The Modernist Cuisne PR drumbeat goes on, thanks to publicists better than Ina Garten's. This time, for a breakfast at Jean Gorges. Food personality Gael Greene was there, and the Cod is sorry to report she seems to be in the grip of an advanced case of Monheit's syndrome:
Tim and Nina Zagat had beckoned, and a constellation of culinary stars and divas arrived at Jean Georges Monday morning to taste a modernist cuisine breakfast engineered by Nathan Myhrvold, a multi-millionaire scientist promoting 39 pounds of a cooking encyclopedia. For any chef-groupie who wandered in, it was an orgasmic gathering of big cheeses: Daniel Boulud, Ferran Adria, Martha Stewart, Wylie Dufresne, Michael Lomonoco, Ruth Reichl, Padma Lakshmi, plus a platoon of younger toques and the media and puffers who swarm in their wake. Everyone sipped centrifuged juice, a choice of orange or grapefruit and pear. If a cuisinary terrorist – a demented vegetarian or an overheated locavore -- had chosen this moment to detonate a bomb or even a bombe, the city’s gourmands might have been reduced to eating ethnic, luncheonette or Applebee’s.
Seriously, you could not make this up any better than GG does.
Unfortunately, "modernist cuisine" as lowercase descriptor seems to be gaining traction. Like I said yesterday, I am on the record as skeptical of Modernist Cuisine, as "modernist" is misleading and confusing to use to desribe a 21st century haute culture food movement. I guess if you have enough cash, you have a better shot at rewriting the dictionary. That said, the recent review in the NYer took a better stab at justifying the title than anything else I've seen:
Myhrvold broadened his idea of the book to include food safety more generally, then broadened it further to include information about the basic physics of heating processes, then to include the physics and chemistry of traditional cooking techniques, and then to include the science and practical application of the highly inventive new techniques that are used in advanced contemporary restaurant food—the sort of cooking that Myhrvold calls “modernist.”
We've been over this, but the use of "modernist" in this context is highly idiosyncratic. The NYer review does use a much more appropriate term as throwaway: "Liquid nitrogen became a new standby for the gastronomic avant-garde." "Avant-garde" makes much more sense than "modernist," because it lacks the temporal links to the first half of the 20th century, travertine, Mussolini, etc, that "modernist" suggests. "Avant-garde" certainly more makes sense for a "mushroom omelet with 'constructed egg stripes steamed in a combi oven," than "modernist." I am not sure why "avant-garde" gets left on the bench, but the NYer's gesture in that direction does usefully recall the distinctions Clement Greenberg draws in "Avant Garde and Kitsch." You can go read the thing for yourself, but the idea that "in turning his attention away from subject matter of common experience, the poet or artist turns it in upon the medium of his own craft," suggests the discoveries and limitations of the molelcular gastronomes. The challenge comes in the other half of the equation -- the chefs struggling along with knives and stoves, rather than cavitators and centrifuges are not the culinary equivalent of Mickey Mouse, after all. However, the current food scene does seem to encompass a number of high profile chefs like Ferran Adria who are concerned with the medium of their own craft." It might be possible to consider a certain stratum of Food Network celeb as kitsch chefs, but the Cod is not sure if he's comfortable with that label, as Guy Fieri, et al, seem both to surpass and fall short of Greenberg's notions of kitsch.
Of more interest, I hope are chefs who are enlisting avant garde techniques in in the prosaic effort of making food taste good. More on them soon.