Molecular Gastronomy and Me
September 28, 2010 § 17 Comments
A recent comment has prompted me to state my position on something.
I love Molecular Gastronomy.*
I know, I know, The Establishment insists that it’s Men’s Cooking. Only men have the Big Brainz necessary to understand all that haaaaard chemistry, only men cook flashy cutting-edge food. Us women-folk should content ourselves with making nourishing comfort food, because that’s what natural to us. It’s just what women do.
Fuck that noise.
I think it’s fascinating. It’s food as fine art rather than craft, food as abstract art, even. And Accepted Wisdom to the contrary, women can do that, too. And some of us even want to.
I keep hearing bullshit like, “Oh, I don’t like molecular gastronomy. I’m trying to get the chemicals out of my food!” Holy shit, the ignorance. Leaving aside the fact that food, like everything else, is made of chemicals, many of the chemicals the people who say this object to are extracts of other foods. Things like agar agar and sodium alginate are taken from seaweed, lecithin from soy beans, maltodextrin from tapioca. They aren’t any more “unnatural” than the papaya enzymes or essential fatty acids that these people (and I) take as supplements.
Then there’s this idea that MG is somehow not “nourishing,” as if food prepared with Xtra Science somehow has no calories or nutrients. I mean, we certainly have the technology to make food-like substances without calories and nutrients, but it’s not generally a focus of MG. This misapprehension seems to stem from the way MG food is usually served: in a tasting menu. Tasting menus involve a large number of very small courses, and are designed to circumvent palate fatigue, the tendency of the human tongue and brain to stop tasting food as acutely after a few bites. Food served in a tasting menu may leave some diners hungry between courses, but a 10 or 15 course menu is going to deliver roughly as many calories as a plate full of steak and potatoes, ultimately. The tasting menu isn’t for everyone, though. Fortunately, there’s nothing about MG that requires it to be served in a tasting menu format. It’s customary, and for some good reasons, but there’s no reason it can’t be served in larger portions.
Or I hear that MG is opposed to locavorism and sustainability, which is, again, bullshit. This time we’ll leave aside just how privileged you have to be, both geographically and economically, to eat a strict locavore diet, and in how many places that diet would cause severe malnutrition (including diseases like scurvy and pellagra), to point out that many MG restaurants and chefs source many of their ingredients locally and seasonally, as much as is possible in their various locales. They are two distinct, and reasonably compatible, philosophies of food. Sure, they’ll be bringing in some of the more unusual ingredients from outside that magic 100- or 50-mile radius, but most of them will be bringing in their olive oil and salt from outside that radius, too, just like nearly every other restaurant.
I’m very lucky, very privileged, to live in a place where I can get a balanced diet most of the year from food grown in my state. I make an effort to use seasonal, sustainably-farmed, locally-produced (for values of “local” that include “this state and its next-door neighbors”) meats, produce, and wines, but again, things like oils, salts, fresh fruit in winter, spices, and hot peppers can’t be sourced locally, and I don’t try. The restaurant would die if I tried. On the other hand, adding El Bulli’s fizzy crystals to my truffles is just fun.
So yeah, I love Molecular Gastronomy. You’re all welcome to your own opinions of it, love it or hate it, and you’re welcome to express those opinions. But ignorant and sexist comments about how it’s Menz Cooking will not be tolerated.
*OK, fine, we’re not supposed to call it molecular gastronomy. Achatz and Dufresne and Adria and all those chefs don’t like it. I don’t care. I think it’s an awesome name, and they won’t give us one they like better, so I’m using it.