McMolecular McGastronomy

Molecular Gastronomy is the pompous name for an often pompous kind of cooking. Chefs from all over are doing more chemistry set things in their kitchens — gels and liquid nitrogen and weird little deconstructed items on the plate — sometimes they work out well, and the result is something amazing.  

In Spain, Ferran Adria presented incredible food at his (now closed) El Bulli. In Chicago, Grant Achatz at Alinea does crazy, nutty stuff with his ingredients. When it works, it’s delicious and a lot of fun. When it doesn’t, it’s a pompous pain in the behind.

Which is why I appreciated this interesting insight by Jeb Boniakowski in The Awl, in a larger piece he posted about his dream of a mega McDonald’s in Times Square:

How much difference really is there between McDonald’s super-processed food and molecular gastronomy? I used to know this guy who was a great chef, like his restaurant was in the Relais & Châteaux association and everything, and he’d always talk about how there were intense flavors in McDonald’s food that he didn’t know how to make. I’ve often thought that a lot of what makes crazy restaurant food taste crazy is the solemn appreciation you lend to it. If you put a Cheeto on a big white plate in a formal restaurant and serve it with chopsticks and say something like “It is a cornmeal quenelle, extruded at a high speed, and so the extrusion heats the cornmeal ‘polenta’ and flash-cooks it, trapping air and giving it a crispy texture with a striking lightness. It is then dusted with an ‘umami powder’ glutamate and evaporated-dairy-solids blend.” People would go just nuts for that. I mean even a Coca-Cola is a pretty crazy taste.

He’s absolutely right.  

Imagine how a fancy molecular chef would describe a Pringles potato chip? Or Pop Rocks?

  1. Valiuth

    Food is not about deconstructing. It is about building up flavor in a dish and dishes into a meal. Imagine some one giving you a deconstructed house or car.

  2. EJHill

    Imagine how a fancy molecular chef would describe a Pringles potato chip?

    Even though you dissed Mark Russell at the NRI Summit, he still came up with the best description of Pringles: Salty little poker chips in an air-tight tennis ball can.

  3. Misthiocracy

    This is precisely why I love Molecular Gastronomy, because it legitimizes “processed” food.

    It really bugs me when snobbish self-described “foodies” disparage some food I like simply because it’s “processed”, with no knowledge of the actual incredients or the actual process used to make it.

    “Oh, how can you eat that?! It has chemicals in it!”

    I like to reply, “you mean chemicals like dihydrogen monoxide, or sodium hydrogen bicarbonate, or sodium chloride, or disaccharides, or polyhydroxy aldehydes, or amino acid polymer chains, etc, etc, etc?”

    Take Cheez Whiz for example. It’s basically just a form of cream cheese that uses cheddar as the basic ingredient.  ”Eewwww! It’s so processed!”

  4. Misthiocracy

    That being said, Kool-Aid is still superior to Flavor-Aid, because Kool-Aid never killed any cultists.

  5. KingsKnight1

    I’ll have my steak rare, my potatoes baked and my beer cold.

    Your welcome.

  6. Misthiocracy
    Valiuth: Imagine some one giving you a deconstructed house or car.

    You mean like a prefabricated modular house, or a DIY car kit?

    Those are actually very popular with quite a few people.

  7. Misthiocracy
    KingsKnight1:

    I’ll have my steak rare, my potatoes baked and my beer cold.

    What is beer if not “factory-processed cereals”?

  8. drlorentz

    Most foodies have little understanding of where food comes from. An interesting example is artificial calamari (i.e., hog rectum).

  9. Misthiocracy
    drlorentz: Most foodies have little understanding of where food comes from. An interesting example is artificial calamari (i.e., hog rectum). 

    I hardly even knew ‘um!

  10. Sumomitch
    Misthiocracy: That being said, Kool-Aid is still superior to Flavor-Aid, because Kool-Aid never killed any cultists. · 12 minutes ago

    Still drinking that Kool-Aid, I see. Even if the Wikipedia item you cite isn’t  Kool-Aid Korporate propaganda, who is to say that said cultists are not in fact in a “better place”?

    Next, you’re going to try to convince us that the drink in question was green, not purple. Get thee behind us, iconoclast.

  11. KC Mulville

    So, are you going to finish that?

  12. Nathaniel Wright

    ” he’d always talk about how there were intense flavors in McDonald’s food that he didn’t know how to make”

    Think about that for a second. A great chef complementing McDonald’s. The fact is the reason so many of us eat processed foods is that they taste amazing.

    Doritos is one of my favorite Savory treats. They aren’t healthy for me, but then again neither is a great deal on the Spago menu.

    McDonald’s food endures because it is tasty and consistent across the globe.

    In-n-Out is successful because the ingredients are fresh. Have one of their burgers without going all “animal style.” Trust me, it is a very good burger and pouring all that whipped fat on top of it isn’t really improving on the flavor of fresh and well cooked meat.

  13. Barkha Herman

    Rob, as a fellow squish, I have to disagree.

    Yes, cooking is cooking so there is a co-relation between McDonalds happy meal and my grandmothers home made curry.  But they are not the same.

    Clearly, not all Molecular Gastronomy is created equal.  But this:

    eggmcd.jpg

    does not equal this:

    egg-and-croissant-foam-recipe.jpg

  14. Sumomitch
    Nathaniel Wright: In-n-Out is successful because the ingredients are fresh. Have one of their burgers without going all “animal style.” Trust me, it is a very good burger and pouring all that whipped fat on top of it isn’t really improving on the flavor of fresh and well cooked meat. · 1 minute ago

    Speaking of California cults, an In-n-Out Burger type comes out of woodwork. To which, I can only echo the wisdom of the noted Jewish scholar, Walter Sobchak:

    “Those are good burgers, Dude.” “Shut the **** up, Donnie.”

  15. Misthiocracy
    Barkha Herman: Rob, as a fellow squish, I have to disagree.

    Yes, cooking is cooking so there is a co-relation between McDonalds happy meal and my grandmothers home made curry.  But they are not the same.

    Clearly, not all Molecular Gastronomy is created equal.  But this:

    does not equal this: · 4 minutes ago

    What, exactly, is “wrong” with an Egg McMuffin?

  16. Barkha Herman
    Misthiocracy

    What, exactly, is “wrong” with an Egg McMuffin? · 3 minutes ago

    Quoting directly from my prose, I see….

  17. TheRoyalFamily

    I haven’t tried this, but I think that fellow has it right.

    Barkha Herman:

    Clearly, not all Molecular Gastronomy is created equal.  But this:

    does not equal this: · 3 minutes ago

    I’d bet the top tastes better.

  18. Valiuth
    Misthiocracy

    Valiuth: Imagine some one giving you a deconstructed house or car.

    You mean like a prefabricated modular house, or a DIY car kit?

    Those are actually very popular with quite a few people. · 52 minutes ago

    Not at all in fact. You offer examples of kits not deconstructed food. A deconstructed musaka can not be made into a real musaka. Anymore than a cubist painting can be reassembled into a life like image. Thus to deconstruct food is to essentially alter a dish beyond recognition, simply hinting at its former self either through textures, color, flavors, or ingredients. 

    The prefab home and kit car are closer to Hamburger Helper or those Bertoli frozen pasta dishes you assemble yourself. 

    My complaint about deconstruction reaching the realm of food is that it will do to cooking what it did to painting and philosophy. Which is to make it stupid and self absorbed. Think about how crappy modern art and philosophy are. It is because everything is being deconstructed rather than honed and perfected. 

    Gah…I will stop ranting now…and get back to work. 

  19. Misthiocracy

    Y’all might be interested in the web site that McDonalds Canada set up to answer all the stupid, baseless, urban legend type questions that people have about their operations.

    “Is it true that 100% Pure Beef is a brand name?”

    “Why do you serve worm meat?”

    “Why do you put drugs in your french fries?”

    Etc…

    (It’s disturbing how often the same questions are asked over, and over, and over again, regardless of how many times McDonalds Canada answers them.)

  20. Scott Abel
    Barkha Herman: Rob, as a fellow squish, I have to disagree.

    Yes, cooking is cooking so there is a co-relation between McDonalds happy meal and my grandmothers home made curry.  But they are not the same.

    Clearly, not all Molecular Gastronomy is created equal.  But this:

    does not equal this: · 1 hour ago

    Actually, with the nearest one of the first in Amsterdam, from what I can determine, I would rather have it over the second, which I can make a rough version of, myself, and have. My attempts at the first aren’t near as tasty. But your kilo-meterage may vary.

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