Molecular cuisine: The umpteenth quarrel between the Old School and the New School?

Iberian Chefs are cooking up a storm these days! And what is behind all this commotion? Molecular cuisine and the culinary experiences of apprentice sorcerers who are 'incurring the wrath' of those who swear by a more traditional, local cuisine... All the more, of course, as the champion of this avant-garde gastronomy is Adrià Ferran whose restaurant El Bulli was awarded the best table of the planet for the third time in a row! This warrants looking into the merits of this fun and high-tech cuisine that is upsetting the apple cart.

Culinary alchemy

Small vinaigrette balls, Carrots with tartaric acid,
Ginger andKumquatbiscuitscooked in liquid nitrogen....
We have to admit, there have been more glamorous sounding dishes in the history of menus. Nevertheless, molecular cuisine and its bottomless bag of alchemic variations that even a Harry Potter could not deny are even attracting the most respected tables. We don't have to look any further than here at home where super Chefs Pierre Gagnaire and Thierry Marx, forever more inquisitive about exploring the limits of the most unlikely chemical reactions, are hard at work pushing the game of sensations to the extreme and analysing the macrocosm of textures. Only, while most were busy working on their molecular creations, others had the courage to denouncethe harmful effects that laboratory gelling agents and emulsifiers could potentially cause to our organism. Extremely critical of additives in general and of Adrià Ferran in particular, Catalan Chef Santi Santamaria (Can Fabes - 3-stars) attacked strongly last May with some of his 'innocent' little deadly sentences, condemning the science fiction "theatrical cuisine". And what happens to taste in all that?

To consume with moderation?

The obligation to specify the additive presence in food products that regularly land on our plates is a known fact of life, not so for restaurant menus, of course. Result: There are countless carraghenates and other methylcellulose, followed by an onslaught of more or less laxative effects that are bound to be less popular for rather obvious reasons. That's what the molecular controversy is all about, but that's just the tip of the iceberg. There are other thorny issues like taste and the debate about the loss of consistency and crunchiness. Even if gelling agents are allowed legally, what do we know about the quantities ingested and their toxicity? Going beyond the gap between the Old School and the ModernSchool, there is obviously a bit of educating needed here to reassure after some legitimate food scares. Explain, accompany to reassure, then leave it to a taste for the out-of-step textures that foam and explode to do the rest of the job...!

Septembre 2008