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Extreme Cuisine - 2004

Meet the New Culinary Vanguard

Pierre Gagnaire

There are chefs who toe the line of what their customers will accept. And there are those who lead their clientele into deliciously unfamiliar territory until that new land becomes the norm. So it was with Nouvelle Cuisine in 1969. At a revolutionary time around the globe, the culinary world revolted against the status quo, creating a new approach to food. But today those revolutionaries—Paul Bocuse, Alain Senderens, Michel Guérard and others—have turned into the old guard, the pillars of cuisine that the new wave will overturn.

Bad boy Ludo

In Europe, the gastronomic envelope-pushing exploits of chefs like Pierre Gagnaire in France and Ferran Adrià in Spain have become legendary, from Gagnaire's herbs, foams and oil emulsions to Adrià's shape-shifting morsels.

Here in the states, several young chefs are making their own noise. Their cuisines are not for the faint of palate, but for those who like to dine on the edge, here's the new culinary vanguard.

Tattoed bad boy of the kitchen Ludovic Lefebvre, a Gagnaire disciple, oversees the menu at Bastide in West Hollywood. A tour through his kitchen takes you past the wall of spices that individualize his food, from black African lime peel to Australian wattleseed. His inspiration comes from a small shop in Santa Monica called Le Sanctuaire, his portal to the spice route.

Moto fork

Mad scientist Homaro Cantu, chef-owner of Moto in Chicago and a student of Charlie Trotter's, practices a culinary discipline not only in the kitchen, but also at the table, where your dinner might come with instructions on the order in which to eat your appetizer—inhaling the spices wrapped around your fork as you go—or a tabletop oven to cook your fish.

Corned duck at wd-50

Hard to say who is the most extreme chef at wd-50 on New York's Lower East Side, but as the leader of the pack, former Jean Georges and Prime chef Wylie Dufresne orchestrates the menu, where soy sauce might show up in a dessert and onions in the streusel that accompanies the calf's tongue appetizer. His kitchen (part production area, part laboratory) goes, like Star Trek, where no (cooking) man has gone before.

José Andrés

José Andrés earned his stripes under Ferran Adrià before heading stateside, first to New York and then to Washington, DC, where he now oversees a growing empire of restaurants (three Jaleo locations, Café Atlántico, Zaytinya, Oyamel) as well as the experimental food center, THINKfoodTANK. Expect the foie gras to be a multi-sensory soup course in Andrés' kitchen, while gazpacho unravels on your plate into its individual elements.

In Sausalito, former globetrotter and one-time exclusive private yacht chef Eric Torralba taps his deconstructionist muse at Antidote, where dishes arrive in mini test tubes and gel packs. You can't deny an Alice-in-Wonderland fascination at squirting an unidentified liquid into your mouth to enhance a dish's flavors. We marvel at the training involved to prepare servers to describe this fantasia.

We encourage you to support these artists who live for the creative pleasure of food—that is, if you are comfortable letting them play with your meal. As with surrealist painters, their styles may not please you entirely, but they're sure to pique your curiosity.

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