Visionary chef Luke-Dale Roberts takes advantage of the esoteric allure of Umami — considered to be the fifth basic taste along with sweet, sour, bitter and salty.
"Before coming to South Africa, I spent five years working in the East, particularly in Tokyo.
While there, I had the opportunity to spend time in the kitchen of Shunju restaurant, working with umami techniques, all the while pretty oblivious to exactly what umami was.
The fact is that umami – Japanese for 'pleasant savoury taste' – has been recognised in the East as an integral part of food and flavour for a long time, though, until recently, it was largely dismissed by most of the Western world.
But, with Japan’s ascendancy in the global culinary stakes, Western chefs have increasingly been turning to the country’s kitchens for inspiration, with the result that umami has moved into the mainstream.
Now widely accepted as the word that best describes the taste of amino acid L-glutamate and certain ribonucleotides - molecules that play a central role in metabolism - it’s essentially a pleasant 'brothy' or 'meaty' taste, which produces a long-lasting, mouthwatering and coating sensation on the tongue.
Its fundamental effect is its ability to balance taste and round out the total flavour of a dish.
In my view, umami should be considered another exciting tool in the box of flavours that makes up a chef’s arsenal.
Care should be taken not to use it as the primary driving force of a dish, but rather as a reinforcement to the existing flavours.
The key with umami, I believe, is to use it as an element of surprise.
My time in the East hugely influenced my cooking style and many of the dishes I create have some Asian influence, ingredient or style.
By default, then, they are umami rich. This selection of recipes pulls together East and West and pushes umami to its limits. You'll find most of the ingredients at your local Asian supermarket.”
LUKE'S RECIPES WITH THE UMAMI FACTOR
Read More about umami in our Trends section
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