Modernist cooking creates surge of science shops

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 28, 2013 at 7:51 am •  Published: February 28, 2013
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Experimenting with modernist cuisine, sometimes called molecular gastronomy, is the next step in the country's love affair with cooking. In the same way that home cooks emulate what they see on the Food Network, many want to replicate the gels and foams they taste at elite restaurants like Chicago's Alinea and New York's WD-50. Aided by cookbooks such as "Modernist Cuisine at Home," the definitive guide that was published last year, many accomplished home cooks have gained the confidence and incentive to kick their basic skills up a notch.

"It's just taking a lot of really good basics and creating something different with them," says Paul Edward, co-founder of the online culinary retailer Chef Rubber, whose modernist offerings account for 30 percent of business. "You can take a really nice stock that you've made, and you can make a soup with it. Or you can make caviar or gelify it. You can do something really different. But at the end of the day it's just a stock and it has to be a really good one."

Barriers to entry are relatively low. Molecule-R kits cost between $60 and $120. Chef Rubber customers spend from $75 to $150 per visit, Edward says.

"It really depends on what you want to do," says Anderson, whose average customer spends $60 to $75 per visit. "The major investment is in your time, not in ingredients. But once you get into sous vide you do need a circulator, so there's an entry cost. But most of the techniques don't require that much."

Many mainstream professional chefs have appropriated methods from their modernist brethren. For instance, sous vide has been widely adopted as an excellent and nearly foolproof way to cook meat. And while many if not most of these techniques will remain too esoteric for the average home cook, certain practical elements — using the microwave to steam fish, using additives to emulsify the sauce in macaroni and cheese — may filter into home kitchens. But probably not any time soon.

"There are things like that that are modernist cuisine techniques," says Susan Edgerley, dining editor at The New York Times. "Some of those are applicable and easy and practical and some of them aren't. There's an intersection of modernist cuisine and the home cook. I just don't know how big it is."