In The Rock Snob*s Dictionary, Steven Daly and I included a definition of the sulky genre known as emo, noting that, “given the hypersensitivity of the genre’s practitioners, most emo artists recoil at being called ‘emo,’ claim their music is unique and uncategorizable, and insist that you don’t even know what the term means anyway.” Now, the foremost practitioners of molecular gastronomy are taking a similar position. In a recent blog post, Michael “Forcemeat” Ruhlman* recounted how, in an onstage conversation he had with Alinea chef Grant Achatz at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theater, Achatz, whose name is synonymous with molecular gastronomy in America, argued that the term doesn’t apply to him. Forcemeat further cites a “Statement on the ‘new cookery’,” originally printed in the U.K.’s Guardian, in which molecular-gastronomy gods Ferran Adrià and Heston Blumenthal, along with Thomas Keller and Harold McGee, protest that “the term ‘molecular gastronomy’ does not describe our cooking, or indeed any style of cooking,” on the grounds that the phrase was coined in 1992 “to name a particular academic workshop for scientists and chefs on the basic food chemistry of traditional dishes. That workshop did not influence our approach.”
Adrià, Blumenthal et al. undoubtedly mean what they say, but at this point, they’re being pedantic. Language gets bent and morphed by popular usage, and the term “molecular gastronomy” is a good example. Whatever its obscure origins, the term has been repurposed to denote the kind of audacious, wildly inventive, rigorously lab-tested, visually striking cuisine that Adria and Achatz, especially, practice. “Molecular gastronomy” is, simply, a useful term to describe what they do. And complaining about labels is so emo!
* So nicknamed because of his borderline obsessive use of the word in his book The Soul of a Chef. Sure, it’s a legitimate culinary term, but Ruhlman just loves to type it: F-O-R-C-E-M-E-A-T. There are probably Freudian implications to this.