Photo by Sektormedia/Flickr CC
In January, Grant Achatz attended Madrid Fusion, the annual gastronomical congress of the world's top chefs. This is part three of Achatz's report from Madrid. Read part one and part two. The fourth and final installment will run Friday, March 20.
Three days later the congress was drawing to a close, and over 50 chefs from all over the world had taken their turn onstage. I couldn't help but feel a bit empty. Where were the culinary fireworks? The introduction to the next ingredient that was going to enable us to turn oil into powder, serve a gelled liquid hot, or thicken an infusion by simply blending in a magical white substance? Where were the explanations of new techniques? Like the ones used to create raviolis with skins made from themselves, making pasta from stock, and aerating food to produce sponge-like textures? Surely someone was ready with the next method of changing texture and form, like the liquid nitrogen that became popular in the professional kitchen five years ago? Where were the equivalents to the freeze-drying machines? Centrifuges? Rotary evaporators? Vacuum sealers?
The lack of inspiration led me to compare this congress to the previous years. As I continued to write the laundry list of ideas that weren't present at this year's congress, the defining elements of the genre of modern cooking -- let's call it molecular gastronomy, just to fuel the fire -- became more and more clear. What also became clear is that it is tough to label, name, or define anything without establishing its starting and ending points.
It is premature to me to declare the end of this cooking style, or even the micro pocket of creative focus contained within it. It is also incredibly presumptuous for me declare anything about the identity of fine cooking -- even though it seems the practitioners are the most qualified to do so, because of their intimate knowledge of the subject. Historically, it has always been the scholars, the public, and the media who have had the responsibility to describe the precise meaning, characteristics, and bookends of a period, whether it is in the arts, politics, industry or otherwise.