Posted by Dave Arnold
“Molecular Gastronomy” is a term promoted far and wide by a French guy named Hervé This. He is, to say the least, a controversial figure in the world where science meets cooking. The press has latched onto the term, and it is currently in wide usage. People mainly use the term because it is easy.
For a level-headed history of the term, and Hervé This’ brilliant marketing of it, see the timeline at the end of my June 2006 Food Arts Review of his book, Molecular Gastronomy. I think it will surprise most readers.
Here’s my disclaimer: a lot of my colleagues use and like the term Molecular Gastronomy – I don’t mean any disrespect to these people, especially my fellow bloggers. I do, however, have a request regarding usage of the term: Stop. Please, stop. If you are referring to Hervé This and his ilk – fine, use it. If you are referring to anyone who makes a living in the food industry, erase it from your vocabulary. I hope the following reasoning will persuade you:
- It sounds repulsive. Why would you describe anything you are going to eat as molecular gastronomy? Either word alone is bad – together, horror. Mr. This may think MG sounds good in French, but his ear for English may be biased – I’ve actually heard him say that he thinks the word “food” sounds bad. Don’t use gross terms to describe food. It’s bad salesmanship.
- It is either inaccurate or tautological. Either chefs are always “manipulating molecules,” or they hardly ever are. Chefs are usually just cooking. Most of what is described as Molecular Gastronomy is actually just the use of new ingredients or new pieces of equipment.
- The cooks and writers labeled as practitioners of Molecular Gastronomy almost universally detest the term: Ferran Adria, Wylie Dufresne, Grant Achatz, Heston Blumenthal, and Harold McGee, just to name a few.
- The chefs described as doing MG are, in fact, doing very different things. Does anyone think WD-50’s food is similar to Alinea’s? Wylie and Grant have two totally different approaches to food and the dining experience in general.
- The label is unnecessary and capriciously applied. Johnny Iuzzini at Jean Georges uses all the techniques that the MG crowd does, but no one finds it necessary to paste the MG label on him. Truth is, all the four-star restaurants here in New York use many of the techniques that usually get slapped with the MG label. Actually, it seems the style of experience you get at a restaurant is what determines the label. Dishes that are out-of-the-ordinary, super-creative, or push the boundaries of taste and texture often get the MG label, but many of those dishes can be done using traditional techniques.
Technology in the kitchen should be used in the advancement of deliciousness. Using a label like Molecular Gastronomy is a short-term marketing win, because reporters will write about it, but a long-term lose, because it makes technology seem like a fad. It also sounds gross. Call it something else. Hell, use a random word, like techlicious (that’s a joke).
Really, we should use two terms. People who do cutting-edge cooking, or avant-garde cooking, should be labeled as such, regardless of the technology they use. People who use new culinary technologies should be labeled that way, no matter how traditional the dishes.