New Criticals

Food Innovation

If you read food blogs, surely you have noticed that the backlash against molecular cuisine is now the de facto base for food criticism. Food writers sneer at menus that have anything remotely reminiscent of what is now considered a ‘fad’ in gastronomy. From that high point of innovation proposed by Adrià and his school, we have moved fully to the height of a new trend, that of the “care for the ingredient.”

Simple perfect ingredients are now the centerpieces of any plate and the discourse around it is one of authenticity. Locality is now paramount in the best kitchens around the world. During its height, molecular cuisine was authentic, but the cuisine d’auteur has now embraced authenticity of ingredients, sourcing of food products and knowledge of local terroirs as its most sincere banner. This has opened a space for producers to be more closely connected to cuisines and for some cooks to step outside into the gardens, farms, and markets to find the best ingredients.

However, this call for authenticity has not only alienated innovation in the form of cooking techniques, it correctly cautions about inauthentic ingredients and farming processes, while at the same time it battles piracy of recipes. This quest to prevent un-reattributed copy has pushed some restaurateurs to ban cell phone cameras in their halls, while others have started to trademark dishes and names of their creations. Authenticity is now a brand of its own.

Still, this call for authenticity has a very dark side, that of copyright and authorship. Many of the chefs forget that their cuisines are too copies of well tried flavors and experiences. Their plates forget history and only regard the present moment as important, without looking into the future, which inevitably is one of replication. But the chef is not the only culprit in this story. Both the food industry at-large and the consumer are also to blame.

Diners, in a quest to look for the latest dish, newest restaurant, or trying the most bizarre foods, have fueled a need for restaurants to push the boundaries of what is allowed, including in the check. The need to be “in the know,” has put the food critic in the driver seat and, in an age of constant status updates, almost everyone has turned into a food critic. On the other hand, the food industry at-large has pushed chef with sponsorships, food programs, book deals and other perks, to become secretive about their craft. Since profits are slim, only those with immense financial backing from corporate sponsors are able to move into the celebrity chef arena that most chefs now aim to be part of.  Sponsorship is now so prevalent that some chef’s jackets start to look like car-racing jackets with logos galore.

It is precisely the balance between authenticity and corporate sponsorship that has at the moment divided the food industry on two camps. Whatever camp comes out victorious could decide the future of the food industry for the next decade.