Grease Trap: Are We Culinary Luddites?

Tara Duggan’s neatly thorough exploration of sous vide in the Chron begs an obvious question: What up, East Bay? Sous vide – a cooking method that seals food in plastic and slow-poaches it – is perhaps the friendliest technique in the repertoire of molecular gastronomy: a style of cooking that flaunts some weird-sounding chemistry. Duggan includes a hand sidebar of Bay Area restaurants that occasionally use sous vide – but there isn’t an East Bay place on the list. Though molecular gastronomy is catching on to some degree in every major American restaurant enclave, is the East Bay full of culinary Luddites, shunning the sleek new cooking methods? Can we blame the conservative mojo emanating from Chez Panisse that has our chefs in its thrall?
On a recent trip to Chicago – America’s capital of molecular gastronomy – we sat through a ten-course at Moto, the genre’s brash bad boy. True, we left scratching our heads. The meal was a series of familiar elements put through entirely unfamiliar methods. Fried rice, for instance, got pureed and “cooked” in liquid nitrogen, emerging brittle, crispy, and cold. Or a truffle that tasted like cotton candy (with a weird, watery center), served with a scrap of edible paper with an effect like picking the last condensed strands of spun sugar from a paper cone. Yeah, it was funky, and a little scary, to tell the truth. But we have to admit it was also kinda fun. Maybe that’s it: More than molecular gastronomy, maybe we need more fun and less sober, pristine, harvested-from-within-a-hundred-miles seriousness in the East Bay’s restaurant culture. Don’t we?

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