Kitchen Chemistry: Molecular Gastronomy Meets Sustainability

The forces of sustainability and science merge in the kitchen at Chateau on the Lake Resort, Spa, and Convention Center in Branson, MO. Here, Executive Chef Doug Knopp and Executive Sous Chef Chad Horvath meld their respective passions for slow food (embracing local, sustainably produced ingredients) and molecular gastronomy (using science to change the structure of food).

“We combine the importance of knowing where your food comes from with the world of molecular gastronomy,” says Knopp. “Chad is the mad scientist controlling the molecular world, and I ensure that our food not only looks and tastes great, but leaves the smallest footprint possible.”

The resort, set high atop a mountain overlooking Table Rock Lake and about five miles from Branson’s entertainment center, purchases local fare whenever possible. When Horvath gets his hands on the ingredients, some of his favorite molecular gastronomy tricks include using carbon dioxide to create bubbles or foam, employing liquid nitrogen to flash freeze, or introducing maltodextrin, which will turn a high fat liquid into a powder. 

An example of the pair’s joint creations is Hydro Caprese Soup, which takes the traditional Italian salad and transforms it into a soup. Another is seared Walu (a Hawaiian fish) with a white bean, fennel, and tomato ragout. Instead of shaving parmesan on top of the dish, Horvath creates a “parmesan air.” 

“I infuse water to make it taste like parmesan and soy lecithin and it creates bubbles that are stabilized. This gives the same flavor, but a completely different mouth feel,” he explains.
One of Horvath’s favorite desserts is a play on bacon and eggs. “It looks identical to bacon and eggs but is flavored as a dessert. I use pina colada panna cotta, inverted mango ravioli, and candied chocolate-covered bacon. The ravioli looks just like an egg yolk and reacts like one as well. If you puncture it, it runs just like an over-easy egg. The only difference is that it tastes like you’re biting into a fresh piece of mango.” 

Knopp and Horvath frequently lead cooking classes for corporate groups, although the classes rarely incorporate molecular gastronomy, as the goal is to create dishes attendees will prepare at home—not many have soy lecithin or sodium citrate in their pantries. 

Chef’s tables are popular at the 301-room property, which also has a 43,500-square foot convention center. These tables are where “we really make the magic happen. We do a personalized kitchen experience,” says Horvath. “This is when I spend extra time infusing my molecular gastronomy techniques into the food and trying out conceptualized dishes that the public has not seen yet.”