FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The God of Molecular Cuisine

by

Chefs are the psychological beings of the culture world.  They have egos large enough to fit their restaurants and personalities as delicate as egg shells.  Their recipes are matters of mythology and exaggeration; their controlling techniques over staff and crew the sort that would make the secret police of some states cringe.

Melbourne is excited by its latest addition to the culinary bonanza. Heston Blumenthal, god of molecular cuisine (a term he, incidentally, dislikes), is relocating his Fat Duck to the city. Residents are in a tizz – there is excitement on the horizon, though as with much in the world of celebrity cooking, the chef comes before the meal, being both poseur and designer.

The world of the television chef has become so crowded, so cluttered, and in the end, so ridiculous, attempts at innovation have peaked in absurdity.  Cable television features Jamie Oliver on a loop; sombre Dutch cooks such as Rudolph van Veen promote baking; and the stormy, irreverent New Yorker Anthony Bourdain, who is refreshing largely because he eats more than cooks, maintains prime viewing slots.

Chefs can move into dominions of hot air, riding the horses of change in the belief that relevance and pompous assertions of food making somehow change societies.  How could they possibly believe that stirring a saucepan and dicing meat could lead to a revolution?  It would be more fitting to argue that a lack of food might cause far more change than its presence.  British food writer Jay Rayner was deeply unmoved by the efforts of the G9 chef’s meeting in Lima in which he saw the group’s mission statement – the Lima Declaration[1] – as “an act of … such ludicrous self-regard you’d need an oxygen tank to get your breath back.”

The manifesto, released in September 2011 by, among others, the likes of Yukkio Hattori, Massimo Bottura, Michel Bras and René Redzepi, was strikingly pompous. “Cooking is a powerful, transformative tool that, through the joint effort of interested parties – whether we be chefs, producers or consumers – can change the way the world nourishes itself.”  Well and good, till you see the food these chefs tend to serve as assaults on nutrition in favour of skimpy appearance.  Heartiness is unceremoniously banished in favour of the aesthetic.

The Open Letter to the Chefs of Tomorrow speaks of a chef’s work as depending on “nature’s gifts” and speaks of it as environmental in nature.  Chefs are the makers of “dialogue” between cultures.  They have “the power to affect socio-economic development of others.”

One writer in attendance, Luciana Bianchi[2], saw the manifesto as an improvement on the idea that chefs were merely “cooks” making, heaven forfend, “dishes, creating recipes, and serving their hungry guests.”  Such reasoning demonstrates how the great value of all – making food in order to be fed – has been replaced by the status of the maker.

Blumenthal knows the fundamental nature of the modern ego-manic chef.  Be the one with the biggest presence, the person who struts across the stage.  But his style is not that of the abusive Gordon Ramsey, who uses the word fuck as a cook would salt.  Nor is he homely in the manner of the seafood specialist Rick Stein.  Blumenthal, instead, has made a name making food as chemistry and molecular science, a field that converts laboratories into kitchens and chemical sets.

When he is not losing himself in the television puffery of molecular cooking or gargantuan food experiments, Blumenthal can be good value on Britain’s culinary heritage.  The latter term is already up for dispute, given such infernal marketing confections such as the ploughman’s lunch.  To call that culture would be tantamount, as the German historian Heinrich von Treitschke observed of the English, as calling soap civilization.

Be that as it may, dragging a recipe from The Cook and Housewife’s Manual Mistress by Meg Dodds is something, even if there is a considerable element of make believe to the exercise.  The cook as performer is indispensable to reputation and performance – the dish becomes footnote before the barnstorming sense of occasion provided by the character.  Customers, as Rayner explains, go to restaurants to be entertained.  It is cinema as food, edible celluloid.

The Melbourne exercise may just be another one of these pieces of culinary exotica and showmanship, what is expected in the world of Michelin cooking and display.  One just has to see what else was on the Blumenthal food radar as potential targets – Las Vegas, Geneva, a ski resort, a cruise ship (The Australian, Apr 1).

It certainly doesn’t get much better in the entertainment annals than a six month relocation, supposedly kept secret from one’s own staff till a cheeky liquid gathering revealed all.  Blumenthal describes the plotting, the playful deception.  There was “champagne, wine and music, but none of them had any idea about what was going on” (Broadsheet, Apr 1).  The Fat Duck, otherwise located in Bray, Berkeshire, will be closed.  Following the six months, Blumenthal will arrange for a permanent branch of Dinner, taking root in August 2015.  Pop-up Fat Duck will become permanent Dinner.

Blumenthal is consummate in showering praise – the modern television cook must be both diplomat and seducer.  Mental point: note Melbourne’s good coffee.  “I keep telling people, there is a reason why Starbucks never really took off in Melbourne.”  Mention the gastronomic powerhouse of a city, and the fresh produce.  “Australia has some of the best produce in the world and the restaurant culture here is just about as good and as exciting as any other big, international city and you guys know it, but not in a cocky way.”  To the Australian, he is found making the remark that no other country has seen a bigger “food explosion” in the last five years.

The temporary location of the Fat Duck is the final portrayal about what such Michelin food is about, the sort extolled by the G9 Lima manifesto.  This is not food to change the world, or how we eat. It is food to change how we think about chefs.  That the location should be in the vulgar, central nervous system of the gambling scene in Melbourne says far more about display than it does about nutrition.  After all, the underfed are the ones with the dollars.

Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.  Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

March 23, 2017
Chip Gibbons
Crusader-in-Chief: the Strange Rehabilitation of George W. Bush
Michael J. Sainato
Cybersecurity Firm That Attributed DNC Hacks to Russia May Have Fabricated Russia Hacking in Ukraine
Chuck Collins
Underwater Nation: As the Rich Thrive, the Rest of Us Sink
CJ Hopkins
The United States of Cognitive Dissonance
Howard Lisnoff
BDS, Women’s Rights, Human Rights and the Failings of Security States
Mike Whitney
Will Washington Risk WW3 to Block an Emerging EU-Russia Superstate
John Wight
Martin McGuinness: Man of War who Fought for Peace in Ireland
Linn Washington Jr.
Ryancare Wreckage
Eileen Appelbaum
What We Learned From Just Two Pages of Trump’s Tax Returns
Mark Weisbrot
Ecuador’s Elections: Why National Sovereignty Matters
Thomas Knapp
It’s Time to End America’s Longest War
Chris Zinda
Aggregate Journalism at Salon
David Welsh
Bay Area Rallies Against Trump’s Muslim Ban II
March 22, 2017
Paul Street
Russiagate and the Democratic Party are for Chumps
Russell Mokhiber
Single-Payer, the Progressive Caucus and the Cuban Revolution
Gavin Lewis
McCarthyite Anti-Semitism Smears and Racism at the Guardian/Observer
Kathy Kelly
Reality and the U.S.-Made Famine in Yemen
Kim C. Domenico
Ending Our Secret Alliance with Victimhood: Toward an Adult Politics
L. Ali Khan
Profiling Islamophobes
Calvin Priest
May Day: Seattle Educators Moving Closer to Strike
David Swanson
Jimmy Breslin on How to Impeach Trump
Dave Lindorff
There Won’t Be Another Jimmy Breslin
Jonathan Latham
The Meaning of Life
Robert Fisk
Martin McGuinness: From “Super-Terrorist” to Super Statesman
Steve Horn
Architect of Federal Fracking Loophole May Head Trump Environmental Council
Binoy Kampmark
Grief, Loss and Losing a Father
Jim Tull
Will the Poor Always Be With Us?
Jesse Jackson
Trump’s “March Massacre” Budget
Joe Emersberger
Rafael Correa and the Future of Ecuador: a Response to James McEnteer
March 21, 2017
Reshmi Dutt-Ballerstadt
On Being the “Right Kind of Brown”
Kenneth Surin
God, Guns, Gays, Gummint: the Career of Rep. Bad Bob Goodlatte
David Rosen
Popular Insurgencies: Reshaping the Political Landscape
Ryan LaMothe
The Totalitarian Strain in American Democracy
Eric Sommer
The House Intelligence Committee: Evidence Not Required
Mike Hastie
My Lai Massacre, 49 Years Later
James McEnteer
An Era Ends in Ecuador: Forward or Back?
Evan Jones
Beyond the Pale
Stansfield Smith
First Two Months in Power: Hitler vs. Trump
Dulce Morales
A Movement for ‘Sanctuary Campuses’ Takes Shape
Pepe Escobar
Could Great Wall of Iron become New Silk Roadblock?
Olivia Alperstein
Trump Could Start a Nuclear War, Right Now
David Macaray
Norwegians Are the Happiest People on Earth
March 20, 2017
Michael Schwalbe
Tears of Solidarity
Patrick Cockburn
Brexit, Nationalism and the Damage Done
Peter Stone Brown
Chuck Berry: the First Poet of Rock and Roll
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail