What is modernist cuisine? That is the single most common question we are asked. When writing Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking, we arrived at the term because it most completely captured the impetus and cultural significance of a revolution underway in the culinary arts. Here we offer ten principles of the Modernist movement.
Cuisine is a creative art in which the chef and diner are in dialogue. Food is the primary medium for this dialogue, but all sensory aspects of the dining experience contribute to it.
Culinary rules, conventions, and traditions must be understood, but they should not be allowed to hinder the development of creative new dishes.
Creatively breaking culinary rules and traditions is a powerful way to engage diners and make them think about the dining experience.
Diners have expectations—some explicit, some implicit—of what sort of food is possible. Surprising them with food that defies their expectations is another way to engage them intellectually. This includes putting familiar flavors in unfamiliar forms or the converse.
In addition to surprise, many other emotions, reactions, feelings, and thoughts can be elicited by cuisine. These include humor, whimsy, satire, and nostalgia, among others. The repertoire of the Modernist chef isn’t just flavor and texture; it is also the range of emotional and intellectual reactions that food can inspire in the diner.
Creativity, novelty, and invention are intrinsic to the chef’s role. When one borrows techniques and ideas or gains inspiration from other chefs or other sources that should be acknowledged.
Science and technology are sources that can be tapped to enable new culinary inventions, but they are a means to an end rather than the final goal.
First-rate ingredients are the foundation on which cuisine is built. Expensive ingredients such as caviar or truffles are part of the repertoire but have no greater intrinsic value than other high quality ingredients.
Ingredients originating in food science and technology, such as hydrocolloids, enzymes, and emulsifiers, are powerful tools in helping to produce dishes that would otherwise be impossible.
Diners and chefs should be sensitive to the conditions under which food is harvested and grown. Whenever possible, they should support humane methods of slaughter and sustainable harvesting of wild foods such as fish.