About Science, Contemporary Art and Modernist Cuisine

The term Molecular Cuisine became know as Fèrran Adria started incorporating complex scientific based methods in the kitchen of his well known (and unfortunately no longer existing) restaurant El Bulli, in Spain. One can think about Adria’s kitchen almost like a lab, a place for experimentation and creativity.

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The dishes coming out of Adria’s kitchen could be seen as art pieces. A delight in every sense to be appreciated by a few lucky individuals.

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Dishes like the ones above may not be seen as something completely new and surprising nowadays, as molecular gastronomy becomes more popular and accessible all around the world. Today, 8 out of 10 of the best restaurant in the world are characterized by a heavy use of science and technology in their creative process*. But can these techniques truly become something we shall see on our tables in the future? Or is it just an interesting form of expression practiced by a group of passionate chefs and consumed by a selected group of people who care about this difficult and expensive form of high-end cooking?

The fact is that much of this revolutionary cooking is based on ingredients and techniques long fundamental to the processed food industry. 

DEFINITION OF PROCESSED FOOD: Food processing is any deliberate change in a food that occurs before it’s available for us to eat. It can be as simple as freezing or drying food to preserve nutrients and freshness, or as complex as formulating a frozen meal with the right balance of nutrients and ingredients. 

Almost everything we eat is processed. If you try to spend a few days without eating processed food you will end up spending a lot of time in the kitchen. Time that many of us do not have.

There is a great new show on Netflix called “Cooked” that investigates how the four natural elements—fire, water, air, and earth— have the power to transform raw ingredients into food:

In the show, Michael Pollan explores the previously uncharted territory of his own kitchen. The message he attempts to pass on is that when we learn to cook is when we become truly human.

An interesting thought related to the concept of the power of preparing our food is: imagine you are left in an island with only water and wheat flour to eat. If you don’t know you can mix these ingredients, you will probably die. But, if you try to do that, a great transformation will take place. When you mix water and wheat flour, fermentation occurs, transforming sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide by yeast. Water and wheat become bread. You can now survive for a long period of time.

Food is science. Whether it is made in a fancy restaurant, in a lab or in our own kitchen, the transformation is part of process. We have been integrating science to our food since the beginnings of human history. The era of food processing began about 2 million years ago when our distant ancestors put flame to food and “discovered” cooking. And the fact that molecular gastronomy is super trendy nowadays, may result in a change in the way we as consumers perceive the relationship of Food X Science. From the top to the bottom, we are seeing more people experimenting/trying new things with food. This is an opportunity for the science and the food system communities to work closer, not only to figure out what is the perfect temperature to boil an egg, but to improve food safety, to understand human health aspects, to increase efficiency/sustainable methods in agriculture and of course to improve our sensory perception when eating a delicious meal.

One thought on “About Science, Contemporary Art and Modernist Cuisine

  1. I love this post Michelle – because yes, food is science. And has been long before food was created in a lab. And I completely agree that beyond aesthetic and gustatory experimentation (which is important) science is germane for understanding and improving upon our food system = especially as it relates to human health and the collateral damage of climate change on our agricultural prospects

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