Some definitions of molecular gastronomy:
- The application of scientific principles to the understanding and improvement of domestic and gastronomic food preparation. (Peter Barham)
- The art and science of choosing, preparing and eating good food. (Thorvald Pedersen)
- The scientific study of deliciousness. (Harold McGee)
Combining the ‘know how’ of cooks with the ‘know why’ of scientists Hervé This in his article “Molecular Gastronomy” in the scientific journal Angewandte Chemie lists five focus points for molecular gastronomy (these originated from his PhD thesis):
- Question culinary know-how and proverbs
- Understand culinary processes and recipies
- Introduce new products, new tools and new methods
- Invent new dishes
- End the bad public image that science often has
However, in a recent article, he comments that this five-point scheme was a major mistake because 3 and 4 are technological, not scientific, and 5 is political. Because of this, he has recently changed the objectives of what he thinks molecular gastronomy should be. He notes that a dish contains a “love” component, an “art” component and a “technical” component. And molecular gastronomy should investigate these three, but only from a scientific point of view. Or formulated in a slightly more precise fashion (adapted from here):
- Investigate the social phenomena linked to culinary activity
- Investigate the chemical and physical aspects of the artistic component
- Investigate the technical component by a) modeling definitions and b) collecting and testing culinary precisions, as well as the reasons for their appearance
It should also be noted that Hervé This reserves the term “molecular gastronomy” for the scientific investigations, whereas techniques and dishes which evolve from this kind of research should be termed “molecular cooking” or “molecular cuisine”. As a result, no restaurant or chef should use the term “molecular gastronomy”.
As more and more cooks have embraced the term “molecular gastronomy” as something trendy, others have abandonded the term. As a result there is quite some confusion about what it really means. For a starter, read what Michael Ruhlman and Harold McGee write about this.