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?

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  1. Profile photo of Valiuth Member

    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.

    • #1
    • January 29, 2013 at 10:17 am
  2. Profile photo of EJHill Member

    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.

    • #2
    • January 29, 2013 at 10:34 am
  3. Profile photo of Misthiocracy Member

    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!”

    • #3
    • January 29, 2013 at 10:35 am
  4. Profile photo of KingsKnight1 Inactive

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

    Your welcome.

    • #5
    • January 29, 2013 at 10:48 am
  5. Profile photo of Misthiocracy Member
    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.

    • #6
    • January 29, 2013 at 10:49 am
  6. Profile photo of Misthiocracy Member
    KingsKnight1:

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

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

    • #7
    • January 29, 2013 at 10:55 am
  7. Profile photo of drlorentz Member

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

    • #8
    • January 29, 2013 at 10:55 am
  8. Profile photo of Misthiocracy Member
    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!

    • #9
    • January 29, 2013 at 10:57 am
  9. Profile photo of Sumomitch Inactive
    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.

    • #10
    • January 29, 2013 at 11:13 am
  10. Profile photo of KC Mulville Member

    So, are you going to finish that?

    • #11
    • January 29, 2013 at 11:19 am
  11. Profile photo of Nathaniel Wright Inactive

    ” 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.

    • #12
    • January 29, 2013 at 11:31 am
  12. Profile photo of Barkha Herman Member

    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

    • #13
    • January 29, 2013 at 11:38 am
  13. Profile photo of Sumomitch Inactive
    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.”

    • #14
    • January 29, 2013 at 11:46 am
  14. Profile photo of Misthiocracy Member
    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?

    • #15
    • January 29, 2013 at 11:47 am
  15. Profile photo of Barkha Herman Member
    Misthiocracy

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

    Quoting directly from my prose, I see….

    • #16
    • January 29, 2013 at 11:51 am
  16. Profile photo of TheRoyalFamily Member

    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.

    • #17
    • January 29, 2013 at 11:53 am
  17. Profile photo of Valiuth Member
    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. 

    • #18
    • January 29, 2013 at 11:54 am
  18. Profile photo of Misthiocracy Member

    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.)

    • #19
    • January 29, 2013 at 11:57 am
  19. Profile photo of Scott Abel Member
    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.
    • #20
    • January 30, 2013 at 1:04 am
  20. Profile photo of Monty Adams Inactive

    I’ve eaten at Alinea and at Achatz other restaurant Next when they did their tribute to El Bulli.

    Those were truly indescribable experiences. Occasionally a course kind of misses, but when you get 25-30 courses, it’s easy to forgive one or two that don’t quite become art.

    Molecular gastronomy done well is truly amazing. I wouldn’t want it every meal, but it is a very fun way to have dinner once in awhile.

    • #21
    • January 30, 2013 at 1:12 am
  21. Profile photo of Misthiocracy Member
    Monty Adams:

    Molecular gastronomy done well is truly amazing. I wouldn’t want it every meal, but it is a very fun way to have dinner once in awhile. 

    Sorta like McDonalds!

    😉

    • #22
    • January 30, 2013 at 1:16 am
  22. Profile photo of Mrs. of England Member
    Nathaniel Wright:

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

    Whenever Mr of England and I travel abroad he always makes us try a McDonalds for one of the meals. The global consitancy means you can always get a BigMac, but what is interesting are the local dishes that are “McDonald-ised”. You can get a good idea of the food tradition of the country by what is different at a McDonalds.

    • #23
    • January 30, 2013 at 2:50 am
  23. Profile photo of Severely Ltd. Member
    Mrs. of England
    Nathaniel Wright:

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

    Whenever Mr of England and I travel abroad he always makes us try a McDonalds for one of the meals. The global consitancy means you can always get a BigMac, but what is interesting are the local dishes that are “McDonald-ised”. You can get a good idea of the food tradition of the country by what is different at a McDonalds. · 4 minutes ago

    Yes, this is true. In Hawaii they serve sticky rice and saimen. Oh yeah, and Portagee sausage with breakfast.

    What do they offer in France, I wonder. Brie on the cheeseburgers?

    • #24
    • January 30, 2013 at 2:59 am
  24. Profile photo of Misthiocracy Member
    Nathaniel Wright: 

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

    I would like to challenge that assertion just a wee little bit.

    My taste buds tell me that the beef in US McDonalds hamburgers is a fair bit greasier than the beef in Canadian McDonalds hamburgers.

    But that is only my personal experience, and your results may indeed vary.

    • #25
    • January 30, 2013 at 3:00 am
  25. Profile photo of Misthiocracy Member
    Severely Ltd.
    Mrs. of England
    Nathaniel Wright:

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

    Whenever Mr of England and I travel abroad he always makes us try a McDonalds for one of the meals. The global consitancy means you can always get a BigMac, but what is interesting are the local dishes that are “McDonald-ised”. You can get a good idea of the food tradition of the country by what is different at a McDonalds.

    Yes, this is true. In Hawaii they serve sticky rice and saimen. Oh yeah, and Portagee sausage with breakfast.

    What do they offer in France, I wonder. Brie on the cheeseburgers?

    mcdonalds-20.jpgIn France they have the CroqueMcDo: 2 melted slices of Emmental cheese and a slice of ham toasted between 2 flattened hamburger buns.

    Source: 40 International McDonalds Menu Items

    • #26
    • January 30, 2013 at 3:03 am
  26. Profile photo of flownover Inactive

    Let me stop for a second and praise a dear friend who has left us.

    Fred was the guy who pretty much started this conversation, and a million others. Here’s the most recent obit.

    He made the world a safer place in his own way, as every one who has seen a McDonald’s in a dicey foreign country is immediately reassured that “maybe it’s not so dicey after all”.

    Visionaries ,working in the shadow of other visionaries, are seldom recognized. There are some global brands to be sure, but the one he built certainly has grown into something above a Marlboro cigarette or a Coke.

    He was a modest, brilliant, hardworking, and truly fun person. He lived for his friends and his family and he did have ketchup in his veins.

    Say a prayer for Fred Turner. 

    “You want fries with that ?”

    • #27
    • January 30, 2013 at 3:41 am
  27. Profile photo of Misthiocracy Member
    flownover:

    He made the world a safer place in his own way, as every one who has seen a McDonald’s in a dicey foreign country is immediately reassured that “maybe it’s not so dicey after all”.

    Indeed. There are places on the planet which had never experienced the luxury of “clean restaurants with sanitary kitchens” until McDonalds moved in.

    • #28
    • January 30, 2013 at 3:54 am
  28. Profile photo of Rob Long Founder
    Rob Long Post author
    drlorentz: Most foodies have little understanding of where food comes from. An interesting example is artificial calamari (i.e., hog rectum). · 5 hours ago

    I wish I could un-know this.

    • #29
    • January 30, 2013 at 4:22 am
  29. Profile photo of Rob Long Founder
    Rob Long Post author
    Monty Adams: I’ve eaten at Alinea and at Achatz other restaurant Next when they did their tribute to El Bulli.

    Those were truly indescribable experiences. Occasionally a course kind of misses, but when you get 25-30 courses, it’s easy to forgive one or two that don’t quite become art.

    Molecular gastronomy done well is truly amazing. I wouldn’t want it every meal, but it is a very fun way to have dinner once in awhile. · 3 hours ago

    Edited 3 hours ago

    Oh man. I’m jealous.

    And I totally agree: when in the hands of a master, it’s amazing. But every night? I’d rather have a great burger.

    • #30
    • January 30, 2013 at 4:24 am
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