I think that those of us reading this thread are "slightly" biased towards the book and Nathan's passion in this area[.]
I'd go one step further and say that many of us are the ideal readers for this project, and as such it feels like a dream come true. It is certainly appropriate to imagine other readers who, for perfectly legitimate reasons, don't feel the same way.
I’ve been following the modernist cuisine threads on-and-off and do find it all pretty fascinating. And such a thrill to have the author on line and engaged in discussion with us. But at the risk of coming off as a little old lady shaking her cane in the air at newfangled methods, I’ll admit to having some reservations about the whole concept of manipulating food so extensively.
I realize that many of the ingredients and techniques we think of as part of traditional gourmet cooking are ingredients that have been already highly manipulated and processed to produce something revelatory. Like bread, wine and cheese, among other things. So I get the argument that modernist cuisine is just taking that same philosophy and applying it in new and unique ways. And yeah, it looks really cool, the techniques are astoundingly interesting and I know some of it is downright delicious, delighting the eye as well as the palate.
However, I work as a product developer for a major food company, and something about it all just rubs me the wrong way. Don’t get me wrong, I know mass-produced, cost-reduced factory-made food for the masses is in an entirely different league than genius chefs turning out brilliant creations for high end restaurants. But they’re using the same tools.
For instance, I have, at my disposal, hundreds of flavors from flavor scientists who are world-renown experts in their field; some of these would knock your socks off in intensity and quality. Although I’m tempted to sneak a few of the more outstanding examples home to add to my own cooking (Trust me, I’d be a rock star in the eyes of my family if served a Thanksgiving gravy that had a cleverly concocted blend of a great caramelized onion flavor, the most perfectly intense roasted top note, a savory enhancer perhaps.), I couldn’t do it. To me, that’s not cooking. And then I realize that these flavors are tools that, with the right equipment, the highly skilled modernist cook could possibly create in their own home (or restaurant). In fact, the picture of the modernist’s kitchen looks horrifyingly similar to our pilot plant here at work!
So it feels right to use these tools as long as I invest in the equipment, learn the science and techniques and produce them myself. But not right if I take what’s already out there in the food industry, add a splash or two, and use them to elevate my own cooking to a higher level? In other words, where is the line drawn? Maybe it shouldn’t be? And what’s next? The virtual meal that has the ability to far surpass the real life experience?
I don’t want foie gras that looks like a cherry. Or olive oil gummy worms. Yeah, they’re really interesting and I can appreciate the skill it took in their creation, but it all just seems too gimmicky for me. Not to mention that many of the ingredients referenced in the book are things we’ve been using for years here at work that consumers balk at on our labels. The world is being turned upside down!
These are just some nagging thoughts regarding the intersection of technology and art and not necessarily a criticism.
A good analogy might be hand painted art vs photo shopped pictures. Both use the creative process and both might be equally pleasing to the eye. And even traditional oil painting utilizes some chemistry in the manufacture of the oil-based pigments. But I tend to have a greater appreciation for the cruder, more soulful, old-fashioned methods and the product they create. Which is ironic given my food science background. Or maybe it’s my background that has me stubbornly insist on drawing that arbitrary line that separates the culinary arts from food technology.
Edited by angevin, 09 March 2011 - 12:05 PM.