Harold McGee, who has helped cooks and chefs understand food and cooking at the molecular level for decades now (his book On Food and Cooking is in my opinion, hands down the most important book about food and cooking ever written), wants people to be more precise when they use the term “molecular gastronomy,” or at least to acknowledge the origins of the term. In a post early this month, he explains why: These terms, he says, are “hardening into bad pop cultural history that tags very different chefs and their ideas with the impressive but empty terms ‘molecular gastronomy’ and "molecular cuisine.’" He offeres a quote from The New Yorker story on Grant Achatz, chef of Alinea, by way of example.
The term was first used by Oxford physicist, Nicholas Kurti, in 1992 to
describe a workshop in Erice, Sicily; the woman who initiated the
workshop was Elizabeth Cadry Thomas, a cooking instructor in northern California (both, sadly, deceased). McGee has written the facts here for anyone interested.
By, email, he elaborated: “The term doesn’t have much intrinsic meaning, and should be used in connection with the workshop, not to identify a supposed style or method of cooking in restaurants. It’s my experience that the average restaurant-goer is put off by the term, not attracted by it.”
That’s it. He’s identified why I’ve never liked the term. It doesn’t mean anything when applied to restaurant cooking (this is discussed in a post a year ago in a post on Achatz and Alinea).
McGee, by the way, was named by Time magazine as one of the year’s 100 most influential people, with an accompanying description by Alton Brown.
The above photographs are of Achatz’s egg yolk and asparagus dish, taken by Lara Kastner. She’s done all the photography for the Alinea cookbook, to be published this fall. Alinea’s very cool video introducing the book is worth watching. The book also includes access to a comprehensive website called Mosaic, with discussion boards and videos of Alinea techniques. Watch this video of Alinea’s bacon and pineapple dish—and ask yourself, is this an example of molecular gastronomy? No, it’s an example of the modern cooking that’s going on in a handful or restaurants throughout the country; calling it "molecular" anything clouds the issues. [Damn, just checked the link and you need a password to see the video–i’ll see if there’s any way to make it temporarily available.]