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Mar 26, 2008 11:21 AM

"Fish foam and spherified mango juice"

Link to an article on "molecular gastronomy" from today's Slate magazine.

I first became aware of molecular gastronomy while watching Marcel on Top Chef season two. The whole concept doesn't appeal to me, to the point where I refuse on principle to go into a restaurant that has a "foam" anywhere on its menu. But this article helped me to understand a bit more about it. And, if the writer is to be believed, it's not going anywhere, and its influence is seeping in.

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  1. Loved this statement ...

    "And if Batali is gushing about gelatin cubes, isn't it just a matter of time before Rachael Ray pulls out a jar of Xantana and calls it "yum-o"?"

    Actually when Texturas go on the Home Shopping Network ... and then inevitably show up at the garage sale ... the parade will have passed by.

    Gee, it is bad enough that some chefs ineptly mangle molecular gastronomy, the thought of going to dinner at someone's house and having foam jello salad ... it makes me techno-emotional.

    9 Replies
    1. re: rworange

      Foams and gels are like the tiniest fraction of what goes on Ferran's kitchens. They happen to be most accessible and widely copied techniques from the molecular gastronomy book, but I would not take them to be representative.

      1. re: Minger

        Yes, and that was part of her point. She says:

        "What lies at its heart is not a particular dish—not even the emblematic foam. Rather, it's a spirit—a vigorous, often intellectual search for new flavors... And that isn't going away."


        "...Spanish techno-emotional cooking, if that's what we're calling it now, is going to keep changing, producing new and ever-wackier techniques and ingredients. Some of them, like Dacosta's platinum-coated oyster, will perhaps, mercifully, not withstand the test of time. But others, like that now-ubiquitous foam, will seep into the culinary vernacular, forever augmenting the range of possibilities chefs have at their disposal."

        So the article opened my mind to it a little. At the very least I realized that cheftestants on reality tv may not be representing it very well.

        But foam on food is still unappetizing, no?

        1. re: Budget Palate

          Have you tried foam?

          I had a strong knee-jerk reaction to it a few years ago when I first read about it. But it actually works often giving light accent flavoring.

          That being said, I think some of what is attempted to be copied in restaurants is just not succesful. It is too self-conscious. But in skilled hands, some of these techniques are wonderfully flavorful.

          However, too many try to use them for shock value ... buzz. I am really quite bored with board comments about restaurants not being innovative enough. If it is delicious it is delicious. Food doesn't need to entertain, just taste good ... whether it is the perfect simple salad at Chez Panisse or the lastes techno-emotional emotional dish from wherever.. I like that term ... easier to spell than MG.

          1. re: rworange

            I have to 'fess up to never trying foam. I think it evokes water pollution or something. Maybe it needs a new name - cloud? "This dish is lightly accented with a coconut cloud." Nice.

            But because I have already devoted some words to the subject, and in the interest of being a fearless chowhound, I will follow your example and give foam a try. I will report back my techno-emotions. This could get ugly. :-)

          2. re: Budget Palate

            I normally won't knock anything until i've tried it, but no matter how good it tastes, i don't think i could get into eating anything with "foam" me it looks like someone has spit on a plate.

            1. re: im_nomad

              Ya drink cappucino, don't ya? That's foam.

              1. re: rworange

                you have a point...but for some reason moussey airy things that are part of a sweet something look ok to me...but if it's sitting on the plate on its own, thats when it catches my eye in not so great a way (sorry for the unnappetizing likeness)

        2. re: rworange

          To rworange - Ha, yes, "techno-emotional" should officially enter the lexicon.

          1. re: Budget Palate

            Perhaps we can just call it emo (ugh) cooking...

        3. I think the answer to what stays and what goes will ultimately be guided by a simple principle - if it makes things that taste good, it will have some staying power; if it's just a clever presentation device, it likely won't last.

          Same can be said of the nouvelle cuisine wave of late 70's / early 80's (my timing may be a bit off). Much of the preposterous plating, etc. is now passe, but many basic concepts (quit relying so much on butter sauces in favor of those that reflect the underlying ingredients) have taken hold and stayed.

          Some of what you currently see is just gimmickry. But some techniques really enhance flavor and I think will have lasting impact. As for the most ubiquitous (and increasingly commonplace) example - foams (the raspberry vinegar of "molecular gastronomy"?) - I actually think they fall somewhere in between. Often they are pointless, but can occasionally be used to great effect. I had a dish at L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon that incorporated a foie gras foam which was a great way to lighten a sometimes overpoweringly rich ingredient while maintaining all of its flavor impact.

          1. By no means would I like all of the meals I consume to be composed of molecular gastronomic techniques but you have to admit, these people are talented and the presentation and dishes this science can produce are in the very least a form of art. You don't have to eat it but I think it deserves some respect.