Molecular gastronomy or chemical show for the rich

According to latest trends in the so-called progressive gastronomy, existing recipes should be deemed obsolete, traditional cookbooks should be shredded and conventional frying pans and casseroles should be recycled. We keep on cooking that proverbial Russian cabbage soup as the whole world is reportedly going crazy about molecular gastronomy in which a regular dinner looks more like some kind of performance or a weird laboratory experiment with diners playing the part of guinea pigs. Besides, diners have to cough up quite a sum for tasting newly invented dishes.

The following chemical processes and substances are used in molecular gastronomy: 

- liquid nitrogen 
- vacuum 
- high temperatures 
- oxygen and inert gases 
- agar-agar 
- a variety of chemical reactions (i.e. dehydration) 
- centrifugal separation 
crushing of ingredients to the smallest particles (virtually to molecules)

The French scientist Herve This started investigating food preparation scientifically some ten years ago. He succeeded in inventing molecular gastronomy, a cross between culinary and chemistry. Perhaps This knew that the general public had grown pretty weary from searching for novelties in the traditional culinary practice. He was probably aware of the people’s longing for a completely new and unheard-of kind of “bread and circuses.” The scientist may have felt the need to apply his talent to some new area.

Molecular gastronomy began to gain popularity since 2001. The term has been used to describe the cooking of the following chefs: Ferran Adria (restaurant El Bulli, Spain); Heston Blumenthal (The Fat Duck, Britain); Michel Bras (Michel Bras, France); Pierre Cagnaire (Pierre Cagnaire, France); Anatoly Komm (Anatoly Komm, Russia).

An international panel of experts hands out the title of the world’s top restaurant in molecular gastronomy every year. Last year Ferran Adria from El Bulli won the title hands down after treating the panel to his cheese pasta with carrot foam. Russia’s participant Anatoly Kroll did not get any prize in last year’s contest though his restaurant is always ready to render patrons speechless with some crab and dill mousse and the like.

Dishes prepared according to molecular gastronomy are said to have an inimitable flavor, which is derived from original ingredients cooked with the help of nonconformist tools and methods.

Chefs can cook the quintessence of a chicken broth or omelet to be served in a new form. For instances, you can order minestrone looking like soufflé or potato salad with the consistency of whipped cream.

Cooking some dish that look like one of a kind is a time-consuming process. It takes one day for bringing eggs to a required consistency in a vacuum stove. Some foods are treated with liquid nitrogen. The ingredients of food undergo dramatic changes that destroy some substances while bringing others into existence. Some substances remain intact.

Basically, food supposedly breaks down to molecules and then puts itself together again.

It is not completely clear what actually happens as the egg goes up foamy all over, and a hint of its flavor is the only thing that remains unchanged. Then the egg is braised in rosemary and served with dill mousse. You can feel the usual taste in an unusual way. Seems strange yet quite acceptable.

Mess on a plate

For reasons unknown, a standard dinner in a restaurant of molecular gastronomy comprises thirteen courses. Restaurateurs coined a term for the meal – a show of flavor. Would you like a white chocolate roll stuffed with caviar? Do you fancy a bit of frozen borsch to top off see-thru dumplings or you’d rather have seashells and porridge? A waiter looks highly discriminating as he brings you yet another dish for your utmost pleasure. He also lights ups a special incense stick on your table – a move is ostensibly designed to make you believe that you are having a piece of smoked meat or shish kebab.

An experience like this is not for the fainthearted. But there is nothing you can do about it: you cannot order a particular dish in any of those restaurants of molecular gastronomy; you can order either a full dinner or nothing at all. Therefore, those seeking to experience the dubious pleasures of molecular gastronomy are strongly recommended to keep an emetic on hand.

Costly and unpredictable

Molecular gastronomy is a new phenomenon, and therefore its effects on the human body are yet to be investigated by nutritionists. There is no information whatsoever on the subject. Techniques and methods pertaining to molecular cooking are kept under lock and key. One can only speculate over nutritional benefits of food served by the restaurants of molecular gastronomy. Perhaps just a handful of vitamins and nutrients can survive pretty rough treatment by the state-of-the-art equipment that is more suitable for a biochemical laboratory. There is no wide-scale advertising campaign going for molecular gastronomy. Nobody levels any criticism at it either. On the other hand, it is most unlikely that a respectable patron will ever admit paying about 6.5 thousand rubles (roughly $265) for tasting some crap in a Moscow restaurant of molecular gastronomy. Incidentally, the check does not include the price of fine wines served to accompany most exquisite food.

On the face of it, molecular gastronomy may provide food for thought and some new sensations for patrons who like to look at usual things from a fresh angle. However, the fad seems to cater primarily for those who have money to burn. At the same time, tastes differ. Some people reportedly get lots of pleasure from a “show of flavor” and refer to the foamy dishes as food of the gods. Wolfram Ziebeck, a German restaurant critic, made the following comment after getting a firsthand experience of molecular gastronomy: “Any nonsense can be justified. We call it progress.”


Translated by Guerman Grachev

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Author`s name Dmitry Sudakov