Deconstruction in cooking, also known as "destructured" cooking, emerged in the early nineties thanks to the genius of the Spanish chef Ferran Adrià, whose gourmet workshop elBulli produced dishes that were physically unlike the originals but with all their flavors preserved.
More than a technique, deconstruction is a gastronomic trend that uses creative flair to change the form and not the basic nature of the dish, with the end purpose of awakening all the senses, not just those of taste and smell.
It is precisely this approach that has enabled innovative techniques to be created and developed to change the texture of food, such as gelification and foams.
What is involved?
This gastronomic concept involves changing the appearance of the various ingredients used in a dish, but preserving and even reinforcing the intensity of their flavors. To do this, each of the components is treated separately, changing and transforming presentation, textures and forms, and playing with temperatures.
This means that the same dish might combine a foam, a crispy ingredient, an ice-drink and a gelatin, for example. The appearance of the deconstructed dish differs radically from the original, although it should retain much of its essential character.
What contribution does deconstruction make?
First and foremost, originality. The diner should be able to relate the dish's final flavor to the starting point of the original recipe, although there may be no direct similarity with the initial presentation. The dish is "reconstructed" through the tasting memory of the person who eats it, although its appearance and even the way it is eaten may be completely different.
One of the examples that best illustrates this is Adrià's potato omelet, which is a radical breakaway from its usual presentation as each ingredient is dealt with separately and served in a cocktail glass.
The first layer is a golden onion jam, the second is the hot liquid egg and the third is a potato foam, made using a siphon. The serving and the consistency have been changed, but when you spoon out the three layers and mix them in your mouth, your taste buds immediately recognize that what you are eating is potato omelet.
What dishes can be made?
This method is almost always applied to appetizers, starters and desserts, although there is really no limit other than the chef's imagination and creativity. Soups, rice dishes, fish, meat... can all be re-interpreted in this way.
However, the adaptations have to start from well known dishes or recipes, because if diners are not familiar with the original, it is impossible for them to have an appreciation of the dishes created with this technique.
Another dish that can be deconstructed is paella. The diner is presented with a dish that they do not recognize in a visual sense, but when they try it... all becomes clear, provided that the original is part of their gastronomic culture.
The possibilities are infinite, and you can even play with the name and description of a dish to confound expectations and provoke an initial sense of bewilderment that makes the end result even more striking.
Paco Roncero is head chef of La Terraza del Casino restaurant (Madrid)