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The Science Diet

So much to rant about this week--the Dewhurst Bill, consideration of a code of ethics for food bloggers, that sort of thing. But an email this morning about "culinary constructivism," as practiced by chefs at Hong Kong's Mandarin Oriental, raised a few questions.

Well, one question, really: why?

According to the release, French chemist--promising, already--Herve This and chef Pierre Gagnaire teamed to create a dish from chemical compounds occurring in nature. The end result of bringing together sodium, chloride, hydrogen and so forth is bubbles of pudding-like goo suspended in granite bearing flavors similar to fruit and caramel...even though no fruit or caramel died in the process of cooking.

Visionary.

Other dishes planned by the demented scientists...OK, OK--there's nothing wrong with experimentation. And the chef insists he's not trying to start a culinary revolution.

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But the impulse to push recipes beyond certain bounds is fascinating. It's one thing for a chef to become a little bored with buerre blanc and add herbs or roasted garlic into the mix. It's another when someone decides to create a buerre blance foam. Making the sauce from chemicals that lend butter its flavor--and not from the butter itself--seems pointless outside a science lab. In fact, it's more akin to the additives put together by New Jersey chemical companies (the ones that give processed food a realistic taste) than to fine dining.

Ooh--which makes me think we've been on this road for some time already.

Fortunately, "culinary constructivism" is hardly likely to spark a revolution. Few chef-owned restaurants can afford to take a chemist on staff. And it's hard to imagine, during lunch or dinner rush, a chef yelling "come on, Gunther--hurry up with those petri dishes of citric acid."

At the moment, though, there's probably someone in the Pentagon looking for the next generation of MRE. Gagnaire and This might be in line for a nice government contract--unless the processed food giants get to them first.

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