Utne Blogs > Arts and Culture

Science Plus Food Equals Art?

by Rachel Levitt


Tags: Arts, visual art, cuisine, molecular gastronomy, contemporary art, Alinea restaurant, The Smart Set from Drexel University,

Haute cuisineThe past 100 years have seen a dramatic evolution in the world of cuisine and cooking, from traditional techniques to canned goods and space food to nouvelle cuisine (think big plates and tiny food). A current trend is molecular gastronomy, a combination of science and cooking where chefs use chemicals and special equipment to change the physical properties of food.

An essay in The Smart Set addresses the intriguing question, Is this type of cuisine contemporary art? Of course, food is meant to be eaten. But on the other hand, both contemporary art and molecular gastronomy experiment with form and tradition, often eschewing both just because they can.

And, like contemporary art, molecular gastronomy is not for everyone. One of the essay’s profiled chefs has created a dish called “Kellogg’s paella,” a mix of shrimp heads, vanilla mashed potatoes, and Rice Krispies.

Alinea, perhaps the most famous U.S. restaurant practicing the craft, recently released a cookbook with recipes like “Pheasant, shallot, cider, burning oak leaves,” which calls for ingredients like “8 narrow oak twigs with dead leaves attached” and agar agar.

The question of molecular gastronomy as art is ultimately unanswerable, since “there is something poetic and ephemeral about deliciousness," write  "We don't want that property to be reduced completely to synapses and chemical reactions. Yet through a better understanding of synapses and chemical reactions, molecular gastronomists are creating poetry.”

Image courtesy of Zesmerelda, licensed under Creative Commons.