Today, the term “molecular gastronomy” carries with it a sort of culinary mystique. It refers to the blend of science and food in a fine dining restaurant setting, where folks like Jose Andres and Grant Achatz create mesmerizing concoctions never seen before.
With that magical feel and fine dining appeal has come an air of pretentiousness that’s surrounded the term, and it’s something that Andres has not become a fan of. In fact, he feels that “molecular gastronomy” doesn’t really have any meaning to begin with.
Andres gave his take on what “molecular gastronomy” really meant when he sat down on a recent episode of NPR’s Fresh Air podcast.
“Listen to me, people of America,” he said, “EVERYTHING is molecular. When you drink wine… when you drink beer… when you eat cheese… when your food gets rotten… your pickles, that’s molecular. Everything is molecular, what has happened is that before, we were clueless. We didn’t know why things happened.”
“Now we have knowledge, which makes you powerful,” Andres added. “That’s what gives you the power to do better food, more tasty food, and that’s the way forward. More knowledge in the hands of chefs, and people will be helping us to feed the world better.”
The term “molecular gastronomy” is useless to Andres because its most accurate definition, and the one he abides by, is literally cooking or eating molecules. AKA, what we do to food every single day.
For Andres, his work, or what most people call “molecular gastronomy,” is the next step in the evolution of cooking techniques. Every time he or someone else develops a new way to prepare food, it will eventually spread and become more common especially in today’s day and age. I mean, look at where sous vide is now versus the niche status of it not even a decade ago. There’s also the Instant Pot, which effectively commercialized the once chef-exclusive technique of pressure cooking. Don’t forget about liquid nitrogen, which has become the freezing material of choice for ice cream and is the basis of the now-popular “dragon’s breath” challenge.
It is the rise of these technologies and scientific advances in food that’s helped humanity accelerate. Think about where we would be today if canning didn’t exist. How space travel would have proved useless without the freeze-dried foods astronauts needed for nourishment. Or even how to create a stable mayonnaise that won’t split on you within a couple of hours.
Andres understands the work that he, Achatz, and other so-called “molecular gastronomists” do, could have huge impacts on the future of food. As pretentious as the name may be, we’ll eventually be using at least some of their techniques in our everyday food as well.