I have just been reading a piece in the Telegraph today about Heston Blumenthal's 'new' menu.
First of all, a little detour: Good grief this was a sloppy, lazy piece of writing. I was so annoyed that I even broke my cardinal rule about commenting on other journalists' pieces and posted a comment complaining. Jasper Gerard was invited into Blumenthal's lab, into the heart of the innovative process of one of the greatest chefs on the planet, and the best he can come up with is to wheel out all the hoary old clichés about Willy Wonka (which he spells 'Wonker') and Lewis Carrol (which he spells 'Carol'). He also proudly introduces us to several 'new' dishes, which have been around for at least a year. Blumenthal even made a TV show about some of them which I think aired at Christmas. Sorry, rant over. Wait a minute! Oh my god, I am actually turning into a Telegraph reader myself!.
Where was I? Oh, yes, he also revisits all the old complaints about molecular gastronomy, but I have to say that I love molecular cuisine and I don’t care who knows it. So there.
I know even Heston and Ferran Adria have tried to distance themselves from the term but ever since Hervé This and Nicholas Kurti came up with the concept of Molecular Gastronomy in the early ‘70s, it has been a useful shorthand for the use of scientific techniques and industrial equipment to make magically transformative cuisine.
Semantics aside, I adore this kind of restaurant food, when it's done properly at least. When I eat out, I don't necessarily want to be comforted or filled up, I usually want to eat something I wouldn't or couldn't make at home. I want a bit of theatre, to be amused and surprised - in a pleasant way. Texture and taste remain the priority, of course, but if there is a story to be told then all the better.
Why do I like the foams and gels, smoke and mirrors, dry ice and deconstructivism? First of all, it’s against God, which has to be a good thing. I am so tired of hearing the same old ‘local, seasonal, simple’ mantra churned out by average chefs who believe it gives them some kind of instant kudos. ‘Local, seasonal, simple’, is a great and valid food philosophy, of course, but it’s no more or less valid or noble than the kind of food served at Mugaritz, El Bulli, Alinea, or an astonishing place I have been to a couple of times in Tokyo, the Molecular Tapas Bar.
(I think this was a deconstructed miso soup, with tofu)
Run by an American-Japanese chef, Jeff Ramsey, it is on the umpteenth floor of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, overlooking all of central Tokyo. But Ramsey’s a confident chap and, so, has his six-eight counter-seated guests turn their back on the dazzling view to focus instead on his dazzling food.
(This is Ramsey making carrot caviar)
I had a blast - so much so that I arranged for both my parents-in-law to visit, and for me to take Lissen one night when we were staying at the Mandarin Oriental (they have a great baby sitting service - our kids were disappointed when we returned to the room).
(Deconstructed ramen noodles).
Incidentally, you might remember Ramsey’s name from a plagiarism scandal a few years back when he was said to have replicated a dish from - I think it was - WD50 in New York. I asked him about the incident and he said it was pretty much all a misunderstanding. Personally, I don't think copying a dish from someone else's restaurant is a crime, what is really amiss is not crediting the chef who originally devised it. Of course, if we are talking about classic dishes, like Coq au Vin or creme brulée it's a different matter, but so much of molecular cuisine is highly innovative and envelope pushing that you really have got to name the inventor. This, I think, is where Ramsey tripped up.
(This was salmon roe with passion fruit, to be gulped down in one go).
(That little red thing is a miracle fruit, which grows wild in Africa and is cultivated in Holland. It turned that plate of citrus fruit super-sweet.)
He was also mortified when I pointed out that shooting the bill at your guests from one of those toy guns with a banner reading 'bang' - which he had done when I'd eaten at the MTB the night before - was something they did at El Bulli. Maybe he's just one of those people who subliminally picks stuff up and genuinely believes it is his idea... which reminds me, have I told you about a new type of bread I've been working on? Okay, so, right, you buy it, in bags, already sliced...