What’s in a name?
There’s a lot of debate out there about the term “molecular gastronomy.” Originally, it was coined to describe a series of workshops bringing together chefs and food scientists, but it morphed over time into a name for a cooking style. Several of the key practitioners of this style reacted to this perceived misapplication by promoting other terms – Heston Blumenthal with “new cookery” or Pau Arenós with “technoemotional cuisine” – or by arguing that there’s no coherent cooking style to apply the term to at all!
Personally, I like to call it “avant-garde cuisine,” though that term will become less useful as the techniques associated with the style become more and more familiar to professionals and home cooks. Today’s avant-garde is tomorrow’s de rigueur. Still, regardless of personal preferences or misapplications, “molecular gastronomy” seems to have won the day in the minds of the public, so I tend to use both terms more or less interchangeably.
So what is it, exactly? Is there a coherent style there? Blumenthal identifies four key features of his cooking; Arenós offers 10 points for “technoemotional cuisine.” But I prefer a broader approach. I like to think of it as any cooking that knowledgeably and deliberately exploits the physical and chemical properties of food to produce the desired culinary effect. This can be as simple as adding a pinch of baking soda when caramelizing onions or using a rotary evaporator to distil a shot of “Thai essence” without the heat of chillies or salt of fish sauce.
Of course, any definition of a cooking movement is going to have its gaps and blind spots, and there will never be a definition that everyone can agree on. Ultimately, it’s the dialogue itself that’s interesting and productive. So what do you think best describes this modern cooking style? And what do you call it?