Sunday, June 1, 2008

Does Molecular Gastronomy Constitute Cooking?

I ran into two articles in the NY Times that I thought would be worth sharing for my food conscious readers.

The first article about the miracle fruit describes Synsepalum dulcificum, a native West African fruit with the appropriately named protein miraculin. This protein binds with taste buds and accentuates the sweetness in acidic foods. After eating the fruit, people have described such diverse reactions as vinegar tasting like apple juice or even cheap tequila tasting like top-shelf. The fruit is rather expensive, $2 a berry, but the taste-altering effects lasts for about half an hour. It might be worth buying a few of them to try. Miraclefruitman.com sells them thirty at a time for $90 shipped.

The second article describes the conflict between Spanish chefs over the use of molecular gastronomy in culinary creations. Specifically, three-Michelin star Santi Santamaria has targeted Ferran Adria for his use of chemicals and other scientific techniques in the kitchen. Santamaria has criticized the use of things like methyl cellulose and xanthan gum as catering to the "media spectacle" rather than "healthy eating." In response, Adria has claimed that many of the ingredients are natural or approved by the EU health standards.

Innovations such as parmesan snow, "boiling" chilled sauces, and olive sphere caviar have been a recent phenomenon in haute cuisine. Adria is the head chef of El Bulli, recently rated the best restaurant in the world. In fact, the previous holder of that title The Fat Duck in England is also a molecular gastronomic restaurant. Although this marks a departure from traditional cuisine emphasizing wholesome natural ingredients, this type of culinary innovation is not new. Science has had a place in kitchens since the advent of mass-produced foods. Look on the back of most packaged foods nowadays and tell me if you know half of what the ingredients are. Whether this science belongs in fancy restaurants is the question.

Personally, I believe that food is constantly evolving. It's a fool who thinks they can be a truly great cook without understanding some fundamental kitchen science. Would you try the miracle fruit? How about a chemical distillation of that specific protein as an ingredient? Where do you draw the line?

1 comment:

Jackie said...

Where does one draw the line, indeed! Excellent post, thanks, enjoyed it very much.