Norwegian omelet 2007 (this egg has flown)

I vastly enjoyed Denis Martin’s presentation of his recent book in Vevey a few weeks ago. In a splendid show of modesty, he invited around thirty journalists to his restaurant for the event. We were all to arrive at 11 in the morning… everyone straight into the kitchen! Apart from the modesty, he also expressed a great deal of lucidity and rationale: the kitchen was the only place where he could effectively demonstrate the modern techniques that he employed in his craft, clarifying any doubts along the way, responding to every question that arose and helping to brush away the misunderstanding and misinformation that surrounds his work. In a certain sense, the Swiss culinary entourage present was very conservative. At one point a young audiovisual producer, Bertrand Saillen, told me that “great Swiss cuisine is identified with Girardet and Rochat, as well as Girardet and Rochat and… oh, I forgot: Girardet and Rochat! One thing that is certain is that it was thanks to these men that we began to discuss fine Swiss cuisine and its role in the world. However, the Swiss should also be proud of the new generation of chefs who, with tenacity and success, are seeking out new paths.” On that particular day the chef had planned to spend one hour in the kitchen, followed by a meal in which we would taste dishes he prepared using the techniques seen just minutes before in the kitchen. The demonstration began with Denis brandishing a mixer and explaining the numerous things that this tool inspires: some, albeit, seemed more practical than others. We were then taken through practical demonstrations regarding how to prepare his “shampoos” (very aerated foams that do not disintegrate over time; the one that stood out the most, which we tasted later, was perfumed with elderflower); he spoke about alginates (derived from brown seaweed found in the cold waters of the sea, the name coming from “algae”); of “spherifications”, or spheres, or of tools like the PacoJet before moving on to a dissertation about the quality of creams/foams prepared in a siphon (for example, the delicacy and lightness of a mayonnaise) and introducing a discourse on liquid nitrogen and “cold cooking/frying” (one of the journalists asked if it was dangerous to handle this product in a kitchen, to which Denis replied, “no more than handling a fryer full of boiling oil”). After a few examples, the moment had arrived to prepare the “omelette norvegienne -196º and +1750º”: a reinterpretation of a classical dessert that astonished me. Following the traditional recipe, a Genovese sponge cake is used as the base (which can also be soaked in a liqueur), topped with a choice of fruit confit (optional), covered with a dense layer of ice cream (either cream or fruit) arranged to form a rectangle; at this point the ensemble is covered with a layer of normal or Italian meringue, placed in a very hot oven and, when the meringue begins to brown, the cake is removed from the oven and flambéed with the same liqueur used to soak the sponge cake (optional) and served. The pleasure and surprise of the hot-cold contrast are guaranteed! Culinary sorcery? Not at all! The ice cream in the interior does not melt because the beaten egg white is a poor heat conductor. This dessert was rediscovered at the end of the 19th century by the then chef of the Hôtel de Paris in Montecarlo, Giroix. And I say “rediscovered” because it appears to have been invented by an American physicist named Benjamin Rumford (1753-1814)! He could almost be a distant relative of Hervé This (and this dessert, a molecular dish ante litteram). Chinese cuisine was already familiar with this technique, which was brought to Paris by the hand of a chef who had been working in China as a missionary before visiting the French capital in 1866. What awoke my curiosity was discovering that the Larousse gastronomique from 1938 (whose preface was written by Escoffier, though he died before seeing the completed work) cites a recipe that is almost identical to what is found in the Art culinaire français, published by Flammarion in 1954, as well as one that appears in the Larousse gastronomique in 1984 (by Courtine) and in the 1996 edition (under Robuchon’s supervision).
2007, Denis’ recipe: after placing the ingredients for the “omelet” in a siphon (egg whites, sugar, cream and a drop of Grand Marnier), refrigerate, shake well and pour the contents into the liquid nitrogen (photo 1). It only takes a few seconds for the aerated foam to “crystallize” upon contact with the freezing agent. Our “omelet” can then be caramelized with a little sugarcane and a strong torch (photo 2). The result is truly extraordinary: a frozen, delicate texture that gently unfolds and melts with the heat of the mouth, added to by the crispness of the fresh caramel. A mouthful of sweet, only slightly compacted snow. And what about lightness? It seemed to me the perfect colophon to the meal. A demonstration of exquisite taste and execution: here is a new way of interpreting this dish, keeping the highest respect for the original recipe and its ingredients!
I must admit I enjoyed listening to that piece of music on the way home that day; it always sounds so familiar (a strange coincidence: it was composed amidst the serenity of the Swiss Alps!). With its eastern influences (which do not manage to find their way into this dish but certainly do in other creations by Denis, who recognizes his work as being influenced by classical, Italian and Asian cuisine) and strange melodies. For a moment (heresy!) I tried to think of what the meaning of a song entitled “Norwegian Omelet” would be, as well as work out some lyrics, but was thwarted while trying to rhyme the chorus: “I lit a fire (photo 3), isn’t it good, Norwegian Omelet”… instead of “Norwegian Wood”.