molecular gastronomy by adam stark

5 06 2009

In order to arm myself properly for my attack against this new culinary “trend.” I read the Allinea book cover to cover and thoroughly researched el builli, one of the leading restaurants practicing this form of “cooking.” The first noticeable characteristic i found that was in common between these two restaurants was that they both relied heavily on presentation to make their finish products seem more than they really were (for example, read the mop and study the PB and J “recipe” in the Allinea book). Though I do not have the exact pricing figure that Builli charges for a dining experience, Allinea boasts a tasting menu costing a hefty price and i find myself asking why. At a glance, the dishes they serve, though beautiful in presentation and provocative in style of service, seemed often almost too simple in their ingredients (note* i am speaking overall, i mean come on, carrot foam? whats the food cost on that 2% kind of a rip in my opinion). I then asked myself why such prestigious kitchens were run by almost pre-pubescent staffs. The most logical explanation I found to explain this phenomena is that surprisingly, no self respecting chef with any sort of culinary ability would be content making truffle bubbles in calcium lactate for eight hours a day, forty hours a week. Why, then i wondered, would such restaurants be so successful. Ironically, i found my answer from studying a chef who is famous for being not only the youngest chef to be awarded three Michelin stars in the UK, but also for being the first to return the stars of his own will. Marco Pierre White cited as his reason for abandoning this honor to the ignorance of the common diner and their inability to appreciate the concepts and dishes that he served. In my mind, the inverse of this claim is my explanation for the success of such restaurants as Allinea, Builli, and Moto. If the average diner is not seen as fit to appreciate cooking at such a level that is boasted by such exclusive establishments, (as White believed) then inversely we cannot base the success of a certain culinary trend on it’s success with the same judgmentally disabled demographic (we cannot base the success of a restaurant completely on it’s appeal to stupid people who think there is an amazing magic about adding lactate powder to apple purees). Therefore, the merit of molecular gastronomy cannot be based off of it’s success with the public alone. It is then that we must further examine the merit of the culinary trend from the bottom-up. In the simplest terms, molecular gastronomy is the use of certain chemicals and processes to manipulate and/or otherwise develop the presentation and serving style of already existing ingredients. In essence, when creating apple caviar for example, we are not really DOING anything to the apple as an ingredient, rather, we are manipulating it’s structure to create a more visually appealing and aesthetically pleasing presentation. This brings on a much deeper question of what cooking really is and where the line between legitimate and illegitimate claims of “chef-hood” exists. In my opinion, the comparison between a chef manipulating classical cuisine using “accepted” cooking methods and processes like Gordan Ramsey, and a chef who manipulates individual ingredients and presentations using chemical processes like Grant Achatz is much like the comparison between a brain surgeon and a plastic surgeon respectively. Though both have their merits and their place in their respective fields, one must ask, if insurance does not cover plastic surgery, does that make it an illegitimate form of medicine? Likewise, if a chef relies so heavily on chemical processes using bubbles and foams in every dish (often as the entire dish itself) does that pass as a legitimate form of cooking? Though there is no real finite way to argue either point, it stands to say that if molecular gastronomy is here to stay, they had better come up with much more fantastic ways to develop bubbles into meals.

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One response

5 06 2009
Kyle W.

This post is an incredibly immature way to look at such a huge trend in food. And good luck having a successful career in this industry if you don’t respect your “judgementally disabled” customer base. Or did you think that the only people eating your food would be Jeffrey Steingarten and his ilk? Hilarious that a kid from our school could even think for a fraction of a second that he could talk shit about Grant Achatz or Ferran Adria. We aren’t even prepared properly to watch those guys’ DISHES. God it pisses me off to read shit like that. It makes me sad that CHIC could harbor someone who has this kind of an outlook on the foodservice industry.

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