Far before I had even a notion of pastry school, I was in the Intro to writing course at Texas Tech University. Our whole semester assignment was one research essay on the use of language in our field. At that time my field was Hotel and Restaurant Management. I asked my professor for some examples of research essays on the language of restaurant management. Her face basically told me I should give up and switch majors so I could more easily produce an essay for this class. She actually ended up saying that I could write about how menus use adjectives to describe food….Imagine a 1500 word essay describing the method that Olive Garden uses to describe breadsticks….No. That would not do. I wrote about the new trend of food becoming molecular and trying to describe this food on a menu. Perhaps I was a bit out of my league on this subject. I referenced Ferran Adria as a woman, because well I thought it was a woman’s name. I got a B on that essay and was sorely disappointed. It was a really well researched essay and Texas Tech has a frustrating grading technique where a random english professor in the department grades you paper with no prior knowledge of your writing. But I moved on.
A year later I was in pastry school in Oregon, loving everything. I still had a fascination with molecular gastronomy but was distracted by all the yummy things I was making. It also wasn’t really mentioned as a worthy topic at that time. Most of the chefs would roll their eyes at the thought of it. I now know why. I still think it’s a very cool thing, that you can isolate a sauce or juice in a sphere of algae and it won’t burst by temperature only by force of the eater will it pop and release a little pocket of juice. Guess what those exist already. They aren’t expensive either. I do like to eat them, mostly on my frozen yogurt while gossiping with my friend Anne Wright.
And remember when foam was the worst thing about modernist foodies. (That link is funny, you should really read it.) Foam is hardly the worst anymore.
I was thrilled to find the Alinea and the Modernist Cookbook at the Library in Corvallis. It is very interesting to look at, like art in a museum. It’s hard to see it as an actual cookbook though. Does your restaurant (less, your home) have a sous vide machine or an immersion circulator? I know people with vaporizers, but they are not using them for vaporizing wheat grass into lamb.
Today, I realized my opinion of the whole thing when I saw this:
It just made me think, “Really, is this better than a good piece of old-fashioned Blueberry Pie?” No. That would not do.
There are 4 other Berry Pies I would rather have than this molecular gastronomy bollocks.
The first, my Oma’s Blackberry Rhubarb pie with whipped cream. (Also she used Nitrous Oxide canisters for whipped cream far before restaurants, even before Starbucks.) The pie was always made more like a thin bar and was always so tart you would need a huge squirt of whipped cream to bring out the sweetness.
The second, Jamie Tidwell’s, and to be true it was actually the recipe of the bakery she used to work at. She brought it to a fundraising event but arrived late so we all had a piece, maybe two before going to bed and then had another piece, or two in the morning for breakfast. I loved it because all my berry pies are juicy and runny but this one was juicy and it held up. It stood proud.
The third, by my old roommate Lisa Hargest. Lisa’s pies just remind me of Lisa and that is enough reason to make it a favorite of mine because Lisa is one of the best humans I know. She milks her own cows every morning, then makes hard cheeses out of the milk, she can weave a willow basket in an hour, she can make hula hoops, and she is always up for sushi, oh and she makes a good old-fashioned berry pie.
And the last, is one of Camille’s Barbecue Pies. She makes the perfect pie because it is the exact opposite of the Molecular Gastronomy Pie. It is messy, imperfect, and beautiful, and there is no huff and puff. Well maybe in the clean up but it is just what I want in a piece of pie. I have been a part of making one of those pies, a Quince Meyer Lemon one. It was far from ‘perfect’ but in the making of it there is perfection because there is community and family and hard work. If you haven’t seen a glimpse of her life, check out her blog, it’s all true. She doesn’t sugar coat her life, it is really that beautiful.
So what is my official opinion of Molecular Gastronomy (and life): There is more to life than being breaking edge and new, and that sometimes it is better to just be messy and imperfect and beautiful.