"Let me sleep all night in your soul kitchen, warm my mind near your gentle stove…"

by Katie Pizzuto on September 4, 2008

in Dining,Green,Local,Molecular,Organic

The world of food and wine is no different than that of fashion in that it is just as susceptible to trends. We all remember with equal parts nostalgia and embarrassment just how much goat cheese and how many sundried tomatoes we consumed in the 80s, for example. What’s unique about the gastronomic world right now is that TWO trends (let’s hope they find permanence) have been gathering a great deal of speed and momentum, and they are, at first glance, diametrically opposed—though it can be argued that they are, at their core, very similar.


Although Alice Waters of Chez Panisse has been lauding the act of eating local and eating organic since the 70s, it wasn’t until the “green movement” began to take root that Americans woke up en masse and headed for their farmer’s market. For some, this had been a way of life long before it became fashionable to eschew imported produce that racked up food miles, and processed goods that could barely be defined as food. Now, thanks to heightened environmental awareness, books like The Omnivore’s Dilemma and organizations like Slow Food, more people are eating locally and seasonally. CSAs are quickly becoming a household term, and restaurants that support local purveyors are proudly naming them on their menus. In addition, Americans are also demanding more organically grown agriculture and humanely raised livestock. They’re saying “no thanks” to pesticides, herbicides, growth hormones, genetic modification, antibiotics and vile living conditions/treatment.
This buying trend is being followed by a similar trend in cooking. Many chefs are becoming passionate about the more “primitive” ways of preparing food—cooking over raging fires and smoldering, glowing coals; making their own cheeses and butter; cultivating their own gardens; maintaining their own chickens for eggs, etc. It is a collective flip of the bird at mass production, and a return to the way things once were for cooks before chemistry labs had their go at our foodstuffs.

Then there is what appears to be a 180 to this type of cuisine, where kitchens often times look a lot like chemistry labs. Unfortunately, the term “molecular gastronomy” is being used and abused for what these innovative chefs are doing, which is what makes it all look like the antithesis of slow food. The use of hot gels, gums, foams and obscure starches seems like a radical revolution in the way food is being cooked, but to me it’s not—it’s evolution, not revolution. Although there are certainly many dishes that fail in a cook’s attempt to merely be avant garde, chefs like Ferran Adriá, Homaro Cantu, Grant Achatz, Wylie Dufresne, and Heston Blumenthal take their craft very seriously and passionately. Their goal in the end, just like that of Alice Waters, is still to create a meal that tastes great. A meal that entices all the senses. A meal that satisfies a hunger not just in our bellies, but also in our souls. They force you to interact with your food and have a heightened sense of awareness when you eat—again, not much different than what Slow Food is asking you to do. Their work is labor intensive and demands attention to detail—so is the work of someone roasting a pig in a pit.
If cooking is to be a means of expression, then the process used is merely the language in which you express yourself. There is just as much chemistry involved in perfecting a soufflé as there is in using alginate. All of it is an elegant dance meant to inspire, no matter what tools are used to realize that inspiration. Whether it’s via wood-burning stove or sous-vide, the aspiration is excellence and integrity. One type of cuisine revisits tradition and the other builds on it, but both want to move you, engage you and affect you—both are birthed in the soul of the chef that is generous enough to serve that very soul on a plate, just for you. It’s a big jungle gym out there with plenty of room for everyone, and as a cook, I find it important to look to both the past and the future for inspiration, for if you are not growing, you are most certainly dying.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Rajiv September 7, 2008

I’d also recommend reading What to Drink with What you Eat, by Dornenburg and Page.

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2 Katie Pizzuto September 8, 2008

I completely agree…that is a great book, but in the end, I still believe that nothing tops experience, otherwise you are still relying on what someone else tells you. Thanks!!

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3 Jeff September 11, 2008

So true! When you stop learning/evolving, you stop growing…and dying, (partially from boredom).

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4 Linsey September 11, 2008

The things that were mentioned above are echoed in the UK too.

Chefs are promoting quality, organic, taking fashions in food to supplying the specialist items in shops too under their names and sales of their books rake in thousands. They use their status to turn the public thinking towards specific products and with ease.

Their tv shows are wall to wall at the moment here, each one accompanied by the obligatory book.

Heston Blumenthal was rated as having the best restaurant in the world at one stage, he uses chemistry to create masterpieces. Sorbets created using liquid nitrogen, bubbles of gas that when eaten deliver a specific taste into the mouth – all beyond meer mortals but still wanted to be sampled by all.

And in all this fashion – the one thing that they all push is for quality of the food, seasons of the food, and respect of the food.

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5 Katie Pizzuto September 12, 2008

“And in all this fashion – the one thing that they all push is for quality of the food, seasons of the food, and respect of the food.” PRECISELY, Linsey. I couldn’t have said it better myself!

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