations, has somehow scored him a lucrative deal as a meal designer for IKEA.
The Sound of the Sea
There are only four restaurants in the United Kingdom that have received three Michelin stars. Two of those restaurants belong to Frenchmen. One belongs to Gordon Ramsay. And then there's the Fat Duck. The Fat Duck is often called one of the best restaurants in the world, and it's operated by a bona fide mad scientist. Its head chef, Heston Blumenthal, has dedicated his life to the most important questions about food. If his work is any indication, every single one of these questions is: "How can I make the person eating this lose his goddamn mind?"
Heston Blumenthal, seen here designing a chair with one leg that's too short.
Blumenthal's menus read like he's aspiring to be a food-themed Batman villain. They have an Alice in Wonderland-themed dish that consists of mock turtle soup and a dissolving pocket watch. They have scrambled-egg-and-bacon ice cream and bright green snail porridge. And then there is "sound of the sea."
Instantly recognizable on their menu as the only dish with quotation marks around its name, sound of the sea looks less like food and more like a giant "fuck you" from the kitchen. A strange mini-collection of plants, sand, and frothy foam, the dish looks like it can't possibly be edible. Yet its each and every element is an insanely complicated food item: The sand is made of panko breadcrumbs, baby eels, and half a dozen other things. The "sea" froth is cockles, mussels, carrots, and ... well, here's the recipe if you want to give it a shot. There are no less than 55 separate ingredients in there, all painstakingly prepared to create the "taste" of the sea.
To accompany this treat, you are given a seashell with an iPod in it. You put on the ear buds and listen to the sounds of waves crashing and seagulls squawking. These sounds of the sea (get it?) let your ears in on the dining experience, and the effects add up by making the dish also look and smell even more sea-like than it did before.
Hell, you could almost believe you're standing by an actual sea. A weak, helpless sea that you will now devour and destroy.
Yes, Heston Blumenthal has created the world's first Cthulhu simulator.
The Card Trick
Eleven Madison Park, a perennial contender in world's best restaurant rankings, has found success in the crowded food scene of the Big Apple thanks to its arsenal of clever gimmicks. They have a carrot tartare dish that somehow passes for steak and a drink cart that roams the restaurant hall serving Manhattan cocktails. However, those are just trimmings. The biggest trick up their sleeve is an after-dinner chocolate, which is simply magical. Literally.
Where did the plates go? Magic.
The server comes over to your table after you've finished your cheesecake, carrying a deck of cards. He or she asks you to cut it and pick any card. Each of the cards has a different chocolate flavor on it, such as lime or raspberry. The waiter then asks you to flip over your cheesecake plate -- and there, right in front of you, is a chocolate that corresponds to your card.
They do this mind-blowing trick to every single customer who eats there.
And 2 percent of them get goddamn lime.
Eleven Madison Park created the trick in cooperation with Dan White and Jonathan Bayme, two illusionists who have collaborated with small-time players such as David freaking Copperfield. Even the chefs have no idea how it works, as the trick is only taught to the servers, who are sworn to secrecy. All we know is that the trick is based on three-card monte, a classic game New York hustlers use to cheat gullible people out of their money.
It's probably no coincidence that it comes just before the bill.
The Liquorice Nitro-Dragon (and Other Liquid Nitrogen Dishes)
elBulli was a celebrated Spanish restaurant that also relied heavily on molecular gastronomy. Under its head chef, Ferran Adria, dishes such as potato-foam "Spanish omelettes," liquid olives, and wood-smoked water were all par for the course. Some of elBulli's weirdest menu items were little treats called morphs. They were tiny dishes that looked like one thing but tasted like another. These Transformer foods included corals that were actually chocolate, envelopes made of sugar, and marshmallows disguised as human hands, because apparently no one cares how many serial killer flags you raise when you're really, really good at cooking.
They're not quivering in pain. They're ... applauding. Yeah, applauding.
Still, regardless of your opinion of overly artsy cuisine, everything is forgiven of elBulli thanks to a morph called the liquorice nitro-dragon. Its recipe isn't readily available, but it was apparently a simple liquorice puree that was flash-frozen in liquid nitrogen. You'd carefully put it in your mouth, and the vapors from the nitrogen would just shoot out your nose and mouth, making you look like a dragon gearing up to fry some hero ass.
Chef Adria hatched the restaurant's dragon eggs personally.
Adria's elBulli is currently defunct, but luckily he is far from the only person who has recognized the awesomeness of the dragon dessert. Liquid nitrogen nibbles seem to be popping up everywhere, from high end restaurants to gimmicky ice cream parlors. Behold, the dragon breath popcorn:
And the liquid nitrogen s'more:
When the next season of Game of Thrones begins, that's all we're going to eat.
Related Reading: Fast foods can be just as ridiculous as their expensive-fancy cousins. The Duncan Donuts bacon breakfast sandwich is proof of that. If health foods are more your thing, check out this dish of fish testicles and semen. Or don't. Don't is probably better. Feeling bummed now? read about the great foods created by dick moves.