My friend and editor, Robin Goldstein, went to Spain to engage in the debate about molecular gastronomy swallowing the Top Restaurants lists (of course, these lists come from places like the UK and the US, where began the phenomenon of "Famous for Being Famous").
Molecular gastronomy is like David Foster Wallace; I'm a big fan, and I appreciate the interesting, and sometimes even emotional, effects his often-experimental literature yields, but I would kill myself if every good author were doing it. It’s writing ahead of the reader. It's writing for other writers. I never get lost in one of his excellent stories.
I’d like to eat at El Bullí just to see if it makes me as horny as garlic-bomb southern Italian food does. Something tells me it won’t.
When a certain praised-and-praiseworthy restaurant I worked for not too long ago announced they were going to start using xantham gum in certain sauces and desserts, we all felt our dignity was going down the tubes. All the servers associated this substance with Hostess, Little Debbie, Taco Bell. Little did we know or understand that other celebrated kitchens were doing it, and that's—THAT'S–what our guys saw. Not that this totally harmless binding agent was an ingredient often made fun of in mass produced, processed foods, but that it was a permission to use a shortcut—a permission granted by the molecular gastronomy wizards by virtue of all the incredible attention they were receiving. Not only were we ALLOWED to use xantham gum and still be credible, we HAD to if we wanted to stay cutting edge.
It's true, the use of xantham never came up with guests ("What is that delicious flavor I'm tasting!" Hardly.), and I don't even know what it allowed our talented chefs to do that they couldn't before...
Or this: I've seen virtually everything you can imagine turned into a gelatinous ball, thanks to a simple agar solution. Carrots, basil, lychee...I bet you could turn the Brooklyn Bridge into pearls by boiling it down and dropping it in agar.
I bet it would taste pretty awful. But hey, you're eating it: Twitter the world!
Remember when you went to Universal Studios and got the DOTS ice cream, the ICE CREAM OF THE FUTURE? You thought, Wooo, they're dots of cream that melt in your mouth. Crazy! But at the end of the day, you wanted to lick dripping cold ice cream of your fucking hands and then gobble down the cone. And why? Because it engages everything to do so: frustration, panic, joy, sensuality, crunch, slurp, sweet, the salt of your own skin. And at the end you had celebrated a distinctly human tradition.
I never see DOTS anywhere but amusement parks; it is always the empty, lone booth that we walk past and snigger, jerking our thumbs and saying "Remember when we tried that?"