dcsimg

Gastromolecular Chef

by Kay Easton
CulinaryEd Columnist
February 22, 2013

A gastromolecular chef practices the art (some would say dark art) of molecular gastronomy by focusing on how culinary ingredients are physically and chemically transformed during the cooking process and incorporating that information into his or her culinary creations. Many deconstruct the components of a dish and put them back together in interesting and exotic ways using technology-based techniques such as spherification, emulsification, and jellification. It's almost like modern-day alchemy.

Culinary creations such as balsamic vinegar pearls, "beer caviar," chocolate wind or lemon clouds, beet foam, arugula spaghetti, or coke pearls in a shot of rum have brought a riot of fun and odd adventure to food and drink. Gastromolecular chef Ferran Adrià of El Bulli fame deconstructs a classic martini into a thin-skinned gel capsule filled with olive juice followed by a spray of gin and vermouth on the tongue.

What is molecular gastronomy?

French physical chemist Hervé This (pronounced "tees") and his friend and colleague, Hungarian physicist Nicholas Kurti, are widely accepted as the fathers of molecular gastronomy, although other scientists, academics and chefs were instrumental in contributing to the body of knowledge on the subject.

In the late 1980s, This and Kurti were looking for a catchphrase for a new scientific discipline encompassing the chemical and physical aspects of cooking. Gastronomy, "the intelligent knowledge of whatever concerns man's nourishment," fit the bill for This; "molecular," a word growing in popularity in the 1980s, also seemed appropriate and "molecular gastronomy" was born, according to This' seminal book, "Molecular Gastronomy: Exploring the Science of Flavor." So, is molecular gastronomy just another name for food science? "No," says This, food science "deals with the composition and structure of food" while "molecular gastronomy deals with culinary transformations and the sensory phenomena associated with eating."

Molecular gastronomy: Even at Harvard

Even Harvard acknowledges the symbiosis between food, physics and science. In the fall of 2012, its School of Engineering and Applied Sciences offered a general education science course, "Science and Cooking: From Haute Cuisine to the Science of Soft Matter," that explains fundamental principles of applied physics and engineering through food and cooking. Noted food magazine editors and writers, along with famous chefs, shared the podium with Michael Brenner, Glover Professor of Applied Mathematics and Applied Physics, in this highly popular class.

What's all the fuss?

But, as with anything different, naysayers and detractors abound. Alton Brown, whose Food Network TV show "Good Eats" focuses on understanding basic cooking processes and techniques, waxed prolific on molecular gastronomy. Although he acknowledges that culinary artists should be able to express themselves in amazing ways by blazing new frontiers in taste and flavor, he added, "Please remember food fans ... all food is molecular and there is as much magic (and science) in a properly poached egg as there is in an edible paper pouch full of lavender smoke, powdered goat butter, and licorice caviar."

Molecular gastronomy is dead, according to Heston Blumenthal, chef and owner of three-star UK restaurant The Fat Duck, saying "molecular" sounds complicated and "gastronomy" sounds pretentious. Along with fellow chefs Thomas Keller and Ferran Adrià, as well as New York Times columnist Harold McGee, Blumenthal has written a "statement" that argues that certain aspects of molecular gastronomy have been overemphasized and sensationalized while others have been ignored entirely.

Molecular gastronomy: In the final analysis

Brown mellowed somewhat in a subsequent blog post, writing, "Just to set the record straight: molecular gastronomy is not bad. ... but without sound, basic culinary technique, it is useless." Atlanta chef/restaurateur Richard Blais may have said it best in an interview with Food & Wine magazine: "Hopefully, molecular gastronomy is an extension of great simple ingredients, not a replacement for them."

Gastromolecular chefs employ spherification, emulsification, jellification, liquid nitrogen, enzymes, foaming agents, and much more to enhance their culinary creations. They also target other senses à la chef Grant Achatz's restaurant Alinea, where pheasant is tempura fried with apple cider and served with a flaming oak leaf, and where firewood ash, grass, or leather "sachets" are put on the table to pair smells with edible ingredients. An excellent chef, whether a "regular" chef or a "gastromolelcular" chef, has the opportunity and perhaps even the need to innovate to bring the best possible culinary experience to the table -- it's just a matter of how they choose to do it.

About the Author:


About the Author

Kay Easton graduated from the State University of New York with a BA in English Literature. As a freelance and technical writer with more than 20 years experience, she writes articles for the Internet on a variety of topics.
Culinary Art Schools
Please enter valid US or Canada Zip.
Results will open in new window
5 Programs in
Campus
  • Alumni have appeared in reality competition shows such as Top Chef, Project Runway.
  • A team of about 4,000 faculty members are focused on helping students tap opportunities in a marketplace driven by ideas.
  • Academic programs available in design, media arts, fashion, and culinary.
  • Program Coordinators work with students to ensure they have the learning materials, assignments, facilities, and faculty to get the most out of the program.
  • Over 50 campus locations nationwide.
Show more [+]
  • Alumni have appeared in reality competition shows such as Top Chef, Project Runway.
  • A team of about 4,000 faculty members are focused on helping students tap opportunities in a marketplace driven by ideas.
  • Academic programs available in design, media arts, fashion, and culinary.
  • Program Coordinators work with students to ensure they have the learning materials, assignments, facilities, and faculty to get the most out of the program.
  • Over 50 campus locations nationwide.
Show more [+]
  • Good for Working Adults
  • Flexible Scheduling
  • Financial Aid
  • Transferable Credits
3 Programs in
Campus
  • A part of the Select Education Group (SEG).
  • Offers several scholarship and financial aid opportunities for students who qualify.
  • California campuses accredited by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC), and accreditation for the Salem campus from the Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training (ACCET).
  • 4 Campuses located in Clovis, Modesto, and Redding in California, and Salem, Oregon.
Show more [+]
  • A part of the Select Education Group (SEG).
  • Offers several scholarship and financial aid opportunities for students who qualify.
  • California campuses accredited by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC), and accreditation for the Salem campus from the Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training (ACCET).
  • 4 Campuses located in Clovis, Modesto, and Redding in California, and Salem, Oregon.
Show more [+]
  • Good for Working Adults
  • Accredited
  • Flexible Scheduling
  • Financial Aid
  • Transferable Credits
5 Programs in
Campus
  • Its first location, in Paris, officially opened its doors as a culinary school in 1895.
  • Teaches students by having them spend significant time in the kitchen practicing precision techniques.
  • Provide hands-on training from instructors who are certified, master chefs.
  • Offer flexible schedules and online programs.
  • Has 30 schools worldwide, spanning 5 continents, including 17 campuses in the U.S.
Show more [+]
  • Its first location, in Paris, officially opened its doors as a culinary school in 1895.
  • Teaches students by having them spend significant time in the kitchen practicing precision techniques.
  • Provide hands-on training from instructors who are certified, master chefs.
  • Offer flexible schedules and online programs.
  • Has 30 schools worldwide, spanning 5 continents, including 17 campuses in the U.S.
Show more [+]
  • Good for Working Adults
  • Flexible Scheduling
  • Financial Aid
1 Programs in
Online
  • Its career-focused online and hybrid programs are designed to address the skills gap in America.
  • Founded in 1890 in Scranton, Pennsylvania    
  • Offers over 150 self-paced, career-relevant programs that are connected to a supportive 24/7 online community of students and faculty.
  • Profiled in many publications such as The Boston Globe, Fox Business, and  Inside Higher Ed.
  • Founding member of the National Home Study Council in 1926 (now DETC).
  • Nearly 25,000 graduates each year.
Show more [+]
  • Its career-focused online and hybrid programs are designed to address the skills gap in America.
  • Founded in 1890 in Scranton, Pennsylvania    
  • Offers over 150 self-paced, career-relevant programs that are connected to a supportive 24/7 online community of students and faculty.
  • Profiled in many publications such as The Boston Globe, Fox Business, and  Inside Higher Ed.
  • Founding member of the National Home Study Council in 1926 (now DETC).
  • Nearly 25,000 graduates each year.
Show more [+]
  • Online Programs
1 Programs in
Online
  • Provides students the opportunity to train at home in their spare time to get their high school diploma, train for a new career, or enhance current skills.
  • Member of the United States Distance Learning Association (USDLA), the Canadian Network for Innovation in Education (CNIE), and the International Council for Open and Distance Education (ICDE).
  • Features a fully flexible schedule with no classes to attend, leaving the study pace up to the student.
Show more [+]
  • Provides students the opportunity to train at home in their spare time to get their high school diploma, train for a new career, or enhance current skills.
  • Member of the United States Distance Learning Association (USDLA), the Canadian Network for Innovation in Education (CNIE), and the International Council for Open and Distance Education (ICDE).
  • Features a fully flexible schedule with no classes to attend, leaving the study pace up to the student.
Show more [+]
  • Online Programs
1 Programs in
Online
  • Lets undergrad students try classes before paying any tuition.
  • In a 2013 survey, 83% of students said they would recommend the university to others.
  • Most degree-seeking online and campus-based students are adult learners with families and students who work while pursuing higher education.
  • Average class sizes is 18 for undergraduate and 13 for graduate-level courses.
  • Founded in 1937 in Davenport, Iowa as the American Institute of Commerce (AIC).
Show more [+]
  • Lets undergrad students try classes before paying any tuition.
  • In a 2013 survey, 83% of students said they would recommend the university to others.
  • Most degree-seeking online and campus-based students are adult learners with families and students who work while pursuing higher education.
  • Average class sizes is 18 for undergraduate and 13 for graduate-level courses.
  • Founded in 1937 in Davenport, Iowa as the American Institute of Commerce (AIC).
Show more [+]
  • Online Programs
  • Financial Aid
Search Schools Near You
Subject :
Degree :
Zip Code :

Culinary Schools
Culinary Articles
10 Colleges with Delicious Dining Hall Food
Forget boring college cafeteria dining. Campus food can be exciting, healthy and delicious. Here's a look at 10 of America's best colleges to get your grub on.
Four International Cuisines Influencing the American Foodscape
Ethnic cuisines are an integral part of America's culinary landscape, and none more so than these perennial favorites.
5 Ethnic Cuisines for Serious Foodies
Love food? Want to broaden your culinary horizons? These five international cuisines provide an excellent starting place.
Healthy home cooked meals can improve health, longevity and family social community
Read how cooking at home rather than eating out can help you live longer, reduce the risk of cancer and improve family dynamics. Not only has cooking at home become the hip choice, it's also become the smart choice.