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If this is an example of things to come......

then, when that happens, I'll never set foot in another restaurant.
I watched ICA last night with Cantu and Morimoto. I couldn't believe what was going on. Alton got it right when he referred to it as sci-fi. I've seen them use liquid nitrogen before but syringes, pipettes, edible paper. etc.?????????? C'mon now; that sort of thing makes no sense to me. It's silliness and the results didn't look all that appealing to me regardless of what the judges said.
Ok, so I'm a dinosaur. The 'old fashioned' method of cooking has endured for 1000's of years and produced the most wonderful foods so, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

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  1. "If this is an example of things to come......"

    It may well be an example of things to come to smaller towns but major markets have been exposed to molecular gastronomy for years - for better or worse. It can range from silliness to drawing the best qualities out of ingredients and re-working our expectations. On this week's episode of Bizarre Foods they visited my hometown, Chicago, and the Kitchen at Alinea, for several years now ranked as one of the top 5 restaurants worldwide (and some of the other top-ranked restaurants are also known for such techniques). If you can catch it you can get a little of the thought processes behind the "silliness."

    Harvard also ran a series of lectures on how science is playing a greater role in food cuisine today (and has been for the 1000's of years of cooking, but few people really understood how it worked):

    http://itunes.apple.com/itunes-u/scie...

    4 Replies
    1. re: ferret

      AHA! So that's what molecular gastronomy is. It was very unappealing to me. Hopefully it's just another fad for the trendy types and more rational chefs will prevail.

      1. re: mucho gordo

        To be fair, Cantu is at the extreme in the showiness aspects and Iron Chef is an entertainment show. If you can track down episodes of Heston Blumenthal's Feasts or In Search of Perfection he tends to get a little more esoteric on the subject. Feasts is a series in which he explores food from different historic eras and then breaks down or recreates the cuisine for a modern audience. His other series distills (figuratively and sometimes literally) the essence of foods and why we enjoy them analyzing smells and textures and cooking techniques.

        1. re: ferret

          Completely agree Heston is a wonderful chef, the burger episode of in search of perfection blew my mind

          1. re: jiminy

            He has a brilliant mind. I would not expect everyone to love molecular gastronomy but many appreciate it nonetheless. I personally like it but I try to have an open mind when it comes to techniques, ingredients and so on.

            Blumenthal's "The Fat Duck Cookbook" is incredible - a fabulous read in addition to his amazing recipes. You really get a sense of what makes him tick and how his brain works. Compelling. I enjoy "Alinea" as well but Achatz does not give as much reading info in his book as Blumenthal does in his.

    2. i do wanna highlight that this was a pretty old episode of ICA. also, cantu used almost entirely techniques that he has used on his show on planet green (the show is actually not bad if youve never seen it! Futurefood). so alot of it was probably a nod to fans of chef Cantu. also, he normally just likes to highlight the scienciness of his food, hence the pipettes for serving and stuff. its all just for show and for play.

      i think its pretty cool to be able to open peoples minds to new ideas and new presentations of food personally. it always has been about nothing but taste to me... some of the tastiest stuff can just look nasty! but as long as its delicious i dont care. if someone can do that well and expand peoples imaginations with food, more power to them. i wish more people were brave enough to present and/or try food that they thought theyd be uninterested in.

      of course, you have to take that with a grain of salt from me because i am a huge science nerd, and am also a big big fan of a chef that has a sense of humor with their food.

      EDIT:
      i have to admit though, when he broke out a class four laser just to caramelize some sugar on a fried wonton, it was overkill.

      37 Replies
      1. re: mattstolz

        We agree on several points: Yes, it was an old episode. I, too, am a science nut but, I draw the line at this sort of technique; no way! When it comes to food, the traditional tried and true methods should be adhered to. Taste is all important (presentation means nothing) to me also. After all, how unappetizing can a normal plate of meat and whatever look? It wasn't only his technique, it was the preparation and choice of ingredients that did not look appealing or sapid to me.

        1. re: mucho gordo

          All homes lacked refrigeration at the early part of the last Century and most homes lacked ovens, as well. Food preparations -and ingredients - of today would be pretty shocking to someone living in the 19th Century. Our understanding of ingredients and cooking has changed drastically in the last 150 years and, as will continue to change as technology advances. For most chefs, Cantu included, taste is all-important but how they convey the tastes varies according to each's vision. As an example, on the Bizarre Foods I referenced, Grant Achatz of Alinea was distilling a puree of Thai chiles to extract the flavor without the heat. His methodology is pure science but his goal is to emphasize flavor that might otherwise be overpowered in the original product. So by subtracting compounds or flavor profiles he's creating new flavors. That's just a single example but there are lots of chefs out there taking advantage of technology to advance our collective knowledge of foods and cooking methods.

          1. re: ferret

            Nicely said, ferret and I agree to a point. In your example; he's not creating a new flavor by taking the heat out of the natural flavor. The basic, natural taste of a chili pepper is going to be the same with or without heat.

            1. re: mucho gordo

              It's not true that the taste is the same with or without heat. The heat masks a lot of the flavor so he's exposing a lot of what's hidden (like painting over a painting). It's definitely one of those "don't knock it until you've tried it" experiences.

              1. re: ferret

                I can't imagine a serrano tasting like anything other than a serrano, It happens to be my favorite; They are flavorful and the heat is just right. Their crunchy texture, even when cooked, makes my buds tingle.

                1. re: mucho gordo

                  You're again missing the point. It's not all that different from winemaking where the concentrated flavors of teh grape and fermentation extract more complex flavors than are otherwise apparent in the grape itself. It's not about a serrano not tasting good on its own, it's about finding the universe of flavors that exist aside from the heat.

                  1. re: ferret

                    the 'universe of flavors' concept is a tad esoteric for me, ferret.

          2. re: mucho gordo

            "the traditional tried and true methods should be adhered to"

            how do ya think people came up with those methods though??

            do you have problems when they use the ice cream machine instead of hand churning it?
            how about when they use the blast chiller instead of a freezer?
            the anti-griddle?
            what about sous-vide?
            Vaccuum sealing?
            the food processor instead of a knife?
            a kitchenaid instead of kneading by hand?
            spice grinder instead of mortor and pestle?

            ...sorry, i got on a roll there. but really, its kitchen stadium. they use induction stoves, IR grills, pressure cookers... state of the art is the norm there

            1. re: mattstolz

              Don't get me wrong, matt. I'm all for the modern conveniences and glad that I don't have to rub 2 sticks together in order to cook. However, I don't think I'm ready for the morsels prepared with chem. lab implements. "Keep it simple"; just give me a plate full of well prepared victuals.

              1. re: mucho gordo

                haha i actually prefer simple, grandma-taught-me-how-to-make this meals much more as well.

                but only about equal to how much i like playing devils advocate

                1. re: mattstolz

                  I believe in giving the devil his due.
                  In short, matt, I want food prepared by a chef, not an engineer.

                  1. re: mucho gordo

                    So Wylie Dufresne isn't a chef?

                    I think you may want to actually try molecular gastronomy before you poop on it. You might love it.

                    1. re: invinotheresverde

                      I'll pass; Thanks. Even the name leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

                    2. re: mucho gordo

                      i honestly think every chef has to have a little bit of engineer in them. even the most basic things like caramelization, marinading, salt and acid balance, and baking require a understanding about how elements interact with heat and other ingredients to make something that is either horrid, or absolutely delicious.

                      1. re: mattstolz

                        Good point, matt but, how do they acquire this knowledge? Is chemistry or a similar science required to graduate the CIA?

                        1. re: mucho gordo

                          no idea. but is the CIA the only path to becoming a chef?

                          the above mentioned chef attended the french culinary institute... does the fact that he uses sodium alginate make him less of a chef?

                          haha sorry like i said, its just too fun playing devils advocate

                          1. re: mattstolz

                            It doesn't make him any less of a chef; just not my kind of chef.

                            1. re: mucho gordo

                              well, thankfully - nobody is forcing you to visit and/or like molecular cuisine. i've had a fabulous meal at wd-50, and thoroughly enjoyed the playfulness with which the dishes were executed. surprising textures, combinations, and beautiful flavors - a great experience.

                              1. re: mucho gordo

                                well there ya go. however, even being the traditionalist that we are, i think that food like that served at wd~50 is something that every foodie needs to experience at some point in their lives... especially before declaring it subpar or making a decision that it is not right.

                                ive been surprised by too many foods that i didnt think i would enjoy, and have learned not to knock it till i try it. and am really looking forward to a trip to NYC or Chicago to try a place like dufrense's or cantu's

                                1. re: mattstolz

                                  Even as a traditionalist and as adventuresome as I am (to a point), there are some things that just do not appeal to me. It's weird; escargot and 'mountain oysters' are great. Frogs legs and rabbit...no way! I shudder at the thought of nouveaux/nouvelle cuisine so, molecular stuff isn't even a remote possibility. Go figure. There's no accounting for taste.

                                  1. re: mucho gordo

                                    It's just bizarre to me to piss on an entire method (not a random ingredient) of cooking you've never tried. Very anti-Chowhound.

                                    1. re: invinotheresverde

                                      Are you saying CH's are not very discerning? You mean I could put a plate of dog poo on your table, give it a fancy name like "Pate Grey Poop-on" and your eyes would light up? Now, THAT"S bizarre.

                                      1. re: mucho gordo

                                        yah, and that is exactly what is served at those kind of restaurants.

                                        here's an idea - why not actually TRY something before you bash it? it might give you slightly more credibility.

                                          1. re: linguafood

                                            Surely there must be something that just doesn't appeal to you and have no desire to taste. Will you eat anything just to say you tried it?

                                            1. re: mucho gordo

                                              Nah. There are very few things that don't appeal to me when it comes to food, and I would most certainly actually EAT / try before I make that decision.

                                              It's like saying "i don't like swimming" without ever having been in the water.

                                              1. re: linguafood

                                                I'm not calling you a liar, you understand, but I can't believe there is NOTHING you find unappetizing because of the way it looks or smells and form an opinion without the need to taste.

                                                1. re: mucho gordo

                                                  Again, though, you're saying you couldn't possibly like a whole style of cooking, not just an ingredient or two. Big difference.

                                      2. re: mucho gordo

                                        You're like the hominid that poo-pooed his neighbor who cooked their meat. "This meat is perfectly good the way it is. Why mess it up by burning it!"

                                            1. re: mucho gordo

                                              I could just as easily write the same thing to most of your post on this thread.

                                          1. re: mucho gordo

                                            Wow you'll eat bull's balls no problem, but rabbit is verboten? i guess what I see here is not everything is for everyone, as an aside yes all chefs are somewhat engineers, whether they know it or not. There is an incredible amount of science that goes into cooking but it is not generally seen as science.

                            2. re: mucho gordo

                              These chefs you're taking pot shots at also serve classic dishes with a high level of technique beyond all of the scientific elements... (see Grant Achatz' "Next") be open minded and study up before you pass judgement

                              1. re: mucho gordo

                                i used to dismiss molecular gastronomy by saying, "I don't want to play with my food. I want to eat it."

                                And then I ate at Alinea. Totally rocked my world and gave me a totally new perspective on what was possible to enhance the flavor, aroma and visual appeal of food.

                                That being said, Alinea's Achitz does a brilliant job of using MG so that it's not gratuitous or just manipulation for it's own sake. I've had MG that about nothing more than some chef saying "Look What I Can Do!" with chemistry and it was horrible

                                1. re: chicgail

                                  See, there's your problem - actually eating the food. Had you simply refused to try the stuff you could still sanctimoniously reject the entire premise.

                                  1. re: alanbarnes

                                    That would have been an option, AB. One that many people take. Nothing better than being "right."

                                    The downside, of course, would be that I wouldn't have ever had the thrilling experience of eating all that great food that I could never have even imagined.

                        2. That sort of thing is just what I call "food entertainment"--glittery, glitz. For some, I guess that is what they like *shrugs shoulders*. Personally, I would rather have a chef pay more attention to the quality of the beef, poultry, other meats--i.e. and the flavor of the food. I don't care much for this "Sci-fi" sort of thinking.

                          22 Replies
                          1. re: jarona

                            Optimally, it's all about flavor and quality. Just because one of the more playful practitioners used some theatrics on a game show doesn't mean it's all style over substance. As I noted above, El Bulli, The Fat Duck, El Celler de Can Roca and Alinea are widely regarded among the top restaurants worldwide (and there are several others just below the top). It's about emphasizing quality and flavor and expanding our overall food knowledge.

                            There are also plenty of great chefs who are also inspired by these techniques even if they don't directly employ them in their cuisine.

                            1. re: jarona

                              Quality / flavor of ingredients used, and their playful prep aren't mutually exclusive, ya know?

                              1. re: linguafood

                                "Playful"?? My mother taught me that you never play with your food.

                                1. re: mucho gordo

                                  Yes, you're right. Molecular cuisine is horrible, tastes like crap, and we should never change anything about the food we eat or how we eat it. Welcome to the 19th century.

                                  Snore.

                                  1. re: linguafood

                                    It's sad that your generation not only can't accept an opinion that differs from yours but you feel compelled to ridicule.

                                    1. re: mucho gordo

                                      It's one thing to say "it doesn't appeal to me" and end it there, but you insist on going on to say how it's a horrible trend that has no place in the food world. We get it, you neither understand nor wish to understand it. That doesn't make it silly or nonsensical or render the practitioners to be any less qualified to prepare food.

                                      1. re: mucho gordo

                                        "My generation?" You have no clue how old I am. You, OTOH, have mentioned your age before, and you come across on this thread as the stereotypical old curmudgeon who 'just can't understand what's going on with food/kids/godknowswhatelse these days.'

                                        Though mentioning your mother as your sole point of reference with regard to food makes you sound rather childish.

                                        It is you who apparently can't accept any opinions other than your own, as you keep going on about how silly molecular cuisine is.

                                        Listen - we get it! You don't like new, modern approaches to food. DON'T EAT that stuff, then.

                                  1. re: mucho gordo

                                    You're welcome. It's funny..this subject was a topic of conversation last night between me and my fiance. We had seen something on tv regarding a "foamy, dry-icey, volcanic, aurora borealisy" type dessert thingy. I dunno. It just did not look appetizing. It looked futuristic and lovely in a modern-artsy sorta way--but just not appetizing.

                                    To each his own, I suppose, but what I find more astounding than the un-appetising factor is the amount of rather hostile, angry and smug replies you are receiving in defense. of this experimental stuff.

                                    Hey. If someone doesn't care for this sci-fi way of presenting food-it is their rightful opinion. It has NOTHING TO DO WITH AGE PEOPLE!!! Nothing.

                                    I like my food traditional. Love my snails in a shell--contrary to the fact that more and more restaurants are taking them out of the shell, I'm a traditionalist and love them little snails in their rightful little shells. I like my tripe plopped on a plate with white sauce oozing off the honeycombed perfection.
                                    I love my pigs head to be perfectly roasted and placed in the middle of a plate with an apple for garnishment. I love my pigs ears fried to perfection. Yes. I'm a traditionalist.

                                    1. re: jarona

                                      Can you imagine? There are people who like both!!!! And they can make that assessment because they've actually tried it.

                                      It was the OP who brought age into this discussion, btw.

                                      1. re: linguafood

                                        ;) You got me on that. I never even gave the folks who liked both any thought.!!!

                                        I still like being a traditionalist though..........................

                                      2. re: jarona

                                        i dont think anyone even mentioned age until the OP did. however, i thought that the hostility of the replies was a little offputting too... even as someone who didnt agree with the OP.

                                        1. re: mattstolz

                                          I brought up the subject of age only to point out that, by and large, the older generation is comfortable with the old fashioned, traditional methods of cooking. It's what we grew up with, It;s just like music; you won't find many seniors into rap.

                                          1. re: mucho gordo

                                            I don't think they need to worry. Dennys won't be using spherification any time soon. :)

                                            1. re: mucho gordo

                                              If I'm not an example of the "older generation," at this point, I don't know who is and I love innovation with food and technique, especially when it serves to enhance flavor, aroma, texture, etc.. That being said I don't get it about either rap or hip-hop.

                                              1. re: chicgail

                                                Wouldn't it make more sense to compare these modern cooking techniques to Copeland, Stravinsky or Arvo Pärt?

                                                1. re: paulj

                                                  If modern cooking techniques ever become 'classic', it will be enjoyed by a few adherents. Unfortunately, it's the same with classical music . I don't believe there are as many adults that appreciate Copeland as those into modern stuff; especially younger people. Witness the paucity of new works in the genre.

                                                  1. re: mucho gordo

                                                    There is modern classical (Copland and Stavinsky are hardly new on the scene) music and then there is current popular music. By the same token, there are modern techniques of cooking that are already becoming part of a classical repertoire and there are "popular" versions of that (witness the witless foam trend). Even what Escoffier taught is no longer the standard. What is worth keeping moves into the mainstream. What was silly or trendy goes away. I assert that some MG, that which is based in thoughtful, tasteful planning will last. Other stuff will be quickly forgotten.

                                                    Here in Chicago there is a big difference between Grant Ackatz' brilliance and Horatio Moto's playing at the same game.

                                                    1. re: chicgail

                                                      I know Copeland and Stravinski are fairly modern but I put them in the same category as Chopin, Ravel, etal. I'd even add Yanni to the list and nobody's more modern than that.
                                                      I think you're right about what goes and what stays; we'll have to wait at least a generation to know.

                                              2. re: mucho gordo

                                                i dont think you have to worry about the classic techniques ever going away... these newer techniques may become more widespread, but the ones that will be utilized by more "mainstream" type chefs will probably not be the spheriphications, laser caramelizations, and edible paper ones, but the ones that really bring the essence, flavors, and smells of the ingredients to the forefront.

                                                1. re: mattstolz

                                                  Oh, I don't worry about the classic techniques; just the neo 'pretenders' and, like I said, we'll have to wait a generation to see what makes the cut.

                                        2. re: jarona

                                          the issue here is you are assuming that just because theyre using advanced scientific techniques that they are throwing aside the flavor in favor of the techniques, when this is just not the case. most practitioners of molecular gastronomy are doing it specifically to HIGHLIGHT the flavors of foods, and to further bring them to the forefront.

                                        3. I like my cookies made with the chemical reaction of baking soda and acid. Is that silliness? If not, where do we draw the line? Cured bacon with nitrates/nitrites?

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: chowser

                                            denaturing egg proteins with heat?

                                          2. A blog entry about 'modernist cuisine', pointing out how processed foods like pasta, bread, wine, and cheese are:
                                            http://modernistcuisine.com/2011/01/f...

                                            The author has just published a $600 6vol set on modern cooking. 'Cooking for Geeks' (O'Reilly) pointed me to this.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: paulj

                                              When I look at the whole "area" of MG and especially people like Cantu I think of junior high school drop-outs "discovering" modern food science/chemistry. All these techniques, methods, ingredients and equipment has been in use in commerical (i.e. industrial) applications for decades and here we have people presenting them as something totally new....and the naive public laps it up and pays for it through the nose....