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Modernist Cuisine gone too far?

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Hello culinarians,

I was reading the David Kinch article on eater and he said some pretty interesting things. Beside from the Asian influence on western haute cuisine he seems to suggest things like foraging and sous vide are going out of style or at least being overused. I believe that as a professional culinarian the only way to improve is to study and understand your predecessors. From Escoffier to Point to Keller to Ferran to Redzepi we must know our past to create or future. I think Kinch is doing wonderful things at Manresa with Love Apple Farms, but is he being the pot and calling the kettle avant-garde? I think sous vide, modernist technique, local food, etc. are more than fads but tools to for perpetual change in our industry. What do you think about Chef Kinch's stance?

A jazz musician can improvise based on his knowledge of music. He understands how things go together. For a chef, once you have that basis, that’s when cuisine is truly exciting.

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I read that article. I don't think he is saying that modernist techniques have gone too far. It looks to me that he is opposed to mindless copying of modernist techniques - which seems to be a fair point. He is drawing a line between chefs who copy the work of others without anything original to say, and chefs who create something new.

There is no love more sincere than the love of food - George Bernard Shaw

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It's kind of amazing how you could post this same article in 1985 and you wouldn't have to tweak much. "French is over, Japan is on the rise, things should taste of themselves, everyone is copying, there's no soul left in cooking, buy great products and treat them simply, umami is the next big thing."

I don't think it's a bad interview of position statement but a lot of the stuff on there is rather obvious. I do agree with his statement that overuse of sous vide can leave everything tasting like pap.

PS: I am a guy.

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I agree with Keith & Shalmanese, and to a certain extent I agree with the sentiments of David Kinch.

There has always been a distinction between a cook and a chef. But with modernist cuisine the high-profile pioneers have blurred the boundaries and that loss of distinction between the creativity of the chef and the techniques they use to cook with has become confused. I think that David Kinch needs to think about the difference between the conceptual approach of a chef, and separate that from their kitchen tools.

All of the well-known techniques that modernist cuisine use are basically adaptations from previously known industrial processes. Spherification, sous-vide, modern hydrocolloids, texture modification - these were not invented by modernist chefs, merely 'discovered' amongst industrial manufacturing. How these tools and techniques continue to be used in the future is up to the chefs who use them, but it is wrong to value them according to the way they're being used by chefs right now.

If you listen to Heston Blumenthal talk about his creations, you can quickly get an idea of his philosophical approach to food as a chef. He talks a lot about emotion, memories, and involving multiple senses of the body. He also has a particular interest in reviving centuries-old recipes. These are the themes and concepts that define Blumenthal as a chef, and not as a cook. The fact that he uses techniques like sous-vide, texture modification etc etc doesn't mean they're required or are the same thing as emotive cooking. They're just the tools he has adopted to realise his creative vision. If Blumenthal was starting up 50 years ago he could still have designed a Fat Duck restaurant around his approach to food/emotion/perception- he just wouldn't have used gellan, N-zorbit, iPods, etc etc. The idea of serving one food that looks like another is not new, and even when it is done with modernist techniques (like Blumenthal's 'meat fruit') there is an underlying concept and philosophy there that isn't tied to a particular cooking technique. But I don't think anyone will expect to see a long-term trend in restaurants of serving food that looks like something else - without Blumenthal's underlying philosophy as a chef it simply becomes a demonstration of cooking technique that people will quickly tire of.

In the same way we can expect chefs in the future to explore new concepts and different avenues and some of them will continue to use the techniques that are considered 'modernist' today. Cooks all around the world continue to spit-roast, confit, pan-fry, bard, batter and baste food in the same way its been done for centuries. These techniques haven't died out even as menus have evolved from haute cuisine to novelle cuisine and to modernist cuisine.

I've heard that nautical people are very strict about the difference between a 'boat' and a 'ship'. I'm sure that people who work with food are equally strict about the distinction between a cook and a chef. But it's that distinction which has been lost with reviews and analysis of modernist cuisine- and it's where I think David Kinch needs to think more carefully.


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I agree with Chris that the techniques and ingredients associated with modernist cuisine are tools that can be used well or not. What ultimately matters is how the food is conceptualized. When there is no conceptual work going on, just the use of a technique, the results will be pedestrian. But modernist cuisine and more generally molecular gastronomy are not merely tools. They represent an analytical style of cooking that focuses not just on the ingredients but on the chemical substrate of the ingredients and the interactions at that level. Thus it greatly expands the “palette” of the chef and the modifications of form that are possible. The analogy with modernist painting (i.e. abstraction) is apt.

The question is whether the eating public will continue to enjoy it. Just as modernist painting exhausted itself when it lost its connection to meaningful objects, modernist cuisine will go through periods of exhaustion as well when it struggles for direction. But the influence will be permanent because of the control it gives the chef. Analytical cooking is here to stay. Even when cooking traditional dishes, the hint of abstraction (a foam here, a colloidal suspension there) will give dishes a dimension they have lacked in the past.

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If you look at what people did with so-called fusion food, you can see the horror of what he is talking about.

As for sous vide, many top chefs still use it but have just taken it into their repertoire as a technique rather than as a gimmick. If David Kinch can't use it in this way, it is probably best that he moves on. But for crying out loud, please don't criticise those who can use it in an innovative sense combining the products with other textures and tastes. He is obviously trying to differentiate himself from the masses but wholesale generalisations on techniques that he seemingly can't use as well or as originally as some of the world's top chefs move him to a place where I wouldn't want to be.

Nick Reynolds, aka "nickrey"

"The Internet is full of false information." Plato
My eG Foodblog

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I think I have to agree with most of you, modernist technique is just a technique employed and does in my opinion not really define a chef. Ok...we have a new technique, and many well known chefs use it, but in the end it just shifts the focus of the chefs attention. He will still have to create a meaningful composition of flavors (which I think gets harder the more possibilities you have to choose from), but with using modernist technology he faces an additional facts: .) at the moment you will have acceptance problems if, e.g. a salmon still looks raw because it was cooked sous-vide at a low temperature, even if the method itself is not that removed from poaching .) you can not rely on many things that you would use when doing something with a classical technique, e.g. cooking sous-vide you might have to think more about sauces, since pansauces are pretty much out of the picture.

In the end I would say that you can use a technique 'too-much'. Just because a technique is newer does not mean that it has to be used less often (like 'earning' its place in the kitchen). You might say that sauté is overused... It is still the dish that is created in the end which counts, modernist technique or not.

One thing though: I don't really like techniques (modernist or classical) applied that do not change the food or dining experience in some meaningful way, but that a personal taste of mine.

When sous-vide etc. maybe go mainstream at some point we will have the same as now... we will have good food, mediocre food and stuff in between, regardless which technique was applied.

One thing that comes to mind would be that at the moment many chefs in my area seem to try to modernize their food, by doing 'fancy' stuff and trying to plate their food in a 'modern' way. The point where most of the fail is that they don't really want to try too much since they are (I think rightfully) scared of scaring away customers that 'like it the old way' and don't really fancy change. What you get in the end is a plate where you don't really know what you are getting... for some higher class restaurant it just seems too - I dear say - normal, for a restaurant that serves comfort food it just seems too pretentious and extravagant.

I don't want to say that they should not try to get a modern touch, I just think that they have not yet found the right spot, the right 'amount' of modern.

This is what I believe will also happen with those modernist techniques.

(But I do hope that I don't get a spherisfied side dish on my comfort food, just because we can...)


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Two examples of why I love Modernist techniques,

I can cook say a lamb loin perfectly, shock it in ice, trasport it to another kitchen, reheat and then sear it to perfection when I need to plate that dish.

I have a desert that I like to use the flavor of peanuts in. I don't want people chasing peanuts around the plate and would rather not have the texture of peanut butter in the dish. Solution = maltodextrin. Every bite gets a little bit of peanut flavor.

Honestly for me, all these new techniques are all about execution. They come from people thinking outside of the box and making stuff I would never make, but I reap the benefits!

Sleep, bike, cook, feed, repeat...

Chef Facebook HQ Menlo Park, CA

My eGullet Foodblog

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