Posted by: Ariel | April 13, 2012

“The History of Molecular Gastronomy”

If the good lord had intended us to walk, he wouldn’t have invented roller-skates.

We begin, not with European professors and hydrocolloid solutions, but with a man: William. The circumstances of his childhood are not well known to us. It seems safe to assume he led a relatively independent life, travelling extensively and accumulating the wealth of diverse knowledge that would serve him well as an adult. His parents remain a complete mystery, and perhaps a bit of a disconnect in that regard is what led to his never marrying and the unconventional adoption in his later years. What sort of a man must he have been, this quintessential explorer? Devoted solely to responsibilities of the self. Fearless, surely, and with an unsatisfied mind darting like a salamander from idea to idea – always looking for something more interesting, always a bit bored.

We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams.

The enervating abyss of boredom, as we know, presents a grave danger unless filled with an equal amount of ambition, and so it was that our young man luckily turned his mind to productive pursuits. We see, though it is still poorly recorded, his increasing interest in the senses, particularly tastes and flavors. His journeys then became less haphazard and more purposeful; we can actually trace some of the routes he took, through Morocco and the Mediterranean, as it was known, through southern Spain and the islands of the Atlantic, which is of course where his fame was first kindled. But let us contemplate briefly the importance of that creative urge, that compelling stirring of the emotions that leads us lovestruck from mere watchers, listeners, consumers of experiences, to find ourselves producers of new things, and bestowers of fresh newborn substance upon the weary world.

Where is fancy bred, in the heart or in the head?

Through his heroic actions on the isle of Loompa, he saved a people and created enough goodwill for his company to last several lifetimes. His legend was already established in his lifetime. But underneath that legend, the man remains, and his passion for imaginative and groundbreaking food science stands on its own merits as the precursor to what we consider modernist cuisine. Exploding candy for your enemies, hot ice creams for cold days, wriggle-sweets that wriggle delightfully in your tummy after swallowing, and the ever-acclaimed three-course dinner in a piece of chewing gum – these represent just a fraction of the recipes developed by William in secret. Whether made possible by unprecedented technological know-how, an unearthly grasp of the science, or simply the nerve to mix two things that had never been mixed before, we may never know. What we can say for certain, is that his ideas, bizarre and unnatural though they may be, represent a colorful part of our history: an art that does not merely reflect life, but adds to it.

Further reading

Consider the tension between simplicity and complexity in this Freakonomics podcast, where the question is asked, “what could be lost by understanding something completely?” The answer, of course, is magic.

You may also find interesting the remarkably similar treatment in the Deep Space Nine episode Paradise.

Justifying means with ends.


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