In September, talking to an audience of chefs from around the world, Wylie Dufresne of WD-50 on the Lower East Side of Manhattan waxed enthusiastic about a type of ingredient he has been adding to his restaurant’s dishes.
Not organic Waygu beef or newfound exotic spices or eye of newt and toe of frog, but hydrocolloid gums — obscure starches and proteins usually relegated to the lower reaches of ingredient labels on products like Twinkies. These substances are helping Mr. Dufresne make eye-opening (and critically acclaimed) creations like fried mayonnaise and a foie gras that can be tied into a knot.
Chefs are using science not only to better understand their cooking, but also to create new ways of cooking. Elsewhere, chefs have played with lasers and liquid nitrogen. Restaurant kitchens are sometimes outfitted with equipment adapted from scientific laboratories. And then there are hydrocolloids that come in white bottles like chemicals.
Sara Dickerman’s observation still rings true:
The subtext of both the Adrià and the mass-market approach [a la Extreme Doritos] to food is the notion that eating has become boring and that for food to be interesting, it needs to be hypermanipulated. This is obviously the philosophy being peddled by mass-market food producers who would encourage us to snack ourselves to obesity with technological marvels like McGriddles (pancake sandwiches with the syrup “baked right in”), Dippin’ Dots ice cream, and Hot Pockets. And even though Adrià and his tech-y ilk use exquisite ingredients (organic vegetables, fish that were swimming just hours before dinner), they are also deploying junk-food tactics without questioning where this industrial food aesthetic might be taking us.