The hype-heavy world of haute cuisine has recently been rolling its tongue over the phrase “molecular gastronomy”, said to be practiced by such chefs célèbres as Pierre Gagnaire and Ferran Adrià. The trend is for innovative foods, and new ingredients. Shrimp treated with protein-knitting enzymes, so it can be coaxed into noodle shape, glass-like spheres of isomalt, filled with the smoke from roasting mushrooms, flavored foam.
But On Food and Cooking author Harold McGee, in a session this morning, opined that the term should be ditched. He noted that most chefs labeled as molecular gastronomists rejected the label and say that their experiments rarely take place on the molecular level. Apparently, the phrase came from a workshop about the science of cooking, held in Sicilly in the early 1990s—but the workshop was, according to McGee, was all about the chemical underpinnings of traditional cuisine, and has nothing to do with the Julia Child-meets-Dale Chihuly creations of the new cooking.
These chefs aren’t looking into molecules, says McGee, “they are cooking with ingredients. They are artists, not chemists.”
That said, there are some firm links between the new daring cooks and chemistry. Fat Duck chef Heston Blumenthal questioned the age-old custom of removing the jelly and seeds from tomatoes before cooking with them. To his palate, they were tastier than the flesh. He worked with Don Mottram of the University of Reading to see why, and they found that the jelly has tons more glutamic acid—the source of the famous meaty, nummy umami flavor (See http://www.nature.com/news/2003/030707/full/030707-3.html)—than the flesh.
So, special note to my boyfriend: I now have scientific proof that de-seeding tomatoes is silly.