Thursday, March 22, 2007

Much Ado About Nothing

Molecular gastronomy, avant-garde cuisine, scientific cooking, food chemistry-- is there a problem when the primary point of interest is what to call it? I have not seen this much "controversy" about labels and political correctness since I was in law school.

I will admit right off the bat that I have not had the privilege of trying the cuisine of either Ferran Adria or Heston Blumenthal. I have, on the other hand, had the opportunity to try Minibar, wd-50, Moto, and Alinea. Among them, Minibar and wd-50 led the pack, but if I were to compare them to traditional, non-molecular, non-scientific restaurants I have tried and loved, there is no contest. I would rather be entertained by a sushi chef masterfully wielding his knife than a technician dipping olive oil into liquid nitrogen. I would rather eat a satisfying BLT than a piece of bacon suspended on a wire. I would rather have caramel corn than flavored pop rocks. I would rather sit in a kitchen than a laboratory. While I am all for advancements and innovation in the restaurant arts, this trend or fad or way of life seems to be the ultimate in form over substance.

Not that I find no value in experimentation. For example, despite recent negative press due to reality television, I happen to enjoy foams and find their delicate texture quite inviting in the right context. Restaurants manned by chefs who skillfully apply molecular/chemical/scientific techniques (sparingly and purposefully) are truly enjoyable, like Coi, Manresa, and of course French Laundry, to name a few. This furor reminds me of the thankfully short-lived raw food movement a few years back. A technique to be incorporated into a chef's arsenal? Great. An entire meal? No thanks. Can we go back to arguing about why I won't be allowed to have foie gras in 5 years?

1 comment:

chuck said...

it reminds me of the million different threads of pop music - the enfant terribles want to separate themselves from the establishment. the irony, of course, is that most become the establishment in due time.

i'm with you on incorporating new techniques and styles into a cuisine - all (great) meals should have a narrative. while the chemists would argue 'experimentation' is the narrative, it's usually not enough substance to sustain a meal.

Can Roca (Spain), Fat Duck, Mugartiz and even El Bulli have a theme running throughout the meal. I felt like a lab rat during my Moto meal. Alinea was of very high quality but it was disjointed. Keyah Grande and Bastide were grand but they are no more. WD-50 is almost there but it's too inconsistent.

So yes, I'd agree with you - if the chef wants to run a lab, he should open up a lab, not a restaurant.

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