Friday, January 09, 2009

Say it ain't so: Molecular Gastronomy in China

"Smoke made of green tea rises from the smoked salmon and avocado roll. Shark fin in saffron soup comes in a transparent capsule. Rosy beads in bird's nest soup look like fish roe but turn out to be made of jam."

These words begin the lead paragraph in an article titled "Tech away restaurants" about Molecular Gastronomy in Beijing, a movement spearheaded, ironically, by a noted Beijing Duck resturant, Da Dong. "Molecular Gastronomy," in case you've been living, er, sous vide, involves pushing the physical and chemical processes that occur in cooking to extremes, using expensive laboratory equipment, and indeed sometimes contracting out to laboratories run by mad scientists for prepping the food. I've railed against molecular gastronomy in Western settings, because I consider it an anti-food movement and it saddens me to see grown men playing with their food. It may have a place in the culinary spectrum, but too often shows up as a bailout for creative bankruptcy. What Da Dong (which may be trying to escape its image as a "Johnny One Note" restaurant) and apparently other places in China with a front-runner mentality are doing to Chinese food strikes me as especially insulting. Chinese food is more art than science; in fact, I'd put it near the furthest end, culinarily, of the art-scientist spectrum. Putting it in the hands of the men in white coats but no white hats is to be party to a marriage as forced as the pun in the title of the bombshell China Daily article.

Besides, haven't the food chemists in China had enough fun with Melamine?


SteamyKitchen said...

can't wait to see what the brilliant Chinese chefs come up with in the area of Molecular Gastronomy!

Anonymous said...

I have been there twice but did not feel the height of the molecur gastromy existance compared to what I have had with MIchelin stared chefs in Europe but I am certainly not descounting the quality of food that Da Dong presents, that drugged me to go again and again! Their Peking duck is simply spectacular! If you have not made a reservation, just turn up close to 9pm and you are surely to get a place as the Chinese normally begin at 6.30pm for dinner.

Anonymous said...

I think you're off, actually. Out of all the cuisines in the world, I think Chinese is most amenable to molecular cuisine, as to start with, it can no longer emphasize the freshness or quality of ingredients due to industrialization and resource scarcity along with excessive demand. Further, what distinguishes haute Chinois from take-out Chinese is the skill of the chef regarding heat distribution and timing, so it's already virtually a chemist's playground.