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?