Molecular Gastronomy

While there’s still a lot to be said for a chicken roasted over an open flame, or a good piece of jerky, probably some of the first “culinary” efforts by early man, some people are pushing the envelope beyond the cooking techniques we’ve used for centuries.

Since the discovery of yeast to leaven bread, and fermentation to produce wine, man has called upon science to further our epicurean pleasures. Early on, the goal was simply to preserve food for consumption later. Pasteurization for example, was a major discovery in the application of science to the food we eat. Later, during the “better living through science” years of the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s the goal was generally to apply science to food to produce “industrial food.” Big food companies needed to produce food for the masses, and to maximize profit while doing it. Remember the days of “Space Food Sticks?” What the heck were those things made of? We didn’t care, they were chocolatey, they were good, and if the astronauts ate them, then we darn well needed to eat them too — for some reason. A Space Food Stick and a glass of “Tang” and we were ready for any mission!

The good by-product of the industrial food years is that a lot of safe-to-consume scientific processes and additives resulted. Which have now been discovered by great chefs, or scientist/chefs who have developed a lot of interesting new ways to prepare and present foods. Not for preservation, or profit maximization, or to feed the masses. Just pretty much for fun. Some call these new methods”Molecular Gastronomy.” Others are not so taken with the term and simply call it “modern cuisine,” “avant-garde cuisine,” or simply “modern cooking.”

Hervé This, an Oxford physicist, considered to be the “father of molecular gastronomy” in 1992 held a series of workshops in Italy to attempt to more clearly define this new discipline in food science. Since then, the concepts have spread far and wide, and have become almost commonplace in upscale eateries everywhere.

One place where the concepts are put in to practice, is in the home kitchen of Dr. Jonathan Kaplan, OSU Philosopher, and mad food scientist in Corvallis. As a grad student in California, Jonathan worked with David Kinch, chef at “Sent Sovi” — and now the chef at the world famous “Manresa” in the San Francisco Bay Area. At one time, Jonathan thought he might want to be a chef rather than a professor. Being the holder of a PhD in philosophy, Jonathan is quite able to figure things out logically. After some time in a commercial kitchen, he was able to deduce that cooking for a living is a crazy amount of work involving demanding diners, and ridiculously long hours. Being a professor is more cerebral, less insane, and you can do all the cooking you want, of whatever you want, at home. Professor won the career path choice, with flying colors. Jonathan now enjoys visiting Manresa periodically, and cooking at home constantly. Prospective philosophy students hear this: do well in the OSU Philosophy department, and you might make the guest list for one of the Dr.’s extravagant dinner parties. Months spent experimenting with various devices to cook meats at low temperatures, using liquid nitrogen to instantly apply ridiculously low temperatures,and various gasses and alginates used to turn things into foam representations of their former selves or caviars that have never seen the inside of a fish result in fantastic dinners Jonathan loves to share with a lucky few a few times a year. Recently we attended one such dinner and a “Gastronomically Moleculicious” time was had by all. Enjoy our photo album from the evening, and for more on modern cuisine visit:

Lobster Salad
Potato Foam
Beautiful Table Setting
Lobster Cups
The Dr. at work (at home really)

Watch for more exclusive recipes from Jonathan right here in the pages of Willamette Living Magazine. Eat! Drink! Be happy!Dr. Kaplan can be reached at

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