16 January 2007

On Molecular Gastronomy and Coke

One of the most astonishing things I read about chefs and food in the past year was when one famous New York chef (Ripert or Boulud?) said how much he admires things he can't create. He said something to the effect of, I can figure out how to recreate most things myself, but I love Coca-Cola because I don't know how to do that!

And I'm sure lots of other people are writing about this, but I find it interesting that large industrial food-processing tools are being turned to by chefs and probably even home cooks, given the way cooking trends are spreading these days (which is probably three percent due to Alice Waters and the remaining 97 percent due to the increasing prevalence of shows on the Food Network and PBS. Mark my words: the Food Network is going to be like MTV soon with countless spinoffs: FN-Chef, FN-Home Cook, FN-Cutting-edge cooking, etc.) .

So it's not necessarily the desire to create something new but to recreate something that exists, like getting something to be the texture of Cool Whip without all that high-fructose corn syrup. Go Google "twinkies recipe" and you will be astonished at the number of recipes you will find if you start investigating. And is the ultimate goal to astound and stymie your friends and customers (if you are a cutting-edge chef like Adria at El Bulli, Wylie Dufresne at WD-50, or Grant Achatz at Alinea), or are you more motivated by creating or deconstructing and reconstructing dishes, or are you equally motivated by recreating the Tater-Tots or the Nehi Sodas or the Twinkies of your childhood? On Homaro Cantu's menu at Moto in Chicago a dish involving "pellets of Kentucky Fried Chicken Ice Cream and sliced rutabaga," which was "a dish that just couldn't work, [yet] did work magnificently," said someone who posted about his dining experience at Moto. According to another writer, Cantu's Doughnut Soup "tastes exactly like the inside of a Krispy Kreme doughnut, chemical aftertaste and all."

I find it interesting how many chefs are experimenting with not just food but what cooking is. Where does cooking end and showing off begin? Where does cooking end and not cooking begin? When we go to a restaurant, what do we expect, and how are these chefs toying with that?

Subjects like molecular gastronomy are fascinating because they bring out such differing reactions. On the Chowhound message boards, for instance, there's a thread called "Molecular gastronomy - Die fiend!" Food purists, the ones most likely to hew to Alice Waters' world view, are appalled. I know people with sensitive digestive tracts who have no interest in pushing the limits; they'd rather know what to expect from their food, not have to put quotation marks around everything and wonder what each thing is really made of and how. I find it fascinating and only a little off-putting that people want to do this to food (as one post on the Chicago dining forum said, "Many bright ten-year olds receive chemistry sets, but one must be cautious when they ask to serve breakfast in bed."). Me, I love a good joke. Bring it on.

No comments: