September 15, 2009
Last year I attended a taping of the show 'Food Network Challenge,' famous for bringing you princess cakes and models of the Brooklyn Bridge constructed from cornflakes. Four chefs were challenged to beat the clock to create dishes, that were tasted by three chef-judges, to ultimately win a prize of $10,000. Three of the chefs had stations piled high with fresh fruits and vegetables, while the other (Sean Brock, who won) had a clean station that looked more like a lab than a kitchen. He was using what the judges declared was the wave of the future: Molecular Gastronomy.
And while famous chefs like Grant Achatz of Alinea and Ferran Adria of El Bulli may experiment with dishes like bacon slices with butterscotch and apple, the concept of using chemistry to make tasty food has been around at least since the invention of Salsa Golf.
Allow me to persuade you once again to take a little trip back in time with me. It's the 1920s, and we're Mar del Plata, the seaside resort used by the most wealthy and distinguished families of Buenos Aires as a summer retreat. French and English-style mansions line the streets of a neighborhood called Los Troncos. One of the first homes built in the area was Villa Leloir, on the Stella Maris hill. (It is now connected to the Ocean Club.)
Families spent the summer months breathing fresh, cool Atlantic air and escaping from the hustle of nearby Buenos Aires. The Ocean, Golf or Yacht Clubs were used as a meet-up spot, as each club was known for having a fine restaurant. 'The club' was the place to see and be seen, play bridge or canasta, and have drinks and a bite to eat while chatting with friends.
It's a sunny summer day at the exclusive Golf Club in Mar del Plata. (Though Leloir was known to frequent the Ocean club, one of the area's most prestigious and elite clubs even today.) Giant African palms welcome you at the front door, waiters are in jackets and ties. Guests are in suits or fashionable dresses. Coffered wooden panels line the walls, and like the parquet floors, they're polished to a shine. A long terrace lined with cane chairs is the perfect place to sit and look out on the spectacular garden.
Luis Federico Leloir is sitting around with friends when he's served prawns with mayonnaise, the typical condiment. Bored with the prospect of another typical meal, he asks the mozo to bring him a tray of other condiments–lemon, mustard, salt, pepper, ketchup–and he begins to experiment. Salsa Golf is born. (The name of the delicious pink sauce was coined by his friends, inspired by their location.)
It may surprise you to learn that Leloir won the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1970. But you may also see the connection. An article from Mar del Plata Style & Life says about Leloir:
"The great thing about Leloir was his ability to use basic scientific principles and establish a way to carefully experiment, without the help of costly and complete equipment, and still discover new information about chemical processes…"
Forget modern Molecular Gastronomy's spheres, foams, and steak-flavored edible menus–Salsa Golf is old school. I imagine Leloir, with his prawns and his tray of condiments, carefully mixing, a spoon his only equipment, until he reaches just the right combination of ketchup and mayonnaise. One of the original Molecular Gastronomers, and a Nobel Prize-winning chemist, to boot. Perhaps the mixing of condiments encouraged his experimentation in the science field. He was one of the scientists at the forefront of discovering how cells process energy (which they get from eating things like frites and Salsa Golf.)
Leloir himself had just this to say:
"If I had patented that sauce, we'd have a lot more money for research right now".
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Salsa Golf is a semi-liquid cold sauce that starts with a base of homemade mayonnaise. You may also try it with premade mayonnaise for convenience, but the taste will be different. To be served on pizza, hearts of palm (as a salad), French fries, burgers or hot dogs, etc. If you are pregnant and/or avoiding raw eggs, use the pre-made mayonnaise.
2 eggs, yolks only
3/4 cup vegetable oil
juice from half a lemon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon mustard (I used Dijon-style mustard)
2 tablespoons ketchup, or to taste
Put the yolks in a medium bowl. Using a hand-mixer, beat the yolks on medium speed. Add the oil in a very thin steady, stream, beating continuously until the yolks and oil have immulsified, and you have mayonnaise. Add in the lemon juice and salt. Taste for seasoning. Stir in the mustard and ketchup with a spoon until combined, and chill until ready to serve.