Is the tide turning for ‘Molecular Gastromony’? 1

Over the past 18 Months or so there has a small ripple of concern about so called ‘Molecular Gastromony’.

Whilst the like’s of Adria, Blumenthal, Keller & McGee release a ‘Chefs Statement’ in Aug 2008, which is still on the Fat Duck website , the ripple of concern about the chemicals that they & their disciples use has started to gather pace.

In May 2008 Chef Santi Santamaria of the 3 Michelin starred Can Fabes restaurant in Barcelona, claimed  that “we are facing a public health issue”, siting the case of methylcellulose or E461 as it might appear on an ingredients list, as at the time was a prevalent ingredient used by Adria at El Bulli creating warm ice creams. The claim made by Chef Santamaria is ” that eating more than 6 grams of methylcellulose can be harmful to the health…”, whilst on the surface there may be some truth to his claims.

E461 is used in a wide variety of applications; laxatives, paint emulsifiers and shampoos to name a few. All non to appealing I’m sure to the well healed diner at El Bulli & The Fat Duck. Whilst the FDA in America concluded that “In humans, virtually 100 percent of orally ingested methyl cellulose can be recovered in the feces within four days, indicating that absorption does not occur. However, in pregnant mice, very high doses of methyl cellulose, while not teratogenic, cause a significant increase in maternal mortality and retardation of fetal maturation”

Fast forward to Oct 2009, journalist  Jörg Zipprick writes an article in which he states that Ferran Adria’s menus should carry health warning, siting that in one sitting alone a person can consume 16% of an individuals additive intake. Quite how he arrives at this figure remains a mystery as I’m sure Adria didn’t just hand over that seasons recipes for him to analyse. But yet again it was a blip on the radar of such innovative cooking.

Only this week the Italian government has stepped in to the breach, trying to legislate against ‘Molecular Gastronomy’.

Italy hereby says that “for the security of its citizens” it wants to eliminate, and make it no longer possible for restaurants to use certain additives (which will still be allowed in the industrial food processing though).

Unfortunately, there are a few flaws to this piece of legislation, firstly it expires 31st Dec 2010 & secondly they are calling for the banning of “storage and use of any gaseous substance” namely liquid nitrogen. Surely they have lost this battle already as by it’s very nature liquid nitrogen is a liquid not a gas.

With the growth of the internet, information is now more wide spread & available than it ever has been in the past, allowing Ferran & Heston wanna-be’s to arrive at ill conceived flavour combinations and the use of chemicals for which they have little or no understanding. Yes, E461 (Methocel) does have properties which can be used to surprise & delight customers, but at what cost? , And as for the use of liquid nitrogen. Just ask the German chef who lost both hands whilst experimenting at home with it.

I have been fortunate to eat at one of these ‘temples of gastronomy’ and quite frankly the more I have thought about it the more I arrive at the same conclusion. As a complete dining experience it was  marginally above average, the seating was cramped, some dishes were so poorly conceived & executed it defied belief and I’m starting to believe that it is a classic case of the Emperor’s new clothes. Yes, the pictures that the likes of Jay Rayner post in their newspaper columns are very pretty, but the phrase about book & cover springs to mind.

Whilst the Italian law maybe a knee jerk reaction in an effort to protect their beloved cuisine and is poorly executed at best, they may actually have a point.

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