MSK Ingredients - at the forefront of Modern food technology
Amber Locke visits the Dronfield-based company MSK Ingredients who are at the forefront of modern food technology
Picture a beautiful bowl of consomm� soup served with a pipette of carrot pur�e. When you squirt the pur�e into the hot soup it forms into noodles before your very eyes. Envisage being able to flamb� an icy cold sorbet without it melting. Then imagine having little 'pearls' of apple sauce to serve with a pork chop that are jellified on the outside and liquid inside, or even a deep-fried ball of lobster bisque ... To most of us this is clever, scientific stuff but to the boys at MSK it is an everyday concept.
MSK, based in Dronfield near Chesterfield, is widely held to be the market leader in supplying speciality ingredients for the restaurant trade. Its forte is in providing both the very best and the more unusual products. In recent years it has expanded to specialise in goods used in the amazing world of molecular gastronomy - the culinary wizardry typified by the food of Heston Blumenthal at his revered restaurant, the Fat Duck at Bray. The Fat Duck is one of MSK's customers, along with numerous other glitzy, Michelin-starred establishments such as: Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons in Oxford, Hambleton Hall and Sat Bains in Nottinghamshire, The Vineyard at Stockcross, and Maze, Le Gavroche, Sketch and P�trus in London. Indeed MSK's long client list reads rather like a guide to the UK's top restaurants!
The broad spectrum of MSK's innovative products lies behind many of the 'tricks of the trade' employed by our most celebrated chefs and helps them to add that extra bit of excitement and theatre to a menu or a dish. However, despite a vast and mind-boggling catalogue of ingredients MSK started out just nine years ago with one single ingredient - saffron.
Joint managing directors Stefan Priest and Kevin Bateman set up MSK in 1999. Stefan had worked in the food industry researching and developing new recipe dishes for the supermarket trade and one day got involved in a conversation about how saffron was at one time more expensive than gold. In discussion with Kevin this sparked an idea for a new business and they set up in partnership to supply this spice to the restaurant trade.
As they built their business restaurant chefs began asking what other products they could get for them and they rapidly increased their portfolio of unique and unusual ingredients which today stands at well over 1,000 items. Stefan believes the key to the success of MSK has been the quality of the products and service and the ability to be innovative and to respond quickly to the demands of the market.
MSK is a niche business and prides itself on supplying only the very best products. These range from rich, golden Kashmiri saffron, gourmet vanilla beans (a rare strain of Madagascan pods which are so fresh they ooze with vanilla oil), exotic herbs and spices (including sumac, ancho chillies, long pepper, tonka beans, spice of angels) and spice blends to truffle oils, unusual teas (white anenome, white pear, jasmine needle), edible dried flowers (hibiscus, cornflowers, rose buds), fruits (glac�, air-dried and freeze-dried), bee pollen and a wide range of novelty sweets.
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There is also a selection of flavour enhancers: oils, drops, compounds and concentrates, spray dried fruit and vegetable powders. Then there are the artistic tools: edible glitters and metallic effect food colouring, icing colours, decorative chocolate pastes, food writing pens, and gold and silver leaf. To top it all, there are the specialist ingredients: gelling agents, gums and thickeners, stabilisers and a whole assortment of associated equipment - enough to keep the zaniest Willy Wonka happy!
MSK works closely with chefs and the technical departments of its customers. It observes how some of the techniques used by the larger manufacturing companies can be applied to the fine dining industry, and is constantly researching and evaluating new products and ideas to ensure its range remains both innovative and cutting edge.
Two years ago a full-time chef, Vicky Endersen, was employed to help develop MSK's foray into the weird and wonderful world of molecular gastronomy. Vicky had previously worked at Tom Aitken's in London as head pastry chef and now runs the development kitchen, presenting and demonstrating MSK's products across the UK and providing a consultation service to restaurants and an invaluable support package for chefs. With her skills as a restaurant chef combined with her in-depth knowledge of chemistry, Vicky can help to break down the mystique of 'culinary alchemy' and demonstrates inspiring new recipes and techniques using the scientific interplay of different ingredients and products.
These innovative methods using ingredients such as agar agar, methocel, sodium alginate, lecithin and gellan gum give chefs the opportunity to create seemingly improbable combinations of tastes, textures and temperatures and to develop imaginative dishes. These include: hot jellies; a flavoured foam that can hold it shape and texture for hours without the bubbles bursting and losing its form; a chocolate mousse with a topping that pops and crackles in your mouth or a temperature defying silky soft ice-cream that scoops easily and won't melt even on the hottest day. These are invaluable tricks to have at hand in a busy restaurant kitchen and help chefs to keep their menu dishes at the forefront of culinary fashion.
So next time you eat out and notice a quirky ingredient, an intriguing combination of temperature and taste or a futuristic or scientific-sounding dish on the menu, it's more than likely that there will have been a bit of MSK magic at work in the kitchen!
MSK currently supplies only to the trade but hopes to be able to offer products to the general public in the near future. It is looking at developing 'fine dining kits' and 'molecular test kits' which would allow the domestic chef an experimental insight in to molecular gastronomy and give a definite 'wow' factor to a dinner party dish ... watch this space!
For further details visit the website: www.msk-ingredients.com