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

Weekend Edition
February 17, 2017
Friday - Sunday
David Price
Rogue Elephant Rising: The CIA as Kingslayer
Matthew Stevenson
Is Trump the Worst President Ever?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Flynn?
John Wight
Brexit and Trump: Why Right is Not the New Left
Diana Johnstone
France: Another Ghastly Presidential Election Campaign; the Deep State Rises to the Surface
Neve Gordon
Trump’s One-State Option
Roger Harris
Emperor Trump Has No Clothes: Time to Organize!
Joan Roelofs
What Else is Wrong with Globalization
Andrew Levine
Why Trump’s Muslim Travel Ban?
Mike Whitney
Blood in the Water: the Trump Revolution Ends in a Whimper
Vijay Prashad
Trump, Turmoil and Resistance
Ron Jacobs
U.S. Imperial War Personified
David Swanson
Can the Climate Survive Adherence to War and Partisanship?
Andre Vltchek
Governor of Jakarta: Get Re-elected or Die!
Patrick Cockburn
The Coming Destruction of Mosul
Norman Pollack
Self-Devouring Reaction: Governmental Impasse
Steve Horn
What Do a Louisiana Pipeline Explosion and Dakota Access Pipeline Have in Common? Phillips 66
Brian Saady
Why Corporations are Too Big to Jail in the Drug War
Graham Peebles
Ethiopia: Peaceful Protest to Armed Uprising
Luke Meyer
The Case of Tony: Inside a Lifer Hearing
Binoy Kampmark
Adolf, The Donald and History
Robert Koehler
The Great American Awakening
Murray Dobbin
Canadians at Odds With Their Government on Israel
Fariborz Saremi
A Whole New World?
Joyce Nelson
Japan’s Abe, Trump & Illegal Leaks
Christopher Brauchli
Trump 1, Tillerson 0
Yves Engler
Is This Hate Speech?
Dan Bacher
Trump Administration Exempts Three CA Oil Fields From Water Protection Rule at Jerry Brown’s Request
Richard Klin
Solid Gold
Melissa Garriga
Anti-Abortion and Anti-Fascist Movements: More in Common Than Meets the Eye
Thomas Knapp
The Absurd Consequences of a “Right to Privacy”
W. T. Whitney
The Fate of Prisoner Simón Trinidad, as Seen by His U. S. Lawyer
Brian Platt
Don’t Just Oppose ICE Raids, Tear Down the Whole Racist Immigration Enforcement Regime
Paul Cantor
Refugee: the Compassionate Mind of Egon Schwartz
Norman Richmond
The Black Radical Tradition in Canada
Barton Kunstler
Rallying Against the Totalitarian Specter
Judith Deutsch
Militarism:  Revolutionary Mothering and Rosie the Riveter
Nyla Ali Khan
Kashmir Evoked a Lot More International Attention in the 1950s Than It Does Now
Adam Phillips
There Isn’t Any There There
Louis Proyect
Steinbeck’s Red Devils
Randy Shields
Left Coast Date: the Dating Site for the ORWACA Tribe
Charles R. Larson
Review: Bill Hayes’ “Insomniac City”
David Yearsley
White Supremacy and Music Theory
February 16, 2017
Peter Gaffney
The Rage of Caliban: Identity Politics, the Travel Ban, and the Shifting Ideological Framework of the Resistance
Ramzy Baroud
Farewell to Doublespeak: Israel’s Terrifying Vision for the Future
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail