The Chemically Complicated Origins of Cooking

| 1/15/2008 10:58:10 AM

Caveman CookingSitting on their hairy haunches, peering into a rousing fire, a pair of newly-evolved humans named Ugg and Ook munch thoughtfully on the raw flesh of a recent kill. Ugg accidentally drops a nugget of flesh into the fire, and grabs it as quickly as he can:

“Hey, Ook,” Ugg calls out to his dining companion. “This burnt meat actually tastes pretty good.”

“It’s good, yeah,” Ook says. “But what would you think about adding some cilantro salsa or a nice mango chutney? Maybe you could serve a little bit of red wine to wash it down?”

Since humanity’s first, stumbling attempts at cookery, people have been chemically altering food. Lately, a new branch of food preparation—known by the pretentious moniker “molecular gastronomy”—has begun to baffle and amuse diners with foodstuffs like fried mayonnaise, knotted foie gras, and foam. Writing for Discover Bruno Maddox explains that molecular gastronomy is the logical next step in the long relationship between cooking and science. In fact, cavemen like Ugg and Ook started to experiment with a kind of molecular gastronomy thousands of years ago.

“It’s a point so obvious one feels silly making it,” Maddox writes. “The relationship of cooking to Science is the same as that of engineering to Science: an intimacy that approaches identity.”

Molecular gastronomy simply pushes the envelope a little bit. Even when the food—all decked out in foam and gimmicks—doesn’t taste especially good, it’s something new. For all its pretentiousness, Maddox hopes that molecular gastronomy will make us think about our food in new ways, and continue Ook and Ugg’s important work.

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