On Sunday, I had the pleasure of seeing Chef Tom Bowman of iNG lead a presentation on Molecular Gastronomy as part of the Chicago Humanities Festival. I’ll preface this by saying I was incredibly impressed with the young chef. He was collected and witty but most of all extremely articulate under pressure.
Before I delve into the topics he covered, I have to say I was somewhat shocked by the amount of resistance I felt from a room full of people who were assembled for a presentation called Deconstructing Dinner. In the land of Achatz and Cantu (among other talented “modernist” chefs who call Chicago home), how is it that we are still so threatened by molecular gastronomy?
I suppose it’s important to give the diner something to grab onto that’s familiar. Otherwise, the food runs the risk of alienating its diner. Tom Bowman stressed several times that at iNG, he tries to keep the food fun and approachable (and if you read my review of iNG for Rock ‘n Roll Ghost, you’ll know I approved of this wholeheartedly). Most importantly, he believes it is important to keep food engaging.
He showed the packed auditorium examples of how iNG brings food and science together. He demonstrated a few clever ways to use liquid nitrogen (he made a frozen waffle, joking about the irony of how much one has to employ fire when “cooking” things with liquid nitrogen) and talked about all the fancy equipment in kitchens these days. He also covered the miracle berry, joking about conspiracy theories regarding the lengths to which the sugar and aspartame people went in attempt to ban it as well as the underground, flavor tripping parties that resulted from the ban.
All in all, the presentation was a success. He was knowledgeable, clear, concise, funny but most importantly stood his ground when it came time for the audience to lob passive aggressive statements at him questioning the basis of molecular gastronomy along with comments concerning the fear that American cuisine will become an alienating, freeze dried, machine and technology oriented process that loses touch of the very soul and art of cooking.
I was shocked to witness the frustratingly hypocritical and subdued mutiny that occurred in the auditorium… most of it, as I mentioned, under veiled, overly polite chuckles indicating quiet disapproval. I’m not saying the entire audience was against it, but the most verbal faction of the audience was not shy about expressing the (I would say) groundless concerns most likely based on fear of the unknown. Even more unfortunate was that I happened to be sitting directly in front of a misinformed yet obnoxiously outspoken couple.
I have to wonder if these people who are opposing “chemical heavy” molecular gastronomy to the merits of entirely organic cooking are forgetting that the use of chemicals such as agar (which ironically is derived from algae, a natural source) or even the chemicals that are not derived from plants, is not mutually exclusive with using organic product.
I think, most importantly, that if you sincerely claim that because a chef cooks with chemicals it makes him/her less soulful and passionate about food then you clearly haven’t had the pleasure of the experience.
I’ve had enough of frightened, close-minded and short sighted individuals who judge things without first trying them. You don’t have to look very far (or even pay an arm and a leg) to find extremely talented, dedicated and, most of all, soulful modernist chefs in Chicago.
I suggest you go out -on a limb, if you must- and find them.