On Sunday, November 10 2006, in The Guardian, Ferran Adria, Heston Blumenthal, Thomas Keller and Harold McGee shared a statment on the “new cooking” with the readers. They feel “widely misunderstood” and argue that molecular gastronomy is “overemphasized and sensationalized”. Quite a surprising statement from people who have benefited greatly from the increased attention that molecular gastronomy has received lately. On the other hand – many journalists still tend to be stuck up with Heston Blumenthals snail porridge and egg & bacon ice cream, so I can agree that molecular gastronomy is not always properly understood. The four main points in their statement (with my comments) are:
Well certainly no one can disagree with the first statement… As for tradition – of course cooking has evolved a lot over the last couple thousand years – so again I would say that this is quite obvious. What molecular gastronomy (in my opinion) is about is, from a scientific viewpoint, to increase the understanding of what is going on. Tradition tells us nothing about this whereas science has told us a lot!
I guess this is where molecular gastronomy (or the-science-previously-known-as-molecular-gastronomy as ABK&M might call it) comes in. I note that they only embrace it though if it “can make a real contribution” to their cooking. In other words, they embrace they technological aspects of molecular gastronomy which according to Hervé This’ latest definition isn’t really a part of molecular gastronomy.
Again – nothing really new here… except that one could always wish for even more sharing and openness regarding techniques and ingredients. But all in all ABK&M have been good at publishing their recipes and findings (as should be evident from the books listed at khymos.org). Of course this also alludes to the intellectual property debate which was started of by this article.
So what do we make of this? First thing is that none of them are scientists (save McGee who holds a BSc in physics and who BTW has defined molecular gastronomy as “the scientific study of deliciousness”). In a way it’s understandable that they don’t want to be viewed upon as scientists but rather artists. But it is a little strange though, because the article does have a negative stance on molecular gastronomy. This is surprising from a group of people who have both benefited from and contributed to molecular gastronomy by adding an artistic component to the underlying science. Secondly I wonder if it’s about fashion as well. Perhaps the air is going out of the balloon now? If molecular gastronomy is not übercool anymore, it’s time to move on with something new to attract guests. But is it really time to “reject the cult of molecular gastronomy” (Vanessa Thorpe of The Guardian, in the article “Mad scientist? No, I’m just seroious about food”)? If you ask me, my answer is “No”!
An interesting new turn in the world of, what I still would regard, MG. The probably most interesting perspective, in my eyes, is that McGee is the only one in the quartet that has been able to make a profound effect on my cooking habits at home! However, Hervé This has accomplished the same when I look at my kitchen- and culinary practice (however, I suppose my standing point is as a scientist rather than as cook, and is more subjectible to their influences). In that respect, I seem to find that McGee and This have more in common than with the other three, and that these two TOGETHER sum up the essence of MG. A few days ago, one of my students asked why a certain dish ended up one way rather than the other, and she were in fact looking for an explanation based on real knowledge about the food constituents, and how she was to revise the recipe! (and she is NOT a science student). This is the kind of experience that makes me going.
I agree on the argumentation that MG benefited from it’s übercool reputation, but on some way it may have lost some of it’s soul/essence. When adopted by (or maybe adapted to?) Michelin star restaurants, I find that non-food-geeks may be deterred rather than attracted to this.
Thus, if this field is to make an impact on people’s way of thinking about food, maybe its time to move on from the high-end restaurants and into our kitchens?
Finally, I think there is one pit trap that should be avoided, and this may be one reason for certain chefs/people’s distrust: Hervé This’ emphasis on refuting old wives’ tales may discourage people (and chefs) because “whatever you do, it may just be wrong”. I think it’s extremely important for the “MG scientists” not to meet others with the attitude that one are looking for faults, but as equals. One example is from Norwegian history when author (and self appointed scientist) travelled around Norway 150 years ago rebuking house wives and farmers and their kitchen practice. This resulted in what is called “grautstriden” (“the porridge dispute”) with scientist Eilert Sundt about healthiness of Norwegian eating habits. In a society which has had an increasing scepticism towards science the late years, this may not be an efficient strategy.
Only when scientists (or scientifically oriented individuals) and the everyday cook meet as equals in terms of having a mutual exchange relationship, we can make another step towards people in general understanding more of what they/we actually do when we cook and enjoy food. Such a mutual relationship can in fact be found in the cooperation between Pierre Gagnaire and Hervé This.
[…] As a follow up to last weeks statement from Adria, Blumenthal, Keller and McGee (article, my comments) The Guardian have interviewed Heston Blumenthal. He now says that MG creates artifical boundries: “Molecular makes it sound complicated,” he says. “And gastronomy makes it sound elitist.”. And Heston isn’t keen on either (at least not anymore…). […]