The End of Culinary Alchemy?
A recent health scare at the world-renowned Fat Duck in England has forced the prestigious restaurant to shut its doors. Owner Heston Blumenthal, referred to as a “culinary alchemist” issued the closure when over 40 customers reported cases of illness after having dined at his establishment. These events have caused quite a stir in the culinary world, as many are now questioning the safety of molecular gastronomy – a cooking technique that relies heavily on chemicals that are intended to “deconstruct” the ingredients and transform the flavor and presentation of dishes. One of the most famous molecular gastronomists, Spanish-born Ferran Adrià (named best chef in the world by British publication Restaurant Magazine), implements similar techniques at his restaurant elBulli and has stood firm ground in support of cooking with chemicals.
Reports from countries including Spain, Germany and the U.K. have confirmed a universal fear – are these chemicals really safe? Spanish book ¡No Quiero Volver al Restaurante! (I Don’t Want to go Back to that Restaurant!) and influential German news magazine Stern both offer strong cases against molecular cooking, stating that chefs are gambling unnecessarily with the health of their clients. Both the book and article make reference to the fact that molecular gastronomy is heavily funded by chemical industries that offer inexpensive additives capable of creating unusual flavors and appearances.
Santi Santamaria, another star chef from Spain, strongly disagrees with the usage of additives and has thus pointed fingers at his Catalonian peer Ferran Adrià. Santamaria insists that restaurants using additives be required to list these substances directly on the menu, so the diner knows what he is eating. With such opposition, could this be the end of molecular gastronomy? Has the newly popularized cooking style already hit its peak? Ultimately it’s up to the diners to decide the fate of molecular gastronomy.
Learn more about molecular gastronomy.