When people who love food cook, they cook because they love food and want to pass that passion on to those around them. When a mum feeds her family with homecooked wholesome meals, she does so because she wants to nurture and care for them and give them the best possible foundation for growth. When a Michelin starred chef cooks for his customers – he does it because he strives every time to provide the ultimate culinary experience on the plate. And generally because there is more than a little ego involved in being considered at the very top of his tree in the business. Most top chefs we know would probably agree with that! But what happens when this obsession with ultimate perfection in food becomes a quest to pin down the structure of every single ingredient in a scientific manner? When complimentary items are no longer cast together in the pan with the certain knowledge of a happy outcome? When every cookery technique, every component, every method is examined, deconstructed, scrutinised and questioned for it’s very existence and role in kitchen? Is this extreme?
Ferran Adria, of El Bulli fame, the Master of molecular cooking, of deconstruction and reconstruction and sending the diner’s head into complete confusion about what has been presented on the plate, is unyielding in his mission to increase food knowledge, to play with foods and stretch the boundaries of possiblity in the kitchen. Adria is founder of the El Bulli Foundation, a place created out of the closure of his El Bulli restaurant, which won Best Restaurant In The World five times before it served up it’s last in 2011. The El Bulli Foundation combines a ‘cooking laboratory’, a food museum and an extensive record of all things food related – recipes, ingredients, methodology and the like. A recent article in Bon Appetit magazine highlights Adria’s new collaboration with Dom Perignon, to create El Bulli Lab, which takes that concept to further extremes. Appearing to be almost clinical in it’s dissecting approach to the research of connections in food and wine, the Bon Appetit article states that the Spanish chef says people are 'generally baffled' when they visit. Photographs show walls with whiteboards, diagrams, and pictures, including those of the size of bubbles in champagne. We can understand why they would be baffled. This man is no doubt the supreme Master of his work. He has given up serving his creations to awestruck diners in his restaurant, in favour of building a definitive knowledge of ingredients to be accessed by future generations – a bank of information that turns the theory and practice of food on it's head. Impressive indeed. The drive to attain this resource can’t help but infuse a sense of questioning about what the future holds for the food industry. Will the simple sensory pleasure of cooking eventually be replaced by performing an exact science in laboratory conditions? We've already seen the introduction of dehydrators to dry fresh ingredients down to the very essence of their scents and flavours, and water baths that cook meats to specific degrees – no flames or pans required. Will whiteboards and diagrams, measured droppers and squeezy bottles, thermometers and test tubes, soon become the usual tools of the top chef's trade? That’s the question.