How Do I Learn To Cook With Molecular Gastronomy?

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I think French Fries makes a good point here. And I don't think chowder is a bad example at all.

There are really two questions here. One is whether "molecular gastronomy" means something specific, and that's a fairly debatable point, by which I mean that there are complex arguments on both sides. I'm not, in my own opinion, competent to remark seriously on this one. The other would simply take the term as a general category of contemporary avant-garde cuisine. And in that context, deconstruction is one of many devices to achieve complex aesthetic ends.

What French Fries describes would not, by the usual reading, be deconstructive in a culinary sense. But it's a kind of avant-garde play. The point is to make the diner rethink what a Caesar salad is all about, and to do so in a way that is fun and interesting and novel. Novelty is crucial: if everyone starts serving Caesars that way, it becomes tedious very fast. That's the problem with avant-garde art in any medium.

For me, the problem of avant-garde cuisine as Adria or Redzepi do it (and that's very different) is to drive at the deepest heart of culinary norms: authenticity and simplicity. We have been trained, quite deeply in many cases, to believe that authentic, simple preparations are de facto superior. But what do these words mean?

Authentic: "authentic" Mexican, Indian, or Chinese cooking is nonsense from the get-go. Which region? What context? What period? What season? Consider, as an extreme example, high-end Japanese cuisine, most especially kaiseki. One can quite seriously argue that you cannot eat an authentic kaiseki meal outside Kyoto or its immediate surroundings. That's because being in Kyoto is part of the meal. So now here's me, some terrific chef (this is hypothetical -- I'm neither terrific nor a chef), and I present precisely the same food, in every respect, as some genius like Tanigawa Yoshimi would serve on precisely the same day and occasion, but I do it in Boston. What am I serving? Fraud? Allusion? What am I doing, exactly?

Simple: is jamon Iberico simple? In what sense? How about a great wine? Is it the number of ingredients, or the fact that these ingredients have been around X number of years, or what? Is it simpler to serve sourdough bread than an equally excellent yeast-leavened hearth bread? Is "simple" just a recapitulation of nostalgia? We've all read The Omnivore's Dilemma, or should have, so we all know that behind every steak or chop is a horrendously complicated food chain, natural or farmed or industrial or a mix. So what's "simple" about grilling a lamb chop?

For me, the aim of this kind of avant-garde cuisine should be to drive the diner's thoughts (and I hope the cook's too, but I'm not a pro) toward these kinds of questions, and to cast light on them in novel ways through the medium of the food itself. Do it enough times, in the same way, and it's just ideology; do it new and radical every time, wild and crazy and making us think every time, and it's a leap towards a language of food, in food, through food.

Last but not least: this is food as art. You can like that idea or hate it, think it's brilliant or pretentious or whatever, but in the end it's not susceptible to quite the same criteria as other kinds of cuisine. Not better, not worse, but a different object. And perhaps the greatest vote in favor of such attempts is precisely the fact that so many people, in good conscience and reasonable awareness, without being clueless or stupid or narrow, find the whole idea ludicrous. In a funny way, that's a good thing: it means something really is being challenged. But an aesthetic challenge is not necessarily something that requires submission: if you want to fight back, by rejecting the challenge (and not dismissing it, which is another thing entirely), on the basis of something else you've got in your own aesthetic quiver, you're part of the game and participating and doing something worth doing.

In short, if you hate this, even when it's done very well, I think it's incumbent on you to explain why. If you dislike it because you've seen it done as pretension, it's worthwhile to attack it as nonsense, explaining what you've seen. And then again, if you love it, it's equally important to explain yourself: why are you responding positively, and what makes you think this isn't nonsense? These are serious questions. And I think durangojo has a right to be skeptical --- that's what keeps this sort of art honest, in any medium.
 
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i hate the term "molecular gastronomy". i wince everytime i say it. i wish that everyone could forget this terminology for what is simply another way of cooking. then again i have no definition for it myself. does it need a definition? haven't all of our prepared/convenience foods been a victim of "molecular gastronomy"? look at the labels and you will find most of the chemicals categorized as a newcomer in the culinary seen.

taking these ideas into a different direction doesn't make it necessarily new. it's still just cooking food. let's not get too far away from that. something new is always good and challenging. i just don't think that this movement needs to be put under a microscope and scrutinized.

food needs this. everyone who cooks needs this. we can't just take escoffier as the end all. food just like everything else is an evolving living thing. it will always change and when it isn't right nature will take it's course, bring it back and start again.

how much fun is cooking and eating?
 
 
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it blew my mind when i first read a Jason Bourne book and realized it had nothing to do with the movie series.

likewise, i highly recommend picking up "Molecular Gastronomy" by Herve This as an appendix to this otherwise fascinating thread/topic
 
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Chef David Burke has been in the forefront of this for quite a while . He features it in all his places. You might read one of his books.
 
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good day chefs,

thank you french fries and chrisLehrer for graciously taking the time to explain mg..i don't hate, like it or dislike it, and have actually never tasted it, i just didn't know about it...i'm really trying to think outside the box i'm in and your posts definately shed some much needed light. in the end, your point of textures got me, and would love to try it.. i live in ranch and farm country, so will have to wait for a 'big city' trip for that to happen. i do wonder though if part of this is just 'art for arts sake', looking to put the world on its ear, for a la minute...sounds like a lot of smoke and mirrors, which could add to the enjoyment..kinda like a food magic show!.....guess my biggest concern is its affordability..where and how does that fit into the 'big picture' and the dining out budget. with the economy the way it is and restaurants struggling just to stay afloat, how do the mg places fit in?  hard to have a food evolution, if you can't get people to eat your food cuz its too inaccessible or too pricey for the masses..and another point..is this food only for the upper crust? the elite?...ummm...again, thank you for your interesting, informative posts....just don't touch my hot dog!!

joey
 
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Durangojo baybeeeeeeeeee,

I don't think mg will ever be your thing. Not that you don't have great technique, but you put it at the service of ingredients.  Molecular gastronomy tends to be the other way around.

Takes one to know one, as almost all of my food ideas are really ingredient driven as well.  I think it's partly a product of coming out of the Nouvelle/California Cuisine stream -- which is, I guess, kind of generational -- and interpreting it through the relatively straightforward regional, bistro, bourgeois, retro, and "boy food" viewpoints.

MG is more haute/International, stressing wit, surprise, charm, innovation and amusement over plates themed around quality, simplicity, rusticity and comfort.   

Just to be clear, I'm not saying one viewpoint is superior to the other.  They are different, though.  To be honest, I lack the talent and patience to plate well enough to make going through all the mg bs worthwhile. 

BDL
 
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Originally Posted by boar_d_laze  

Not that you don't have great technique, but you put it at the service of ingredients.  Molecular gastronomy tends to be the other way around.

BDL
I find this a dangerous blanket statement (although I do appreciate that you used the word "tends to").

If you define MG as a set of culinary techniques, then it's up to the chef to decide to put those techniques (just like any other non-MG techniques) to the service of the ingredient or not. I believe Ferran Adria, who spends an unusually high amount of time studying his ingredients, their shape, texture, proportion, flavour, density, response to different cooking techniques and so on (his words, not mine), would strongly disagree.

Here's an extract from "A Day at El Bulli":

Experiments with local molluscs and crustaceans showed that most of the flavour is in the cooking liquor, and that some of the techniques traditionally applied to seafood, such as grilling, actually obscure the natural flavour. For the Mollusc platter - a dish of clams, scallops, oysters, sea urchins and barnacles - each item is cooked just long enough for its shell to open, and then it is encased in its own gelled cooking liquor, which intensifies the natural flavor. It is a complex cooking procedure and the recipe is very long, but the end result is that each item on the plate perfectly expresses its inherent flavours and textures. This deceptively simple dish is an homage to the sea, and the cooking techniques are designed to emphasize the ingredient's genes.
 
 
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A passing note...
 
Originally Posted by durangojo  

i do wonder though if part of this is just 'art for arts sake', looking to put the world on its ear, for a la minute...sounds like a lot of smoke and mirrors, which could add to the enjoyment..kinda like a food magic show!.....guess my biggest concern is its affordability..where and how does that fit into the 'big picture' and the dining out budget. with the economy the way it is and restaurants struggling just to stay afloat, how do the mg places fit in?
Two good points.

1. "Art for art's sake." Yes, I think that's exactly what it is. Yes, it's smoke and mirrors, for entertainment, but let's not forget that smoke and mirrors work, and that serving food in a restaurant is entertaining people. I'm not disagreeing with you -- I think a good deal of the point of avant-garde cooking is quite precisely to create an art object in culinary terms, and entertain people who like that basic notion. Which is not everyone.

2. As to the budget question, you're darn right. I should note that elBulli, Adria's place, is rumored to have lost money for quite a number of years --- fortunately he was making money elsewhere so it didn't matter that much. One reason for this is that Adria is a classic Catalan lefty-Marxisty-wacko type, and he gets upset by radical elitism. So how do you get a reservation? Luck, basically. Knowing the right people doesn't help unless the right people happen to be actually Adria or his brother or something. And while it's expensive, it's not actually so ludicrously expensive as you'd probably think --- I believe the current tab is something like $250 a head. The problem comes when you get places that are at least as expensive and are not anything like as good. If someone's doubling (or more) the cost of a dish because it's cute and clever and novel, that's everything negative you just pointed to. If someone's charging a fair, honest price for a dish, calculated the way every restaurant basically does it (food cost, labor cost, all that), the radical novelty of the thing becomes a selling point. I have never eaten at his restaurant, but I have heard that Wylie Dufresne (WD50 in Manhattan) is scrupulous about keeping his prices fair, and he's supposed to be pretty out there as American molecular types go. I have heard quite varied reports about Grant Achatz (Alinea in Chicago) on this score, but I know nothing certain. And so it goes.

P.S. French Fries --- I was about to say the same thing, then saw your much better post.
 
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To counterpoint the budget argument, I recently had a $40 dinner (amuse-bouches, appetizer, main course, dessert) where the dessert was strawberry "caviar" (molecular gastronomy). That was in a hip area in the heart of Hollywood.

And I do remember this birthday party I went to about.... 15 years ago, in France, where my friend's dad (not a Chef by any means, a scientist) had brought home some liquid nitrogen from his lab, and we made instant ice cream with it. I had never even heard of the term molecular gastronomy at the time, and I just thought that was a lot of fun. Out of the 40 or so guests, 7 or 8 of us thought that was fun, while the rest were busy shaking champagne bottle to then spray them on the other guests.

Molecular gastronomy doesn't HAVE to be expensive. It's only expensive because it's fashionable, just like many other things. I mean, there was a time when no one would ever think of eating lobsters and they were used as fertilizer.

I predict that just like with many new techniques in art, the worst of it will eventually be deemed uninteresting and abandoned, and the best of it will be absorbed in the vast repertoire of classic technique as.. just another classic technique. I wouldn't be surprised if a few years from now you see strawberry caviar sold for $2.99 at the candy aisle of your supermarket.
 
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C'mon Durango. Let's go drinking. I don't get it either. Foam to me looks like spit on my plate and makes me gag. I once accidentally made a fish foam when I was trying to puree steamed cod for a patient who'd had a stroke. By the time I had enough water in it to puree it, it was too runny so I added xanthum gum. Instant foam. The whole thing makes my head hurt trying to figure it out. I don't have anything against MG because I don't know a thing about it. Too complicated for me. I wouldn't mind trying it (like you). I'm not a fan of modern art either so I guess that would explain it. It seems to me like culinary abstract art. Some people will get it and some won't. All the same I'm not sure it isn't all just an attempt to re-invent the wheel. Nice explanations from several people here though.
 
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EJDutcher - I bought Heston Blumenthal's The Fat Duck Cookbook and it has a ton of the recipes that they use at the restaurant.  More than enough to keep anyone occupied for a while.  The only reason I haven't tried any experimenting is that it looks like it can become quite expensive.  I did thoroughly enjoy the history section though.
 
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REMEMBER   The Hoola Hoop, Whamo Slingshot , The Slinky, Rubicks Cube?  Where have all these fads gone ????????????

For $39.00 I want a steak not a cloud.
 
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greyeglam, 

can we start drinking yet?...i'm  way past ready..think there's alot of drinking going on here at CT....which is part of what makes it such a motley crew!!!..let's see, your in minnesota and i'm in colorado..where should we meet? vegas might be fun.......yeah, spit on my plate always stirs my appetite...haven't heard a peep from the MG guys...do you think we scared them off? i am generally a very open minded person on most things and especially with cooking, but i really just plain don't get it....seems like alot of time and energy spent bent over plating...omg, what happens when the waitstaff somehow screws up the plate on the way to the table? yikes!

joey
 
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The faster you pull a frozen dessert's liquid "base" through the phase change from liquid to solid, the smoother the frozen dessert is going to be.  Yeah, I mean ice cream. 

The Zeroth law of Thermodynamics tells me that the colder my refrigerant is, the faster the phase change will be.  Is that, "molecular gastronomy?" I don't think so, but am perfectly willing to be wrong and/or accept a different level of inclusion for the sake of harmony. 

Some of this stuff is fun and interesting.  Some of it's old stuff by a new name.  Some, same old thing using better tech.  Some of it isn't. 

For myself as a diner, surprise me.  I'm game.

As a cook, I'm all in favor of doing things better, easier, prettier as long as the final dish still fits within my culinary viewpoint.  I'm always willing to learn, but my food will forever be ingredient driven, technique in service to ingredients, one star on the plate, not too many supporting players,  correctly seasoned, all in counterpoise and harmonious balance.  On purpose. Really.

A nice glass wine couldn't hurt.

BDL
 
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Vegas sounds good to me Durango. Never been there. But you can start without me if you want as you might go crazy if you wait. I don't think we scared anybody off. If they're interested in GM, then they are and more power to them as long as they don't mess around with my bourbon. I'd get more excited over a well made roux based gravy than I would anything involving foam, but that's just me. Have you noticed that no one seems to be able to make a good gravy anymore? Too proletarian I guess, but on a pot roast and mashed 'taters....nothing better, in my world. Cheers!
 
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I think I've already said that I've eaten at a few GM restaurants, quite a few times at the Fat Duck, because my husband adores the food.  Now me?  I'm full of admiration and 'how does he DO that'...  but would prefer to spend the same sort of money at Le Manoir, Raymond Blanc's gaff, or one of Ramsay's London restaurants, or for modern Indian food, Benares in London.

Greyeaglem  - if you are ever on this side of the pond, and you want to find a young chef who makes sublime gravies, then can I suggest The Kitchin in my home city of Edinburgh?  Tom Kitchin is one of our younger michelin-starred chefs and his food is really wonderful.  I suspect that some might call is food proletarian in origins, but it is a real treat - even if you have to book weeks in advance to eat there on a Friday or Sat evening!      http://www.thekitchin.com/kitchin/home
 
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Molecular Gastronomy is not new. The study of it today however doe;s debunk a lot of old theories .Like searing meat does NOT lock in it;s juices .Salt on meat before cooking does not dry it out,  All of the alcohol in a dish does not burn out,  Washed mushrooms do not become soggy and retain moisture when cooked, and  Adding salt to green beans will not keep them from softening when  cooked.

It goes beyond foams which are just dispersions of some food particles being disbursed in others.It is the study of understanding the physical and chemical properties of ingredients and equipment and techniques that make it all happen. One could spend years doing this

Mayo, whipped cream,souffles  are examples of molec. gastro. and they have been around for years.
 
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Greyeagle's question reminded me of something from the past. 

As to potroast specifically, let me see if I can put it the way I learned it: 
Die daube his own [expletetive deleted] gravy is makink, nein? 

[Grabs me by the arm] Ja dares ein bissel roux shtarting but it's die reduckshun finish, ja?  Don't [expletive deleted] mit it! [Many expletives deleted]  Zees people are payink money.  Dey vant [expletive deleted] butter und [expletive deleted] gut cookink, not [expletive deleted] flour.  [Pretend slap to my head] Verstanzen, kollitch boy?

Und put some [expletive deleted] parsley on it.

Wo ist die verdammt cognac? [Expletive delted]!
No molecules, parsley. 

BDL
 
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hey greyeglem,

am i being stood up? don't think you can do that in 'virtual' vegas....i'll just take my 'virtual' champagne and party on without you...a lot to be said for working mans' food..i have a meatloaf dish on the menu that if i ever took off, would be hung from the nearest rafter...of course it involves mashers and lots of gravy....i love gravy...when i really need some comfort food, its usually a small bowl of mashers with peas mixed in,s&p and gravy...better than prozac!...cheaper too!

joey
 
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