Molecular Gastronomy for the masses? (A Rant)

May 26, 2006 in Meta Talk, Molecular Gastronomy

Alinea (NOT MINE)

Swinging Bacon – Image Source: Alinea Restaurant food gallery

Today I cruised over to Slashfood and saw a post regarding the Gastronomie blog‘s day by day expose (a delicious and curious one) on her visit to Alinea in Chicago.I have never visited Alinea but from the accounts you read on Gastronomie and eGullet, it is clearly in the vein of high-tech molecular haute cuisine (Molecular Gastronomy).

The most prominent practitioner of Molecular Gastronomy would be Ferran Adria chef of El Bulli in Rosas, Spain.

As per the Discovery Channel article by Noelle Paredes, the following chefs are also noted MolGas practitioners (listed with one of their keynote dishes):

  • Juan Mari Arzak of Restaurant Arzak (San Sebastian, Spain): Pumpkin-and-squid ravioli.
  • Heston Blumenthal of the Fat Duck (Bray, Berkshire, UK): Carpaccio of cauliflower with chocolate jelly.
  • Grant Achatz of Alinea (Chicago, IL): Dried Crème Brulee.
  • Pino Maffeo of Restaurant L (Boston, MA): Avocado carpaccio with brulee grapefruit.
  • Homaro Cantu of Moto (Chicago, IL): Peanut butter and jelly sandwich dumpling.
  • Dominique and Cindy Duby of Wild Sweets (Richmond, B.C.): Apple red-cabbage gelee and chestnut praline (chocolate filling)”

If molecular gastronomy is a new concept to you try this google search and some of these links:

Here is a link at L’Epicerie for some of the chemicals one needs to work magic in today’s Molecular Gastronomy, such as agar-agar, calcium chloride, sodium alginate, carrageenan, and other likely molecular grade reagents (from the looks of it on the page).

Molecular grade Calcium Chloride (food grade) at L'Epicerie

Calcium Chloride – Image Source: L’Epicerie

Whew, that’s a lot of information and its just a cursory peek at Molecular Gastronomy.

But, after all this, I would like to get to my point.

If you surveyed all these restaurants you would find at least one commonality beyond their use of molecular gastronomy: they are fantastically expensive, some in the range of a half-grand per person.

Here is my point, as a person of regular non-Paris-Hilton means, that sort of price tag makes me nauseous.

I am the sort that can not see spending a lot on a luxury car, new off the lot. I can not fathom spending many 100s of dollars for one night’s stay at a luxury hotel or resort. When faced with these sorts of things, my eyes do not see the value, literally. I gape, I stare, I try to get in touch with my feelings wondering if I am missing something. I am left cold and bit insecure that I am missing some huge not-the-trees-but-the-whole-forest picture.

One can convince themselves, I suppose, that the consumption of a $500 meal is more value-inherent than a night’s stay at a very expensive hotel. You consume the food, you have an intensive interactive experience that will be something you remember the rest of your life.

Sure, but I would not be able to do that.

When you are like me and have to trade precious life for dollars (time away from family and commuting huge distances to work), each dollar spent represents that time lost. It is not value-less or trivial.

Those of us who live at the “bottom of the affluence scale” have no choice but to imbue money with this sort of meaning because it is the deal or trade we make to survive in this economy.

Thus said, to spend, to invest, $500 on 24 micro-dishes, however revolutionary and profound, is folly.

Here is my soap-box and my vision:

Molecular Gastronomy is in some part about play and experimentation. When that spirit is swept away by the nausea that comes with the bill, that is a DARN shame.

I say, let us find a way to make Molecular Gastronomy more populist, more accessible.

I would love to find a way to get training in Molecular Gastronomy (beyond my own PhD in Cell Biology) and teach it as a course in Elementary and High schools and even at the undergraduate level, OUTSIDE of the culinary school setting.

I think Molecular Gastronomy has important things to teach us all BUT the pompous and sickening prices found in the restaurant setting is such a high barrier that it’s message may be lost or never found.

squab at Alinea (NOT MINE)

Squab and acupuncture needle – Image Source: Alinea Restaurant food gallery

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