Molecular gastronomy?

Discussion in 'General Discussion | Dining' started by Randy Petersen, Mar 23, 2011.  |  Print Topic

  1. Randy Petersen
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    Randy Petersen Founder

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    Afraid I may have missed something, I'm wondering if any fellow milepoint members can explain to me what if anything I may be missing by not yet experienced or feeling a need to seek out "molecular gastronomy"? As background, I'm pretty happy with french fries.

    (bonus question. Is liquid nitrogen dangerous?)
     
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  2. jbcarioca
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    jbcarioca Gold Member

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    The following reflects my strongly held personal views. YMMV.

    Liquid nitrogen is dangerous only to the people who let it freeze their skin, which is an occupational risk for these people.

    The basic principles as I suspect you know, are to extract the purest essences of whatever it is the chef/chemist is preparing. Thus, there are many odd things frozen, many things extracted in centrifuges etc.

    Ferran Adrià. and El Bulli http://www.elbulli.com/ are the intellectual giants of the subject. IIRC gleff has been there and has views.
    Now there are many practioners.

    The major characteristics are lots of foams, tiny portions, things frozen that you normally see cooked, things liquified taht you normally see solid, and massive experimentation. Above all it is expensive because all that processing and chemistry is very labor and ingredient intensive.

    IMO, this is really not food as we know it. It is an experience in high technology. My favorite Chefs are dismissive of it (I will not name them because they might want to retract their views if this keeps growing) but very, very stylish people love it. You will not see conventional preparations of anything.

    So, molecular cuisine is not cuisine but chemistry applied to edible substances. It is the antithesis of natural food.

    I have been to four Michelin Starred chemistry labs. I have returned to none of them. I am also 65 years old and do not have a degree in chemistry, so they probably do not like my business anyway.

    Next time we're in Nice at the same time I will take you to Les Bacchanales in Vence. Molecular cuisine it is not!!
     
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  3. viguera
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    viguera Gold Member

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    I think it's a passing fad... the whole "eat this, it looks like a turd but tastes like berries!" is something I'll probably never understand.

    I think foam and crazy looking contraptions have their place on a plate, but they shouldn't be the primary objective when you go out to enjoy a meal.
     
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  4. East_Yorker
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    East_Yorker Gold Member

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    Yes, inventive use of ingredients is a good thing, but sometimes chefs step over the line.
     
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  5. wiredboy
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    You saw Marcel from Top Chef on TV, didn't you?! He seemed all too comfortable with the liquid nitrogen, but I guess he works around it a lot.
     
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  6. Lalala
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    Lalala Silver Member

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    I had the opportunity to spend an afternoon at Nathan Myrhold's Intellectual Ventures lab last year and learn about all molecular gastronomy. It was interesting and some of it was tasty, but not for me. I have also eaten at a resto specializing in Mol. Gast. and while impressive, it was not tasty at all.

    Anything that requires ingredients I can not pronounce, let alone procure myself and cooking techniques that require thousands of dollars in equipment is definitely not for me. I am a bench scientist by training, I am comfortable around lab equipment, but really thing that all you need a sturdy pot, a good knife and decent ingredients to make good food.
     
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  7. milchap
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    milchap Gold Member

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    I am a fan of basic haute cuisine. The rest is just hype. ;)
     
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  8. jbcarioca
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    One of the top chefs I know has quite a few scars on his hands and arms. he says being skills doe snot mean not making mistakes. I suspect liquid nitrogen is like that.
     
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  9. MSPeconomist
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    MSPeconomist Gold Member

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    I'm more of a fan of nouvel French, northern Italian, new Scandinavian, and of course fine American cuisine made from fresh local ingredients. I've experimented with a few molecular gastronomy restaurants, although I've never invested the time and money to experience the really top few. I've decided that I'm not a fan of eating it, although I'm fascinated by the use of chemistry behind it. Not every plate is improved by foam. (Ask gleff about his super meal in northern Spain.)

    OTOH, I believe that genuine junk food has a place in a balanced diet, so I like french fries, ideally the Belgian variety but without the mayonnaise.
     
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  10. Randy Petersen
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    Randy Petersen Founder

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    French fries as "junk food"? As a world traveler, French fries at McDonald's around the globe are merely a travelers first move toward being able to find and use a clean bathroom. To date—McDonald's french fries in 42 different countries and over 50 clean bathrooms (some used more than once)!
     
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  11. MSPeconomist
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    Perhaps a little TMI, but sometimes museums have clean bathrooms, although not necessarily in China. There, while spending several weeks in a smaller city a few years ago, I eagerly sought out all American chain restaurants because they had relatively clean restrooms with Western toilets rather than holes in the floor.

    I also have fond memories of a KFC across from my hotel in Tokyo when the exchange rate (gasp, compared to today) was 90 = US$1, which then was shockingly bad. A takeout dinner of chicken and french fries for only about $12 seemed like a bargain then.
     
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  12. violist
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    violist Gold Member

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    If it tastes good, I'll go for it; even if it's a rose petal
    that tastes like roast pork belly. It's much more likely
    that a rose petal will taste like a rose petal, though.
     
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  13. samonyc
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    samonyc Silver Member

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    I had the 20-course (or whatever—it seemed endless) meal at WD50 in New York a couple of years ago. Fascinating and occasionally delicious, it was an intellectually stimulating experience but not quite a meal. My companions and I felt like we hadn't truly had dinner. Maybe we should have asked for a side of fries.
     
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  14. Scottrick
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    Scottrick Gold Member

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    I so want to visit that place, though more for the science than the food. I'm happy with traditional food prep techniques (not that interesting things aren't fun now and again).

    And no, liquid nitrogen isn't dangerous. Unless you do something stupid with it, as we grad students often will. Pour it on the ground and it will freeze all the dirt and sweep it away into the corners. Or mix it with cream to make ice cream. Dry ice is also fun and can make an impromptu bomb if you seal it in a tube. Soap and dry ice is also fun, but I haven't tried soap and liquid nitrogen.
     
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  15. Merlin
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    Merlin Gold Member

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    Don't ever try to drink the liquid nitrogen, it is killing the germs but ...

    I suggest you visit The Fat Duck website http://www.thefatduck.co.uk/. The proprietor and head chef, Heston Blumenthal, is a real wizzard with food and indeed its chemistry. The Fat Duck has had three stars in the Michelin Guide since 2005, and the £160 4 hour lasting 12 course tasting menu is fantastic and worth every penny.

    And Randy Petersen, since you are interested in french fries - here is Heston Blumenthal's twist on it
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MCB9jIpNGzY
     
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  16. cfischer
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    As others have said, liquid nitrogen is not dangerous and can be a lot of fun. The only danger are things like wedding rings (no, not the general danger ;) ) or others things which readily conduct heat/cold ... it can freeze off your finger in no time if you put your hand into liquid N2. Otherwise you can pour it over your hand and nothing will happen.
     
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  17. gleff
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    gleff Co-founder

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    Randy, I've eaten at El Bulli and at The Fat Duck. I've sampled molecular gastronomy elsewhere as well, my first introduction was minibar, the Jose Andres place upstairs at Cafe Atlantico.

    And I can tell you that like any other cuisine or style, there's good molecular gastronomy and bad molecular gastronomy.

    At El Bulli, the food is amazing. What Ferran Adria has done is taken a scientific approach to understanding how people taste, how different flavors interact. He's worked to refashion and recombine tastes in a way that are both flavorful and challenging at the same time. Probably the most fascinating meal of my life. And quite a bargain at only a bit over 500 euros for the two of us on a Saturday night.

    At the Fat Duck, my takeaway was that it was like the old Teppanyaki chain Benihana, "A meal and a show." It was more about the magic tricks than it was about the food. It was definitely an entertaining meal, much of what heston blumenthal does is quite clever. But the meal itself wasn't transcendant.

    Now, compare these world class restaurants to minibar in my home town. They'll take peas, refashion them to appear like caviar. But in the end they taste just like... peas. Still, it's a nice change of pace. I wouldn't want to go there more than once every few years, it's a fun thing to take someone to who has never been and never seen it, because it's always surprsing, you never know what they're going to do next, you see things that wouldn't ever have occurred to you. It's just fun. Is it the best food in DC? Absolutely not. But sometimes the restaurant scene gets a little boring and you magic tricks are pretty appealing!

    In the end I wouldn't call this my favorite approach to food. Although I don't know that antyhing has ever topped Ferran Adria, that I've experienced. But then the man works every night, and it's really about the science of food and taste first and that leads him to experiment in interesting ways. It doesn't seem like it's about the experiment itself first and foremost. And that to me is the difference, and why I loved it so much.

    But assuming I can't get a booking at El Bulli too easily (hah!) I'd just assume go back to Waku Ghin at the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore or Tetsuya's other restaurant in Sydney. And neither one is doing molecular gastronomy. :)

    Gosh I hope I didn't come off way too pretentious with this post. I like food... probably too much, though you're at least as likely (probably more likely) to be seeking out a great meal in a strip mall as in a Michelin 3*. I was back at my favorite Thai place in Merrifield, Virginia last weekend, next to the grocery store and the Starbucks...
     
  18. Punki
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    Punki Silver Member

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    Potatoes are the best thing in the world, along with onions. If they weren't so common they would be considered great delicacies.

    My favorites are very crisp hash browns and very crisp french fries. I also love Ruffles and onion rings. No wonder it is so hard for me to be slim. :(
     
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  19. thegrailer
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    thegrailer Silver Member

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    Nothing to liquid nitrogen. Back in the day when I was at the bench, I'd stick my hand in it almost daily to grab sample tubes - just don't let it sit on your skin [unless you intend to burn something off].
     
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  20. doc
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    Randy, you're so 'full of it'! Rest room? Clean? Right! ;)
    The French fries are just plain GOOD! :D
    As you well know, enjoying fine food & wine is a longstanding hobby of mine...
    enjoyed a great meal @ Chef Jean-George's Spice Market NY downtown last night...
    ate & drank so much I took the cookies home 4 dessert..& walked back 2 midtown :)
    Yet coaching AAU bball for many years now, I can tell you that Motel 6 is the official lodging
    & Mc'Ds is the official AAU bball official eatery.. my cholesterol rises each & every Spring, like clockwork ..
    Yes it's the McD's fries ..
    Thank goodness it falls each fall as well :)
    Anyways, yes... FF's are wonderful.. even the French love their frites! :)
     
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  21. doc
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    IMHO..
    in a word 'Marketing' :) LOL :D
    And yes, liquid nitrogen is dangerous ... i.e. to handle ..
    more when I see you next, if interested..
     
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  22. kwai
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    kwai Gold Member

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    A plastic soda bottle and some water works wonders. Though a few of my fellow chemistry students did catch hassles for it.
     
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  23. kwai
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    kwai Gold Member

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    Exactly. The same with ether fires on your skin. i wouldn't recommend it, but put out quickly and it's painless.
     
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  24. thegrailer
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    Now that I never tried but it does sound like "fun" :D

     
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  25. MLW20
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    As a fellow fries fan I recommend you visit the Frietmuseum in Brugges, Belgium! LOL
     
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