Kitchen Tech and Progress

MCOctober 22, 2010

The link between humanity’s development and the evolution of cooking techniques is well-documented and perhaps even obvious. Less apparent, however, is that along the way, many “traditional” chefs and cooks turned up their noses at new and emerging gastronomic tools and techniques of their time.

Some new products, such as the pressure cooker, initially seemed destined for mass-market adoption, but have never become commonplace. Other, much more outlandish-sounding contraptions, perhaps most notably the microwave oven, eventually became so widespread that a backlash occurred and people waxed nostalgic for the way food used to be prepared. But somewhere between the Kyocera hand-honed ceramic knife and the Slap Chop are the inventions that simplified difficult, time-consuming, or previously unfeasible kitchen tasks enough to become essential tools in their own right.

There are Luddites and technophiles in every realm and every generation. Despite its title, Modernist Cuisine doesn’t take a strong position on old versus new. Rather, the book was created to explore the boundaries between the conventional and the avant-garde, and to push the envelope of modern cooking. Modernist Cuisine employs science to discover and explain how things work, why they don’t, and how to achieve culinary feats formerly considered impossible.

Does water boiled in a microwave oven or on an induction burner taste or behave any differently than water boiled over a gas flame or on a wood stove? Does anyone miss the prolonged stirring, beating, whipping, and kneading that is now handled by the ubiquitous electric mixer? Is a pinch or a dash somehow better than a gram or a microgram as measured by an electronic scale? Who’s to say that the ultrasonic pressure cooker won’t someday soar in popularity like the microwave oven or that the rotary homogenizer won’t ultimately be as common as today’s electric blender? Stranger things have happened.

History’s culinary scientists, inventors, and pioneers had to create every recipe, implement, and technique in use today. The team behind Modernist Cuisine is aware that not everyone wants to be on the bleeding edge of food science. But someone has to do it. Otherwise, sharp rocks and pointed sticks would be the only tools of the culinary trade.


One Response to “Kitchen Tech and Progress”

  1. Joe Condon

    As a foodie/cook who is planning a new dream kitchen, i am considering going with an induction cooking system. I would love to hear opinions from your group about whether given the results of your research you would choose induction over gas today?

    Can one get authentic wok cooking at home? How many btus does one need? Can induction woks( i.e. cooktek) do the job?

    What are relative advantages of gas vs electric ovens?

    Do you have anyone who would be willing to answer these questions?

    Thanks. I am looking forward to the book.

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