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The Genome of Contemporary Western Cooking


docsconz
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While conducting a demonstration of elBulli techniques in front of a small audience at the Culinary Institute's Spain and the World Table Conference at Greystone in November 2006, Ferran Adria lamented that students coming out of culinary school know next to nothing about culinary history and that in fact as of then there had not been a good and reliable account of recent culinary history anywhere. He suggested that it would make a good graduate thesis or perhaps a number of them.

Adria's interest in culinary history is profound. In fact he may very well be the world's expert on the history of western culinary development since Escoffier. Now, however, he has help. Pau Arenós, a Catalan journalist and friend of Adria's has taken up the mantel and produced a chart showing the relative location and association of many of the most influential western chefs of the 20th and 21st centuries and their relationships to cuisine and the historical development of western cuisine over that time period. The chart is similar in format to that developed by Alfred H. Barr of the Museum of Modern Art in New York to outline the relationships and evolution of modern art. As might be expected, it is not exactly a neat and tidy list given the various paths cuisine has taken over that time. Nevertheless, Arenós has identified the major areas of western culinary approach and separated people accordingly. Of the chefs included, the classifications are by and large reasonable inviting little debate. What may invite greater debate are the chefs, influences and movements that have been omitted or perhaps afforded less weight than some might think. For Arenós, the project arose from a need to answer the question, "After nouvelle cuisine, which in France demolished and cleaned up the legacy of Auguste Escoffier and his mustachioed friends, did there exist a group of cooks born in Spain and led by Ferran Adria, with new and different approaches and with followers disseminated across various countries?" The answer, clearly, was yes, but where did this group came from? To answer the question, Arenós felt he needed to first look at history and then at the group involved. By analyzing the history of modern western cooking, Arenós determined that this group of cooks sprang from Nouvelle Cuisine and an associated group of "isms." He then asked the question as to what made these cooks different from what and who came before them.

Arenós has provided a definition of the major modern movement that he calls "technoemotional cuisine" with 10 points covering the various aspects of that movement. One thing that has been agreed upon by most is that heretofore an adequate and universally accepted name to describe this contemporary cuisine embodied by Ferran Adria and his peers and followers has not been coined. Perhaps the most well known moniker has been "Molecular Gastronomy" with others like "hypermodern" or "Vanguard Cuisine" also having been bandied about. Arenós' name for the movement comes directly from his 10 points. Combined, these tend to capture the essence of that style of cooking and provide a descriptive name that fits to t. The styles of chefs like Adria, Achatz, Dufresne and Aduriz, for example all fall under his description though not every chef will necessarily fit all 10 points to the same degree and some of these points may be shared by other schools of cuisine.

THE 10 FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLES OF TECHNOEMOTIONAL COOKING

according to Pau Arenós:

  • 1.Cooking is a language that allows cooks to express themselves. Cooks create for themselves, although they wish to share their creations with others and hope they will be appreciated.
    2.Cooks take risks; they know their suggestions may not be understood. The risks in technoemotional cooking are greater than in other culinary movements.
    3.Cooks do not create dish by dish. Their aim is to open up new paths using techniques and concepts.
    4.Their creations set out to stimulate all the senses. The sense of touch becomes important as the cook works with textures and temperatures.
    5.The culinary action surpasses what is physical and sensory, and focuses on emotional and intellectual aspects. Intellectual pleasure is sought through humor, provocation, reflection, etc.
    6.The creator relates with other disciplines to achieve the above, also with new technologies.
    7.Diners are not passive but active. The act of eating requires concentration and a specific disposition.
    8.All products have the same gastronomic value.
    9.The frontiers disappear between sweet and savory, between the main ingredients and the complementary ones. The ideal means of expression is a degustation menu.
    10.Cooking is a way of life. The restaurant is not just a business.

* These principles represent an ideal, an aspiration, a radical approach.

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Pau Arenós siting between and speaking with Toni Massanés (Director of Alicia) and Ferran Adria at Madrid Fusión 2008

To Arenós, technoemotional cuisine is a direct descendant of nouvelle cuisine and not a break from it the way Nouvelle cuisine was a break from the regimentation of Escoffier. Arenós' ten points add to the ten points that Gault and Millau made to define the Nouvelle Cuisine of Bocuse, the brothers Troisgros et al, which are essentially:

  • 1. A movement towards simplicity and a rejection of excess.
    2. An attempt to preserve the essential flavors of a product by shortening cooking times.
    3. The importance of the quality of the primary product emphasizing freshness.
    4. A predilection for shorter rather than larger menus.
    5. Abandonment of strong marinades for meat and game.
    6. A change from classic heavy roux-based sauces to lighter ones emphasizing acids, quality butter and herbs.
    7. An emphasis on regional traditions for inspiration.
    8. an interest in new techniques and equipment.
    9. Acknowledgment of and interest in dietary and nutritional concerns.
    10. A new emphasis on creativity.

These points of Gault and Millau are in no way rejected by the adherents of Technoemotional Cooking. They are, instead the base upon which Arenós' ten points and the cuisine are constructed. As with most everything throughout history, as original and revolutionary as it is, Technoemotional Cooking is really a just a continuum of what has come before. While new approaches such as Adria's are necessary for continuing an evolution, they tend to be most effective and indeed novel when based on an understanding and knowledge of what came before. It is this history that provides context for innovation.

This labor of Arenós is clearly still a work in progress as evidenced by a round-table discussion of it held at the 2008 Madrid Fusion conference this past January. As a result of his work, Arenós recently received a Diploma of Gastronomic Excellence from the International Academy of Gastronomy, which in turn recognized Arenós term of Technoemotional Cuisine as the best descriptor yet of the style of cooking it defines. Much of his graphic representation is subject to debate as are the specifics of the ten points of Technoemotional cuisine. This is why the eGullet Society Forums are the perfect place for further discussion. Please share your thoughts.

A pdf of Arenós chart will be available for download shortly. Please refer to that and add your thoughts here.

Edited by docsconz (log)

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

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With all due respect, this is just about most unutterably idiotic, useless, masturbatory, misanthropic, techno-cultish nonsense imaginable. Just when I was thinking that "molecular gastronomy," both in notion and in name, was surely the worst thing since sliced bread, along comes "technoemotional cooking." I wonder how many talented wordsmiths would have to labor, and for how long, to come up with a less appetizing term than that?

It's simply too late in the day for this sort of foolishness. Let's eat.

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With all due respect, this is just about most unutterably idiotic, useless, masturbatory, misanthropic, techno-cultish nonsense imaginable. Just when I was thinking that "molecular gastronomy," both in notion and in name, was surely the worst thing since sliced bread, along comes "technoemotional cooking." I wonder how many talented wordsmiths would have to labor, and for how long, to come up with a less appetizing term than that?

It's simply too late in the day for this sort of foolishness. Let's eat.

While I do not in any way agree with any of your statement, I can understand how some, especially if they feel the way you do about that style of cuisine, may view the exercise as "Idiotic. useless, masturbatory, techno-cultish and nonsense", however, I fail to see how this can in any way be considered "misanthropic." :raz:

The world is a large place with a wide variety of approaches to food and other things with many people who are tolerant and respectful of the variety present even if they do not personally prefer or enjoy each and every aspect of that variety. For some, it is also fun to enjoy thinking about food, history and the human condition. For some, not.

This topic is not designed to be a referendum on whether this or any school of cuisine is worthwhile, but given people's experience and knowledge of recent culinary history, whether the classifications are valid or complete.

Thank you, Chris, for adding the pdf. Studying this is essential for any meaningful discussion of the topic.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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The misanthropy enters the picture when the technological imperative looms so large that Arenos' statements #5 through #9 can even be quoted with a straight face. There's an inhumanity, a detached literal-mindedness to them that flies in the face of most gastronomical impulses that people possess. In other words, they are not culinary statements but intellectual statements--mind games rather than mouth games--and the apparent implication in Arenos' writings that the two are interchangeable is preposterous. Overall, this just ain't what the world needs at this moment in history.

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The misanthropy enters the picture when the technological imperative looms so large that Arenos' statements #5 through #9 can even be quoted with a straight face. There's an inhumanity, a detached literal-mindedness to them that flies in the face of most gastronomical impulses that people possess. In other words, they are not culinary statements but intellectual statements--mind games rather than mouth games--and the apparent implication in Arenos' writings that the two are interchangeable is preposterous. Overall, this just ain't what the world needs at this moment in history.

I'm not sure how you draw the conclusion you do from those points. While technology is important to the style of cooking (as it is to any cooking), I believe that you overstate its relevance and understate that of the emotional component, which makes it the opposite of misanthropic. I also fail to see anything that is preposterous. I do appreciate your opinion, though I completely disagree with it. BTW, if you or anyone else knows what the entire world needs at this moment of history, I would be curious as I sure don't presume to know. Please share it -in another topic.

This topic is not intended to discuss the merits of technoemotional or any other style of cooking. It is intended to discuss whether Arenós points are accurate for the school of cooking as well as how well his historical chart works. That is not to say or imply that the merits of technoemotional or other cooking styles are not subject to debate. They most certainly are and have been discussed in numerous other topics.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Who knew that the last 108 years of culinary history could be divided 20% Escoffier, 35% Nouvelle Cuisine, and 45% Brothers Adria...  Fascinating.

Looks more like 60% Escoffier, 30% Nouvelle and 10% Adria, by my reading of the chart...

ETA: That is to say, 1900-1965, 1965-1994, and 1994-2008 are the time periods given. Of course, the closer to "now" on the chart, the more chefs are listed, but I don't think that is meant to imply that Adria has been more influential over the last 108 years than Escoffier. Or maybe it is...

Edited by Chris Hennes (log)

Chris Hennes
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Who knew that the last 108 years of culinary history could be divided 20% Escoffier, 35% Nouvelle Cuisine, and 45% Brothers Adria...  Fascinating.

Looks more like 60% Escoffier, 30% Nouvelle and 10% Adria, by my reading of the chart...

ETA: That is to say, 1900-1965, 1965-1994, and 1994-2008 are the time periods given. Of course, the closer to "now" on the chart, the more chefs are listed, but I don't think that is meant to imply that Adria has been more influential over the last 108 years than Escoffier. Or maybe it is...

Chris, I think you are correct with your initial interpretation. One of the reasons that contemporary cooking is so disproportionately represented is that relatively little is documented about the earlier generations outside of the most obvious chefs. In addition, Escoffier's influence was so great that there was little variation from it until Point and especially his heirs leading to Nouvelle Cuisine. This is probably the murkiest part of the chart and the reason the project was undertaken in the first place. Another thing to consider is that the influence of Escoffier is so obvious now. Was it during his lifetime? Were there competing schools? To the victor belongs the spoils. That Escoffier "won out" has essentially erased any other possible competition from memory as they clearly were not all that influential if they even existed. How this chart will look 100 years from now will certainly be interesting. No doubt many of the contemporary names on it will likely not be there and there may very well be some cooking now whose names are currently absent who will be there.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Fascinating – I’m adding the 10 tenets of technoemotional cuisine to my collection of food manifestoes.

That chart is quite something. I appreciate the brains, talent and energy that must go into a document of this kind, but seriously, if an arrow or two fell off would anyone really care? It is worth thinking: what would this thing look like in a hundred years? It's an academic endeavor and in that sense alone has some utility. Just seeing the constellations of contemporaries was worth it for me. Personally, I think it looks like a technical (objective) presentation of emotional (subjective) information. Now if someone could turn the contents of this chart into a gripping 300 page novel . . . that would be really something!

As for THE 10 FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLES OF TECHNOEMOTIONAL COOKING according to Pau Arenós . . . I've a few issues. Sure, I'm prepared to acknowledge his authority and give him Moses status - I just don't agree with all ten of the commandments. For example, number eight: All products have the same gastronomic value. I'm just not prepared to call the orange cheddar crap from my own province and the greatest French Roqueforts equals.

Anyways, thanks for the topic docsconz. There's plenty of food for thought.

Peter Gamble aka "Peter the eater"

I just made a cornish game hen with chestnut stuffing. . .

Would you believe a pigeon stuffed with spam? . . .

Would you believe a rat filled with cough drops?

Moe Sizlack

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Fascinating – I’m adding the 10 tenets of technoemotional cuisine to my collection of food manifestoes.

That chart is quite something. I appreciate the brains, talent and energy that must go into a document of this kind, but seriously, if an arrow or two fell off would anyone really care? It is worth thinking: what would this thing look like in a hundred years? It's an academic endeavor and in that sense alone has some utility. Just seeing the constellations of contemporaries was worth it for me. Personally, I think it looks like a technical (objective) presentation of emotional (subjective) information. Now if someone could turn the contents of this chart into a gripping 300 page novel . . . that would be really something!

As for THE 10 FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLES OF TECHNOEMOTIONAL COOKING according to Pau Arenós . . . I've a few issues. Sure, I'm prepared to acknowledge his authority and give him Moses status - I just don't agree with all ten of the commandments. For example, number eight: All products have the same gastronomic value. I'm just not prepared to call the orange cheddar crap from my own province and the greatest French Roqueforts equals.

Anyways, thanks for the topic docsconz. There's plenty of food for thought.

Thanks for reading it Peter.

Referring to number 8. I do not believe that it literally means that all products if of good quality, have the capability to finish equally. What it means is that if one starts with good quality product and the chef has talent, creativity and ability, it is the end result that counts. Common, inexpensive products can have just as much culinary value as rare, expensive ones. In other words, it is not the financial value of the product that matters, but its inherent quality. It is that very issue that is the basis of the Ferran Adria quote in my sig line. I believe that this is actually one of the key tenets of this school of cuisine.

Edited by docsconz (log)

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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. . . . Common, inexpensive products can have just as much culinary value as rare, expensive ones. In other words, it is not the financial value of the product that matters, but its inherent quality. It is that very issue that is the basis of the Ferran Adria quote in my sig line. I believe that this is actually one of the key tenets of this school of cuisine.

Now that's something I can agree with. Personally, I'm on a mission to find under-appreciated good food that's available and affordable and sustainable. Most of the time it's right under my nose, and it's usually just fallen from the mainstream for some reason. How people come to perceive certain foods as valuable is amazing to me. I have any elderly neighbor who tells me his parents used whole lobster to fertilize the garden and kelp to insulate the walls. I should ask what his place smelt like.

It's easy (and tempting) to pick apart a treatise that describes a movement with some amount of authority, particularly if it's been translated. One could just roll their eyes and take the easy "uh . . . whatever" stance, but I'm glad somebody is taking the time to characterize what's going on in the kitchen laboratories of Europe and elsewhere.

Peter Gamble aka "Peter the eater"

I just made a cornish game hen with chestnut stuffing. . .

Would you believe a pigeon stuffed with spam? . . .

Would you believe a rat filled with cough drops?

Moe Sizlack

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. . . . Common, inexpensive products can have just as much culinary value as rare, expensive ones. In other words, it is not the financial value of the product that matters, but its inherent quality. It is that very issue that is the basis of the Ferran Adria quote in my sig line. I believe that this is actually one of the key tenets of this school of cuisine.

Now that's something I can agree with. Personally, I'm on a mission to find under-appreciated good food that's available and affordable and sustainable. Most of the time it's right under my nose, and it's usually just fallen from the mainstream for some reason. How people come to perceive certain foods as valuable is amazing to me. I have any elderly neighbor who tells me his parents used whole lobster to fertilize the garden and kelp to insulate the walls. I should ask what his place smelt like.

I think that there are a number of reasons that certain products are perceived as having great worth. First, it, in its best state, is probably darn good. What tends to set something apart though,is a relative or perceived scarcity or difficulty in obtaining it. Truffles are certainly wonderful. Good ones are relatively scarce, so they court a high price. Now, in addition to being a great product, it is expensive and has elevated status and therefore sexiness. Potatoes, on the other hand are common and inexpensive. So is a chicken egg. Yet both of those ingredients are absolutely wonderful even though they do not possess the charisma of a truffle.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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"All products have the same gastronomic value."

Does that include "Mac & Cheese" that I had at MoTo, it was a briliant twist on what so many people eat but twisted and as part of there GTM menu was very appropriate - your in a great restaurant and eating something that tastes like what you could McDonalds. TechnoEmotional - I hate it but it does describe what these restaurants are doing. Especially as is your eating 10+ items then a bad one (for you), the briliant on (for you) and the fun ones are all part of the package.

Dining is MORE than the food, it's the complete package. Because of unusual circumstaces MoTo so far has been my best dining experience. Best (commercial) food would be a tourist restaurant (sorry can't remember the name) in Cyprus but they were serving 60 covers with 2 hot plates and one oven so huge delays in service which detracted from the meal.

Time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana.

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An interesting idea. I think that one of the real values of this type of thing will become apparent after this generation of chefs, or maybe even 2 or three generations. Retrospectively it will have a lot of information on how these chefs perceive themselves and how that relates to developments in the future.

Not sure that it is representative of "Western Cooking". A portion of contemporary western dining sure, but did Esoffier at the Ritz influence "Western Cooking"? I'm not so sure he did, unless your definition of "Western Cooking" is so narrow that it avoids the usual meanings of both "Western" and "Cooking" Ditto the other chefs.

A bigger and more complicated project would could make a parallel chart incorporating other influences. For instance, I should think that Fanny Farmer and "The Joy of Cooking" et al., have in their way been just as influencial. It would be interesting to see the cross-talk between the "Chefome""and the "Cookome"a all the other "foodomes". While I find the chart interesting, one thing that is implicit is that the Chefome developed in isolation, I don't think that that can be true. Can Auguste Escoffier be mentioned without reference to his uncles restaurant, Le Petit Moulin or even Cesar Ritz for that matter? Obviously this is a much bigger project, but it seems like a logical development to me.

Edited by Adam Balic (log)
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An interesting idea. I think that one of the real values of this type of thing will become apparent after this generation of chefs, or maybe even 2 or three generations. Retrospectively it will have a lot of information on how these chefs perceive themselves and how that relates to developments in the future.

Not sure that it is representative of "Western Cooking". A portion of contemporary western dining sure, but did Esoffier at the Ritz influence "Western Cooking"? I'm not so sure he did, unless your definition of "Western Cooking" is so narrow that it avoids the usual meanings of both "Western" and "Cooking" Ditto the other chefs.

A bigger and more complicated project would could make a parallel chart incorporating other influences. For instance, I should think that Fanny Farmer and "The Joy of Cooking" et al., have in their way been just as influencial. It would be interesting to see the cross-talk between the "Chefome""and the "Cookome"a all the other "foodomes". While I find the chart interesting, one thing that is implicit is that the Chefome developed in isolation, I don't think that that can be true. Can Auguste Escoffier be mentioned without reference to his uncles restaurant, Le Petit Moulin or even Cesar Ritz for that matter? Obviously this is a much bigger project, but it seems like a logical development to me.

I believe that the chart really refers to fine dining in the west rather than cooking in all its cultural forms.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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I believe that the chart really refers to fine dining in the west rather than cooking in all its cultural forms.

Do you think the chart is intended to mean that the current school of modern cooking throughout the Western world is "technoemotional," or that there is a school of thought that is technoemotional, in this chart describes its genesis? (Does the distinction make sense? I mean to say, are they saying that basically all modern cuisine conforms to this chart, or simply that this chart describes one branch of cuisine?)

Chris Hennes
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chennes@egullet.org

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Do you think the chart is intended to mean that the current school of modern cooking throughout the Western world is "technoemotional," or that there is a school of thought that is technoemotional, in this chart describes its genesis? (Does the distinction make sense? I mean to say, are they saying that basically all modern cuisine conforms to this chart, or simply that this chart describes one branch of cuisine?)

The former would absurd and arrogant, so I'm hoping the latter was closer to the intent. To my mind it's really just a position paper, an expression of attitude and place within the big picture. Good for them.

Peter Gamble aka "Peter the eater"

I just made a cornish game hen with chestnut stuffing. . .

Would you believe a pigeon stuffed with spam? . . .

Would you believe a rat filled with cough drops?

Moe Sizlack

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Do you think the chart is intended to mean that the current school of modern cooking throughout the Western world is "technoemotional," or that there is a school of thought that is technoemotional, in this chart describes its genesis? (Does the distinction make sense? I mean to say, are they saying that basically all modern cuisine conforms to this chart, or simply that this chart describes one branch of cuisine?)

The former would absurd and arrogant, so I'm hoping the latter was closer to the intent. To my mind it's really just a position paper, an expression of attitude and place within the big picture. Good for them.

I would agree with your assessment.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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