Food has been around as long as humans. Restaurants date back to somewhere around the French revolution, when the sudden lack of royalty motivated chefs to convince ordinary folks to eat somewhere other than home. Cuisine was invented, and codified and Escoffier wrote it down. There were rules, and you were either good at it, or bad. Michelin could score it, because they knew where the points were won and lost.
But from El Bulli near Barcelona to WD-50 in New York to Alinea in Chicago, what and how we eat is being taken apart and reinvented, aided mightily by technology. Wylie Dufrense’s signature dish is “Pickled Beef Tongue with Fried Mayonnaise and Carrot-Coconut Sunnyside-Up,” if that helps illustrate the shift.
We that live in the Silicon Valley pride ourselves in living innovation, but it doesn’t take much courage to be different in a place that “thinks different.” To have the courage to embrace science in a profession that typically refuses the label art for craft, that times a process with gut and nose and measures with palms and fingers takes balls. To do so in Evanston, Illinois as Grant Achatz does, and still pack the house takes big talent. To make beauty and taste so elevated that even those who declare “it’s not cooking” have to pause, as Anthony Bourdain did at the end of Decoding Ferran Adria, takes more than just creativity.
You have to prove there is a point to doing things differently. You have to prove it’s valuable. And you have to prove it thoroughly. And every night. Consistently. Imagine being wacky and creative with impeccable technique and style 24-100 times a night, seven nights a week.
Molecular Gastronomy is slowly gaining respect. We of the valley should embrace it, for it is an edible manifestation of all be believe in: the urge to play and explore. Even if the thing doesn’t need to be reinvented, we do so. Because we have got to know what could happen if…
if you could make a false caviar from eucalyptus tea, if you could make a ravioli not only stuffed with peas and encased in peas, if foie gras as a foam or ice chips.
Not because we are bored, but because we are curious. Not because we are jaded, but because we are hungry from stomach to brain.
I was hurt to hear Grant Achatz of Alinea announced that he had been diagnosed with stage 4 squamous cell carcinoma of the mouth. If John Cage went tone deaf or Steve Jobs went mute you might know what it means.
Go look at the gallery of his dishes, and know you are only getting a tiny, tiny part of the story. Remember if you never eat there, you will never know what all the fuss was about. You can listen to a Cage record on an iPod but you can’t eat Achatz’s applewood ice cream unless you go there. In fact, due to the performance-nature of cooking, you may never know it. It can change with produce quality, the chef’s boredom, or simply get replaced. More than any other art form, every meal is a precious moment shared between you and the chef, not to come again.
So let’s applaud these chefs who live our values Then, please please please, go out and invent a way to record taste.