I had the pleasure of attending a lunchtime lecture at the the James Beard House by Hervé This, as part of their Beard on Books series held at the James Beard House, a very cool, if not terminally skinny townhouse. Seriously, you have to take a deep inhale and practically turn sideways to make it up the stairs.
Haven’t heard of Hervé This? Don’t worry I hadn’t either. However, I’d bet that you've heard of molecular gastronomy, that kind of cooking favored by Chef Wylie Dufrense and Chef Ferran Adria in Spain; it was even utilized by Chef Marcel Vingeron, Top Chef contestant in season two. Well, Hervé, is the veritable pere of Molecular Gastronomy. Did I mention that he’s a chemist, not a chef. Confused?
Hervé This made a very important distinction between molecular gastronomy and molecular cooking. Molecular gastronomy is the science behind how food works; molecular cooking [what Dufrense and Adria and others do] is the artistic application of the scientific knowledge that molecular gastronomy has uncovered.
Hervé This went on to explain that in 1980, yes 27 years ago, he started fooling around with the idea [or idée as he said in his Maurice Chevalier accent] of how food works. Hervé This [pronounced Tees in case you ever run into him], took a scientific approach to uncovering the chemical mysteries behind food and more specifically unraveling commonly held beliefs about how food works. He started collecting those commonly held beliefs, i.e. old wives tales, renaming them “culinary precisions” and currently has 25,000 recorded. Very soon they will be put up on the internet, on the site of the Institute where he works. The site is in French, natch, but he said NYU was picking up on his lead and collecting American old wives tales about cooking as I write this. [Grub Street has a round-up of Hervé This's other activities around town this week.]
It was a very cool short lecture on this new, old, cutting edge of collective food knowledge and culinary skill.