Q.

What is “molecular gastronomy”?

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A.

Molecular gastronomy”, as it is currently used, is a very broad & vague term describing the cooking style of chefs who are trying to challenge the way their customers think about food. They are usually highly trained in classical methods, but are seeking to improvise and innovate beyond them.

Generally it can be said that those who are described as “molecular gastronomists” are using:

applied food science
unusual techniques and equipment often originally designed for science labs
often either modern art style food presentations
or presentations that imitate other foods or objects
hydrocolloids, enzymes, and other unusual ingredients

to introduce, discover and create new textures, appearances and flavors in food. Others have called it (more accurately) modernist cuisine, modern cuisine, contemporary cuisine, and a host of other terms.

The most prominent torch-bearer chefs for this movement are probably Ferran Adria (with his brother Albert Adria), formerly of El Bulli in Spain, and Heston Blumenthal of The Fat Duck in England. However many others continue to advance this style, take it in new directions, and bring their own discoveries to the culinary community and diners.

A less-than-complete list of other movers and shakers in this culinary genre includes:

Chef Rene Redzepi
Chef Grant Achatz
Chef Homaru Cantu
Chefs Dominique & Cindy Duby
Chef Will Goldfarb
Aki Kamozawa & H. Alexander Talbot
Dr. Nathan Myhrvold & Chef Chris Young
The Voltaggio Brothers

A large number of other chefs, both celebrity and less well known, are integrating modernist cuisine techniques into their menus on a much smaller scale. For example, lecithin foams/airs, once “fringe” elements, are now found on many fine dining menus.

Where the term “Molecular Gastronomy” came from:

I’ve seen two origin stories for the term:

1) Harold McGee has said that he and other presenters at a food science conference came up with the term to promote the conference to the public and media – purely because it was intriguing…not because they felt it really described what they were examining. It unfortunately stuck.

2) The phrase “molecular gastronomy” was actually coined by noted chemist and author Hervé This (along with Nicholas Kurti) and was used as the title of one of his books.

This book, and his work in general, do focus on food science, figuring out why cooking techniques and ingredients operate the way they do, and what’s actually happening to food on a molecular level. However, he appears to regard the term as better applied to the science of food rather than this new style of cooking.

Post Written by Matthew Johnson

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