Note by Note Cooking; The Future of Cooking is authored by Herve This. To be frank, this is both one of the most provocative books I have read in a long time -- and one of the most incomprehensible ones.
Let me begin by describing it in general terms and then push forward to some responses.
Note by Note Cooking is really about chemistry and cooking. On the one hand, this is both very interesting and useful. On the other hand, this is an advocacy document. What is This advocating for? Well, here's what I got out of it: All food is chemical. (Yes, obvious, I know.) Cooking involves transformations of various foodstuffs which are themselves all. . . chemical. Thus, cooking = chemical manipulation and chemical manipulation is not a negative thing. From this he moves to: food can be made by combining chemicals. (Again, yes, obvious in some sense, though the detail here is interesting. Chemicals for color, for mouthfeel, for smell and taste, each defined technically). Under-girding this is a view that argues that while there is clearly a distinction between bad additives and good chemical creation as cooking, the distinction is not bad chemical good non-chemical, since everything we eat is chemical. While one ought (obviously) not use carcinogenic chemicals, for example, to make food, knowing about them ought not lead us to avoid using chemicals in our cooking.
Alongside this advocacy, there are pictures of various meals or food items: something that looks like an egg and is made with nothing but various powders (aka chemicals) -- and tastes like an egg, for example. Ditto in the making of meat with muscles. And, then there are pictures of food that is not based on imitating something we already know (like eggs or meat), but making something entirely new. Here, This argues, is where creativity is reborn through note by note (aka chemical) cooking.
The book is couched in a teacherly way, making clear that the use of chemicals/additives is not all bad. This rejects some arguments simply out of hand, and defines his terms in various unique seeming ways. All in the interest of arguing for cooking as creative -- through chemistry. If all cooking is doing something with natural products, and all chemicals are natural products, then . .
Sounds great, right? Sounds obvious, right? And yet, to me, the argument feels more than a bit odd. I like the caviar-like balls that have surprising tastes invented by molecular gastronomists. I like some of the more chemical ideas. But: the whole thing makes me nervous. Whereas This might see me as simply nervos about change, I am not sure about that argument either, as it feels dismissive.
Hmm, I think. Some of the book is over my head, but the notions of experimentation in cooking and in chemistry feel more comfortable to me. Maybe I am an incrementalist not a revolutionary? Maybe I am secretly a cooking (and eating) conservative? Or, maybe I simply need to re-read Note by Note Cooking by Herve This.