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Traditional Vs Modern Cooking: Distinctly Different or Two Peas in a Pod?

By Saira Malhotra | December 1, 2011

Photo: Cyndi Amaya

The International Culinary Center recently hosted a 6 panel discussion regarding food, technology and art. With the likes of chefs, such as Ferran Adria of El Bulli and Rene Redzepi of NOMA, molecular gastronomy has been getting a lot of ink and opinions are divided. Some consider this the food of hocus pocus, while others view it in light of a culinary evolution and a necessary development.

The panel participants were industry notables, such as, Dave Arnold, the director of culinary technology at the culinary center; Andre Soltner, Dean of the ICC, Johnny Iuzzini, executive pastry chef at Jean Georges, Marion Nestle, professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health at New York University, Nathan Myhrvold, the author of “Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking,” and Wylie Dufresne, the chef and owner of WD-50.

Much of the discussion stemmed from the book ‘Modernist Cuisine’. The objective of the book goes well beyond buzz words of foams, gels and nitrogen canisters, but rather highlights who we are as a society and what we have access to and according to Dufresne, “The value is that we are learning at a more accelerated rate than ever before. Information is trickling down, and we’re getting smarter.”

One may wonder what the relevance a book like this has to the layperson. According to Iuzzini “all techniques were new techniques at one point…So one day these new techniques, like sous vide, will be more accessible to the home cook. In the end, all we’re trying to do is create great food.” However, food traditionalist, Andre Soltner, was not easy to convince and even though he commits to reading it “I won’t say I’ll finish it”, he said.

If there is one certainty, it is that, this discussion evokes a reaction. While some consider this as a possibly dangerous method of cooking, others like Dufresne share the view that you are ‘unlikely to freeze your customers to death [by using liquid nitrogen], and hot soup in the dining room is more of a danger’.

Whatever your take, there is often a debate as to why it is necessary to even make the distinction and why the two philosophies can’t co-exist whether you as a chef are drawn by the modern techniques or traditional. Many argue that what should be the priority is to put out good food using whatever safe techniques are available to you and chefs and people should be less concerned with labeling and ostracizing techniques.

What are your favorite modern cooking techniques?

For more food news, follow me on Twitter (@MarcusCooks)

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