Young and Hungry

Is Molecular Gastronomy Ruining Fine Dining?

HuffPo is foaming at the mouth about the pitfalls of molecular gastronomy, the über-artistic deconstructive and recreative take on food practiced at places like José Andrés' Minibar and R.J. Cooper's Rogue 24 (read Y&H's review here): "Because of its great influence on food critics and patrons of top restaurants, molecular gastronomy, whatever its artistic merits, discards the capitalist, hospitable, popular traditions that have long made fine dining (in D.C. and elsewhere) the most culturally relevant of the arts."

The author argues that the genre too often puts "art above service" and can be a chore for the diner to experience: "Minibar (where I enjoyed most of my meal) left me with a sore back after sitting more than two hours on a backless bar stool." As a trend, he concludes, molecular gastronomy "threatens to detach 'fine dining' from popular food culture. And that's not good for D.C."

What do you think?

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

  • yup

    Waah, some dude needs special chairs. Puh-lease. Minibar wasn't an every night place; it was a special event, a celebration of food and taste, and perhaps the best meal of my life. Perhaps the author would be more happy with a Hungry Man dinner in his easy chair?

  • steve

    @yup...ya know a hungry man dinner is far better than half these new hipster places. Its pretty funny how the same hipsters and liberal yuppies complain about greed and anti-wall street are the same people willing to pay $45 for a "new version" of a grilled cheese sandwhich thats the size of a deck of cards.

    Puhhh lease people, all we're getting out of this is crappy service, terrible food and an empty stomach and wallet. What ever happen to normal America? ya know no-skinny jeans and normal food.

  • Keith B.

    You clearly know nothing about hipsters, old man steve. They are ruining America with $3 PBRs, not $45 grilled cheeses. Which ironically puts their swill right in your price range, hungry man.

  • steve

    thats because hipsters wouldnt know good taste if it punched them in the face. btw paying $3 for PBR is like paying $45 for a grilled cheese.

  • Ben

    Well, this is certainly an enlightening comments thread.

    Does anyone else have any absurdly broad generalizations or empty platitudes that they would like to add?

  • Alley Cat

    I feel a deep sorrow and pity for people like Chris Shott and Eli Lerher -as I should feel bad for whoever wants to fill up at McDonalds, after going to Minibar or eat a take out pizza or bowl of pasta after experiencing Rogue 24.
    On the other hand, they try to pit RJ against Minibar. They are right. Rogue 24 beats Minibar at its own game.

    There's space in town for several great chefs, let's not forget that RJ got his Beard award four years BEFORE Jose. Let's not forget also that RJ has a great creative mind, and that he doesn't need populist tricks -as pointed out by the Huff Post guy, referring to Jose's emporium- to succeed. If they want to feel their bellies full, they can go to McDonald's or Five Guys, or call in for Domino's. If they are not sophisticated and savvy enough to understand Cuisine as an Art, well, they should go to one of those places where they serve food by the pound.

    Art cannot be populist, in my opinion, because it becomes propaganda instead of art.
    Cuisine cannot be populist, either, or it becomes truck stop food.... Please notice that they don't even mention traditional classic cuisine, or hearty peasant food as a form of edible comfort. They only want to feel full. So.... along with the guy who brings his own booze to your restaurant, they can all take a hike.
    One of these days I will write my own review, and we will find where to publish it.... these writers are not behaving like professional journalists, they are taking a high school yard mentality to the newspapers and websites where they publish, they try to influence the public, and it's all about their supine ignorance and their envy.

    To RJ: there is a phrase that I like a lot from Don Quixote -not from the original, but from the Orson Welles cinematic version..... Sancho tells Don Quixote: "Lord, the hounds are barking and howling" and Don Quixote retorts: "My dear Sancho, that's because we are". So, as long as you are, they will bark and howl. Spur the horse, and keep galloping. Or better, turn that gas handle in the Harley, and make them eat dust and smoke. Molecular style.

  • C in Logan

    I concur with Alley Cat. Cusine cannot populist, it is art and, as such, it needs to be seen as an experience that nourishes the stomach as much as the soul. Having said this -and with all due respect to the journalists who write about food in various newspapers- I wonder how it is possible for many of them to not be able to make this distinction and see molecular gastronomy for what it is: an mazing experience for all the senses.
    This is what RJ is offering, but instead they are allowing themselves to compare a Picasso with some poor guy on the corner who has a canvas and some crayons. They need to open their eyes and see the difference!
    As for the food portions, although the populist media would like for us to think otherwise, bigger is not better. That is what is leading our country to ruin (big cars, big houses, huge food portions...). It is time for us to rethink how we live and appreciate the amazing talent that RJ has.

  • Mike

    The last two posts are as pretentious as the food that this article is referring to. Well played.

  • C in Logan

    Mike,It is not about being pretentious, it is about seing molecular cuisine as delicious form of art and asking that it get the respect it deserves. Unfortunately though, most of those so called journalists who cover food are more familiar with the simpler foods and don't have the background required to write about something other than meat and potatoes. DC is the capital of the US, why not wow those who live here and those who visit with something other than the regular staple? Just a thought...

  • Mike

    C.... I completely agree with you about something other than the regular staple but the food has gotten out of control. $500 for two people. A chef who had people sign what is essentially a dining contract. The list goes on. If an innovative chef can do something amazing and not get a Bobby Flay sized ego and triple prices bravo to them. Sadly Gastronomy has become correlated with overpriced asshole food.

    Oh and big ups to Toki keeping it real!

  • Alley Cat

    Wow Mike, so your concerns are the price and the contract, among a laundry list of non-disclosed items. I am wondering what keeps you from planning an "Occupy Blagden Alley" type of charade.

    I kind of doubt that rival chefs or McDonalds are going to provide free food for the demonstrators who will chant against high prices and contracts (by the way, at least the chef is asking about allergies and food preferences, while at some other places cholesterol and chemicals are just part of the deal, as are cows asshole bits in the meat used in your typical chain burger -to answer your concern about asshole food)

    Nobody goes to Rogue 24 against their will, unless they certain food critics, apparently. And at least one of these critics thought that it was a BYOB establishment. Talk about disrespect and contempt.

    Nobody is required to like or prefer one restaurant over others, but I thought that the point of contention was the food.

    Now I see that it is some sort of under-the-wraps-class-warfare, since you are concerbed that the masses can't afford Rogue 24 and that they are offended by a "contract". Of course, they shouldn't be required to show some good taste and not keep on twitting, texting, facebooking, and chatting with their mouths full into their smartphones, either.

    Paraphrasing Marie Antoinette, if they are hungry, they can eat their burgers!

  • steve

    food is not art. period. I love to cook. i love to make new things. but food is sustenance. it is not art. not everything in this world can be classified as art (example that crazy lady in NYC who gave birth at an art museum and called it "art")

    point is, these are people who dont know how to cook, so they find creative ways to maske a crappy meal.

    food is sustenance. it is suppose to satisfy your palat AS WELL as your needs. period

  • Alley Cat

    Food is not art. Cuisine is.
    Art differentiates people from primates.
    Therefore reducing food to its primal status of sustenance denies the need for experimentation and art that has separated humanity from the rest of the animal kingdom.
    There are simpler palates, and simpler needs.
    And there are more sophisticated palates, which respond to more sophisticated needs, too.
    By the way, I think that maternity in a museum kinds of re-evaluates maternity as an art. Social comment as an art, that is.

  • steve

    "food is not art. cuisine is"

    If thats not the dumbest statement of the day, what is cuisine? food.

    There is a difference with experimenting with food as to make a more enjoyable meal compared to playing around with food just so you could charge $45 for a steak the size of a quarter so some dumb hipster can call it art.

    Im glad some people can afford to spend that much for no real satisfaction. Btw, when food is that small can you REALLY taste what the chef's intentions were? or are you just eating it because its the cool thing to do?

    Also, on a related note for those eating said food, whats your opinion of the occupy wall street protesters? think before you respond ot make sure you arent actually the person you are trying to hate on.

  • Jane

    There's a time and a place for everything. Food absolutely can be art; I had a blast at Rogue 24. But nine times out of ten I would rather have a lot of something that tastes good. That doesn't have to be an either-or proposition in fine dining. Traditional places like Restaurant Eve and Cityzen have very filling portions that are beautiful, too.

    Molecular gastronomy isn't ruining fine dining; the idea that everyone should aspire to it is. A handful of places in a big city---that's fine. But part of what makes it interesting is the fact that it's special and out of the everyday experience. If it becomes common, then not only will we be hungry, but it won't be as much fun.

  • Nova Nicoise

    No, it's not ruining anything! No one is holding a gun to anyone's head to make them go, nor is there one on every block. It's not like it's taking over the dining scene! I'm glad to have the option of experiencing the cuisine of MG when I want to.

  • Jen

    It seems so disingenuous to me to criticize a food movement and then list specific examples without having eaten the food there. It's obvious that Eli hasn't eaten at Rogue 24 or he would report that the experience, far from being rude is one of the best you will ever experience in this city, and that includes being served dishes not only by your servers, but by the mixologist and the chefs as well. At how many places can you dine and be served your food by the owner and head chef himself? If he had eaten there, he would also know "forest essence" is mushroom, and it's in one of the most outstanding dishes I have ever had. He would also know that at Rogue 24 at least molecular gastronomy plays a role that makes the dishes playful, interesting, exciting, and unique, but it is not so central to what they're doing that you don't still receive plated dishes that rival any I've ever eaten.

    What pisses me off the most is that comments are closed so I guess Eli gets to make his uninformed rant, but won't let anyone else who's actually eaten the food respond.

  • Linda Folso

    A bunch of spoiled rich people talking about tiny bits of food that have been deconstructed, stripped of their nutrients, and reconstructed into even tinier spheres. LOL Perfectly describes the decadence and the worthlessness of people who have far too much time and money on their hands.