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Molecular gastronomy


CathyL
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The current issue of this UK magazine has a longish article on the boys of MG: Blumenthal, Gagnaire, Adria, Tim Pak Poy (Claudes in Sydney) and Juan Mari Arzak (Arzak in Spain). Insiders, we're told, "say the confident French chef Philippe Conticini at Petrossian is the next one to watch."

No new ground is broken, but there is one unintentionally hilarious 'eeeuw' moment: "Inspiration can come from anywhere. Chef Tim Pak Poy...discovered that an orchard farmer used beetroot to kill off infection in an injury. Pak Poy went to work translating this in the kitchen, and the result was beetroot-cured sea trout."

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I thought it was a rather slapdash article and made the rather odd assertion that Shaun Hill was "believed" to be leading the way in low temperature cooking.

As far as I am aware (and I have e mailed Shaun to ask for his comment on this) this is complete bollocks. Shaun has attended the Molecular Gastronomy "summit" in Sicily once or twice, but thats about as far as it goes.

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CathyL--thanks for this lead.

There can be nothing more hilarious, however, than a magazine placing Heston alongside the likes of Adria and then saying "Insiders, we're told, 'say the confident French chef Philippe Conticini at Petrossian is the next one to watch.'"

"Next" being the operative word.

Duh, people in the know have been watching what Philippe has been doing by combining flavors and creating new ones long before Heston glommed onto the scene. They're aware that Philippe has already published one book of groundbreaking dessert sensibilities and is working one another, that he's received laudatory international restaurant, newspaper and magazine coverage by Gault-Millau, Thuries and the New York Times among others , and even the fact that last year Philippe was chosen as the President and head of France's World Cup pastry team. (A true insider would even know how prestigious it was for Philippe to be so honored--to be up on stage alongside 15 other supreme French master pastry chefs--all of them MOF's, with red, white and blue ringing the collars of their chef's jackets--all except for Philippe. The only non-MOF.)

And of all the perfunctory adjectives one might choose to stick in front of Philippe's name--confident would be way down the list. Try gentle, sincere, humble, sweet, generous, passionate, sensitive. Philippe loves Jonathan Livingston Seagull and Forrest Gump for gosh sakes! But I guess I may be too much of an insider, so what do I know.

What the writer and editor reveal (sorry Restaurant gang, nothing personal, you blew this one) is that they know (or care) absolutely nothing about the significance of Philippe Conticini on the larger European and world stage nor the Conticini brothers (yes, Philippe's brother Christian is a chef, too, and active in support of MG) nor their much more longstanding relationship with Herve This and Nicholas Kurti, who first put the developing Molecular Gastronomy movement on the map for Heston to read. So did McGee. Was Shaun Hill mentioned in this piece?

Perhaps these are the same insiders who helped the magazine compose their best restaurants in the world list.

If you have the time, Cathy or Andy, I'd appreciate it if you'd excerpt a few more passages from this presumably errant drivel so I can build more of the case against.

Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

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Andy--I think if you dig you'll discover that not only has Shaun "attended" the workshop but he was asked to lecture and "present" at the workshop several times. Quite an achievement and honor for Shaun. Big difference being an invited contributor--as Shaun was--and being an attendee.

Does the article mention how many times Heston has been invited to lecture on his own groundbreaking theories or techniques at the summit rather than attend and learn from others?

Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

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I think they have given that impression in the past with numerous spelling mistakes and factual errors, but have improved a great deal overall. Just now and again.....

Two spelling gaffes idly spotted in this article - 'mis en place' and 'unami.'

Steve, that was the only mention of Philippe (I clipped, but have yet to try, the brownie recipe from his NY Times series) and Shaun Hill isn't mentioned at all.

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Andy--I think if you dig you'll discover that not only has Shaun "attended" the workshop but he was asked to lecture and "present" at the workshop several times over a period of years.

The only reason I know that he went at all is because he told me himself. He said nothing about his active role in the meetings. I think that says quite a lot about the sort of man Shaun is.

I shall do some digging as you suggest. Thanks Steve.

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Shaun Hill is mentioned as I indicated above, or are we talking about another article now?

Oops, you're right...I need reading glasses. Or I would have also caught 'among the chef's leading the way.' For shame, Restaurant.

[Note how cleverly I deflect attention from my own booboo. :blush: Sorry, Andy!]

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This is just in case Shaun Hill is reading. What Andy said. And thanks again for the Q&A.

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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There can be nothing more hilarious, however, than a magazine placing Heston alongside the likes of Adria and then saying "Insiders, we're told, 'say the confident French chef Philippe Conticini at Petrossian is the next one to watch.'"

Hilarious is not the adjective I'd choose for the for the failure of specialized journalists to actually research their subject.

"Pushing back gastronmic boundaries" and "I want to throw my knickers at him" is how Jay Rayner describes Adria imitator, Blumenthal. His colleague, Matthew Fort, goes even further with by heralding fellow Guardian staff member, Blumenthal's cuisine as "the biggest gastronomic shake-up in fifty years". Blumenthal's is now the commis chefs' idol and food writers are constantly picking up on "his" influences on other chefs' menus.

Which just goes to show that you shouldn't believe everything you read, especially if it's about restaurants.

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I'm a bit reluctant to say much about Blumenthal on the basis of one meal, albeit a meal I enjoyed very much with the possible exception that I found the main course of sweetbreads just too sweet--but I could say that about savory dishes from Ferran Adria and Martin Berasategui as well. Nevertheless, I don't believe he was dependant on t he Spanish chefs for his ideas or talent, or that Conticini and Blumenthal need be directly compared on levels of talent and avant gardism to appreciate either.

It appears that along with whatever faults one finds in the magazine or this particular article, the lack of earlier focus on Conticini, may just be one more sign of a provincial focus on it's own market. I think we've seen that before, perhaps notably in the world's best restaurants article, which, by the way, seemed to imply that the food served was not the most important thing about a restaurant.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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Bux--I have no problem with a provincial puff piece serving a certain audience. This purports to give an overview of the international scene and to "uncover the flavours, formulas and personnel pushing the food and science envelope." Those quoted-- Heston, Barham and Gerard Coleman--are all English and that isn't problematic for me, either. The article would have been stronger--and less objectionable to me--if the writer focused solely on what these chefs and scientists do, how they work together and the role "molecular gastronomy" plays in the course of their professional work.

But, if you're going to enlarge the scope and name names internationally, you may as well get the players, the proper historical context and their significance right.

Here's the first question I'd ask--how can anyone write an article purportedly about "molecular gastronomy" and not mention the Annual International Workshop on Molecular & Physical Gastronomy--it's somewhat significant, first held in Sicily in 1992 and founded by Kurti and This. In 1969 Kurti was saddened that "one knows better the temperature in the center of stars than in the heart of the soufflés" and really started pushing for this. Let's not forget Herve This started writing monthly columns on molecular gastronomy around 1990, including a very famous piece in 1994 about the subject in the US magazine "Scientific American."

This is alot of material to overlook.

Here's a link to the '97 biennial workshop--among those in attendance, Pierre Herme, Christian Conticini, Herve This, Hal McGee, Shirley Corriher, Peter Barham and oh, by the way, chef Shaun Hill lectured:

http://www.ccsem.infn.it/ccsem97/kurti.html

Here's the next program from '99, Pierre Gagnaire, and there's Shaun Hill again, his lecture that year was to be "What the chef de cuisine means by taste"

http://www.ccsem.infn.it/ccsem99/Gastronomy99.html

May, 2001 was the 5th workshop, a report appeared in Gourmet magazine (USA) afterward and was mentioned here on eGullet. Heston was involved with Barham at this workshop.

I've just received a copy of the article, I'll try to read it tonight.

Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

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Here's a link recapping the 2001 meeting of Molecular Gastronomy (not to be repetitive, but I posted this link earlier this week in a diifferent thread...).

2001 Molecular Gastronomy Meeting.

Blumenthal also wrote a series of articles for the Guardian, I've compiled a list for anyone interested in reading them.

Heston Blumenthal

I'm not exactly an international diner, so I'm curious why Blumenthal is perceived as an "Adria imitator"?

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Bruce--track that Gourmet issue down. It's much more in depth and a much better written summary of the 2001 workshop.

With respect to "molecular gastronomy," I think I've argued that he seems more a media-savvy johnny-come-lately who has embraced an emerging term rather than a true innovator like Ferran. That McGee, Kurti and This and yes, Barham broke the real ground a decade, at least, before Heston even heard the term molecular gastronomy, before he started eating around the best kitchens of Europe and then at some point in the late 90's--'99 perhaps, Blumenthal made that fateful telephone call to Barham, asked a question about salt and vegetables and forged a media partnership of savvy and skilled UK chef and scientist. I'm happy he's bringing attention to this aspect of cooking because it has the potential to help us all--even home cooks.

I believe in one of our earlier threads on Heston, Cabrales linked to all those Guardian articles, but thank you for the link to your site. It's nice to have them all in one place.

But those partnerships between scientist and elite chef had begun to form by '92 in France and in the case of Ferran, well, he had laid some serious groundwork and innovation by himself and his team a decade earlier, a decade before the English media began trumpeting the genius of one of their own, as well. Perhaps because of this thread, Blumenthal's "idiosyncratic and passionate approach to cooking" can be justly "heralded as the biggest shake-up to British cookery in 50 years" and, at the same time, put in proper global perspective if readers should care to explore more deeply.

I just don't want history to be re-written in the course of celebrity myth-making.

I think the "Adria-imitator" is another issue--apart from the context of this article. Hundreds and hundreds of thoughtful, talented chefs on the international scene are Adria-influenced. Adria-influenced is no crime--in fact, it is homage, an honor--and the best chefs emulate each other all the time. But let's not forget Heston is now a Michelin two-star chef and from reports on this site, from palates I trust, clearly can cook very well, indeed.

If anyone is interested in trying to nail down techniques, concepts, ingredient combinations, we can try. Some of it has been discussed before on this site--some of the charges are red herrings in my opinion and miss the point--so start with a search to catch up. What's come out recently--the creative genius behind mustard ice cream, the tobacco, the bacon and eggs, pop rocks, et al--I'm confident we can find numerous examples of their usage pre-dating Heston's latest forays. I had mustard ice cream from a French-trained Japanese chef years ago. Bacon and eggs was a famous dessert at the French Laundry years, and two pastry chefs ago. Ferran had bacon and eggs in dessert before that. My friend Jose Andres used pop rocks in desserts at Cafe Atlantico in DC five years ago at least; years ago Michel Richard had a famous dessert 'Romeo & Juliet' with a tobacco-infused creme anglaise ice cream, prune and armagnac and several other French chefs, Conticini included, had their own tobacco usage which was widely emulated. The common theme of the resentment, if there is any among knowledgeable diners, is that too many of these ideas or concepts or outright dishes are begged, borrowed but not quite stolen by Heston, and allowed to proliferate as original ideas by an uncritical and unknowing local media. That's also a separate issue from this thread and article--and I've come down on both sides of the fence--defending Heston against some charges and calling attention to errors in fact or perception on others. I also see this as a way to understand better what creative chefs everywhere are doing--and a few of them happen to read and post on this site.

As far as one's knowledge of Ferran's techniques, well, that's another issue as well--but start by reading through the Spain threads or do a search. Many knowledgeable eGulleteers have commented on Ferran, reported on his techniques, menus and his dishes. You could also read his cookbooks for recipes and techniques, there are 3 that I know of and Balaguer's book is really an "Adria" book, so 4, and you don't have to have eaten at his restaurant to begin to form some idea of what it is he's trying to do.

And Ferran makes it easy for you as well--every article that's ever been written about him is scanned and available on his media website. Enjoy.

The Restaurant article gives him, and just about everyone else I've mentioned, short shrift however, hence this thread. Readers can be catholic or provincial and make up their own mind if so motivated. And then perhaps we can speculate whether a chef's public promotion of "molecular gastronomy,"of the processes involved, diverts too much attention away from what should be the more important aspects of food and dining? The Restaurant magazine article concludes with a quote from Coleman: "It's not about bringing attention to particular people."

For some, therein lies the rub. That's exactly what it seems to be about. That, and entertainment value.

Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

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Bux--I have no problem with a provincial puff piece serving a certain audience.  This purports to give an overview of the international scene and to "uncover the flavours, formulas and personnel pushing the food and science envelope.

I understand, just as I understood their international list of restaurants was also a UKcentric view--or more accurately one that seems to give more importance to home boys. From the magazine's perspective it seems that the talent looms larger, than that of more distant restaurants.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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Big difference being an invited contributor--as Shaun was--and being an attendee.

Does the article mention how many times Heston has been invited to lecture on his own groundbreaking theories or techniques at the summit rather than attend and learn from others?

In fact, at his Guild of Food Writers demo Shaun remarked in passing that he had told Heston about these seminars and suggested he fill the vacancy when he (Shaun) was unable to attend.

John Whiting, London

Whitings Writings

Top Google/MSN hit for Paris Bistros

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I thought it was a rather slapdash article and made the rather odd assertion that Shaun Hill was "believed" to be leading the way in low temperature cooking.

As far as I am aware (and I have e mailed Shaun to ask for his comment on this) this is complete bollocks. Shaun has attended the Molecular Gastronomy "summit" in Sicily once or twice, but thats about as far as it goes.

Just to clarify this statement, I am fairly secure in saying that Shaun does not offer any low temperature cooked items on his menu, and employs only traditional equipment in his kitchen (so no water baths, dry ice etc etc). If you read Shauns books, you will notice he has a very particluar style of cooking, but it's not one that easily aligns with the likes of Adria or Gagnaire. To illustrate, one of my most memorable meals at The Merchant House included a very traditional roast grouse, another a steamed and crispy fried duck with morel sauce.

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There is no reason why Heston Blumenthal shouldn't be involved with Molecular Gastronomy, neither is there any reason why he shouldn't exploit its marketing possibilities with outlandish creations such as 'Snail Porridge' and 'Sardines on Toast Ice Cream'.

There is, however, a good moral reason why he should give credit those who created the movement that allows him these headline-grabbing caprices. If one went by Blumenthal's press, one would be mistaken into thinking that he had created Molecular Gastronomy single-handedly, as he lacks the humility to ascribe any achievement to anyone other than himself.

Blumenthal may well be doing a service to gastronomy by raising consciousness about Molecular Gastronomy and this may, or may not, be a good thing but this possible benefit is really only a by-product of his own relentless self-publicizing.

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News that I'm a prominent player in the slow food movement came as a surprise to me. The magazine must be confusing the fringe elements of the cooking scene.

I did participate at the Erice workshop on molecular gastronomy a few years back though and gave a presentation on flavour. I had been invited a couple of years before that also - to talk on "fresh" as a culinary term - but instead sent Nicholas Kurti written thoughts on the subject.

Molecular gastronomy is a pompous sounding title for what should be a fascinating aspect of cooking and the original idea was to bring in the practical experience of three or four chefs and combine this with the scientific expertise of thirty or so top ranking physicists.

I found it all reasonably illuminating but don't want to create combinations solely because they are possible. It's difficult enough as it is

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I found it all reasonably illuminating but don't want to create combinations solely because they are possible.  It's difficult enough as it is

Interesting comment. Indeed, perhaps the most irksome aspect of Molecular Gastronomy, at least in Britain, is its gratuitousness. Given the fact that its application at restaurant level seems be the generation of novelty dishes rather than to solve any particular culinary problem, it would, perhaps, be more appropriately named, 'Fashion Food'.

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