‘Future Food:’ Molecular Gastronomy Takes the Stage

‘Future Food’ Debuts on Planet Green tonight at 8, featuring the twisted brilliance of Homaro Cantu (of Chicago’s Moto and Otom) and his pastry chef Ben Roche.  So will molecular gastronomy finally gets the recognition it deserves?

First some background.  What is molecular gastronomy, and why should you care?

Two experiences with the food of New York’s Wylie Dufresne were transformative in my dining journey.  The first was at (now closed) 71 Clinton Fresh Food, and it occurred way back in 2001.  I can still see and taste the white gazpacho soup that sent me into orbit, an improbably harmonious chorus of almond milk , grapes, littleneck clams and smoked paprika oil.

I filed this away in my memory, wondering when if I’d ever encounter another dish that was as surprising and imaginative.   A few years later I made it to Chef Dufresne’s wd~50, and had a 10-course tasting menu that literally changed the course of my dining destiny.  From the first dish–a perverse/insane terrine of anchovy, foie gras and unsweetened chocolate that somehow worked–my mind was blown, and my eating circuits have never been the same.  This food wasn’t New American, Asian/fusion; it wasn’t New Italian or New French–I had no adjective to describe it.  It was as if chef Dufresne had invented his own language, and then written “The Odyssey.” It was seriously strange yet comprehensible, and (perhaps most important), completely delicious.

What chef Dufresne introduced me to, in the early gazpacho and the later tasting menu, was what is generally referred to as molecular gastronomy.  The term was coined by French chemist Herve This back in 1988; while it’s not the most appetizing  name, it is descriptive and useful nonetheless.  It has blossomed as a cuisine more in Spain than in France, and chef Ferran Adria’s El Bulli is molecular gastronomy’s Taj Majal.

I think of molecular gastronomy as involving some combination of the following: innovative cooking techniques/equipment/chemicals, unorthodox flavor combinations, and some element of deconstruction/surrealism.  If camera-shy postmodern novelist Thomas Pynchon were a chef, molecular gastronomy would be his game.  See, even the odd juxtaposition of that analogy bears the hallmark surrealistic absurdity of the best molecular…oh, never mind.

Las Vegas is sadly lacking in molecular gastronomists; Pierre Gagniere and his Twist at the Mandarin Oriental come closest, judging from a quick glance at his menu (will give it a try once the tax refund arrives…)  Julian Serrano has a few offerings that nod in the molecular gastronomy direction, but his heart is in true Spanish tapas.

So why doesn’t Las Vegas embrace this exciting new cuisine, this ‘future food’ as Planet Green calls it?  I think one clue may be found in the wake of the Palazzo’s recently expired Restaurant Charlie.

Charlie Trotter is a chef of great vision and sophistication, as important to defining the Chicago food scene as Alice Waters and Jeremiah Tower were to the San Francisco Bay area culinary landscape.  Chef Trotter is hardly avante garde–as Mike D notes here, Restaurant Charlie is his second Vegas effort to sink rather than swim.  Mike makes a sad but true point in his post, and he’s absolutely right–any strip dining room that doesn’t have Kobe-something and designer donuts on the menu is pretty much, well, toast.

If the chef who single-handedly made Chicago a dining destination city in the 90’s can’t make it here, what chance do the mad scientists of molecular gastronomy have?  It is, after all, hard to pander to the fat middle of the tourist bell curve with laser-cooked tuna, or ‘breakfast cereal’ made with liquid nitrogen.  Though Chicago’s moto did serve a ‘liquid donut’ I sampled several years back that tasted exactly like a Krispy-Kreme glazed donut, but in hot liquid form.  But getting tourists to drink a donut is a stretch.

While a Las Vegas branch of moto isn’t planned to my knowledge, chef Homaro Cantu and pastry chef Ben Roche are the subjects of Planet Green’s new “Future Food,” which premieres tonight at 8.

Not so much a traditional cooking show, it appears to be a kind of ‘mythbusters’ with science-armed chefs (can the chefs “make an entire seafood menu–without using fish?”).  It should be an inspiring, eye-opening trip.

So readers, sit back with your 98-degree, Swedish medical bath slow-poached egg, or some liquid nitrogen beet ice cream, and enjoy the deliciously surreal wonders of “Future Food.”

“Future Food” premieres Tuesday March 30th on Planet Green.

Michael Manley is a professional musician, food nut, writer and technological retard who lives and works in Las Vegas.  He posts on Twitter as TLV_Michael.

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Oddly enough, my introduction to molecular gastronomy came when researching a bacon experiment. Let me know if you know of anyone who wants to split a 2 pound bag of meat glue.

  2. Thanks for the tip–I have to say I love to dine on strangely futuristic food, but I sure wouldn’t know how to cook it. Meat Glue sounds like a failed punk band, but as long as it tastes good…

  3. […] noted here, and here, I was totally stoked about Planet Green’s “Future Food”…but I was […]

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