The future of Food

September 24, 2010 § 2 Comments

As the last season of open doors for paying customers comes to an end at El Bulli on Spain’s Costa Brava, Master chef Ferran Adrià already has a plan for the future, and he’s discussed it widely. In the past week two magazines I randomly picked up profiled the Master chef, and magazines from somewhat opposite ends of the spectrum I should add: Vanity Fair and Bloomberg Markets. The overarching message seems to be two-pointed:
1) to publicize the last days of the restaurant, a seemingly zero net benefit effort since the restaurant is already completely booked and Chef Adria doesn’t price gauge (he charges well below what the market would bear for the chance to sit in the privileged seat of one the restaurant’s last patrons, 35 courses for $340), and
2) to publicize a class in culinary science at Harvard University, set to commence this fall.

Molecular Gastronomy: Science and Art, I’d like you to meet my friend FOOD
For those of you who don’t know, (honestly I didn’t either until I saw Wylie Dufresne during the Top Chef season of Richard, the most awesome contestant in Top Chef history!!), there is a restaurant world where science, art and food meet. And, El Bulli is the mecca. Home of a culinary variety known as molecular gastronomy, which experiments with the physical and chemical process of cooking (think decomposition via a mold of strawberry made of various components of the strawberry). These chefs experiment with sensations (‘How our brains interpret the signals from all our senses to tell us the “flavor” of food’, from Wikipedia) and non-traditional methods of cooking ingredients. Each dish tends to focus on one or few ingredients. Many of the courses within the 35-course dinner at El Bulli are composed of vegetarian ingredients, although many also arean’t (think ravioli made of gelatin wrappers).

Vegetarian/Vegan cuisine left in the dust
The scientific culinary discipline which focuses on the exploration of a few or sometimes even one ingredient would seem to lend itself well to vegetarian ingredients. In fact, the days that each of the writers visited, many of the items on the fixed menu were vegetarian: Nori-trias (“Black nori seaweed made crisp and crackly…then folded around sesame butter”), Amaranth with hazelnut oil, Pine nut bonbons (“Racy-looking bitter sweet chocolate globes, each with a single pine nut extending from it like a nipple”), Gorgonzola mochi. So where is all the creativity in vegetarian and vegan food today??!!! There are few restaurants around the U.S. that provide menus a foodie might consider inspired, Millenium in SF, Madeline Bistro in CA and Green Zebra in Chicago come to mind. But, the vast majority do not!!! I have to say, I’m a bit sick of seeing the tofu scramble. I understand, most days as a consuming nature-made machine food in any form will do, being vegetarian only adds to the stress of procuring your meal for the night, but leaders must emerge in our realm of the culinary arts to dispel the traditional notion of boring old vegan/vegetarian. Innovation, whatever that may look like, is a good thing.

Will the vegetarians evolve??
The link to Harvard’s page on the lectures states that, luckily for those of us not based in Boston on the weekdays, the lectures will be streamed live. I will definitely be posting post-lecture recaps. The techniques seem like natural applications for emboldened veggie cuisine, and a worthwhile challenge. While I’m limited by some of the equipment, I’ll spend some time posting on how to inspire creativity in your daily meals, and also attempt some of the more involved creative project dishes. (it’s easy when you break it down, truffles…easiest place to start. infuse with chili, etc…decompose a chile and turn it into chocolate??) What do you think?

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