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The Scientific Art of the Perfect Meal

The Scientific Art of the Perfect Mea The New Republic

The Scientific Art of the Perfect Mea The New Republic


Lopez-Alt wasn’t the only chef-turned-writer searching for perfection through science. You could argue that his approach has somewhat lofty origins in molecular gastronomy, the style of cooking practiced by chefs such as Ferran Adria and Heston Blumenthal. These chefs used their knowledge of food science to develop new combinations of tastes and textures. As Lopez-Alt writes in his new book The Food Lab (based on his Serious Eats columns), “Restaurants that revel in using the science of cookery to come up with new techniques…are not just proliferating but”—like Adria’s restaurant elBulli—“are consistently ranked as the best in the world.” The book itself is a beautiful behemoth, at over 950 pages replete with images that range from food porn to the instructional and diagrammatic. With its white, minimalist cover it looks a lot like Modernist Cuisine, the six-volume guide to “laboratory-inspiredhaute cuisine by former Microsoft executive Nathan Myrhvold, published to great fanfare in 2011.

Yet it makes more sense to see Lopez-Alt’s particular strain of perfectionism as a product of the internet. Unlike Myrhvold and Adria’s respective projects, “The Food Lab” wasn’t about creating new, impossible forms of unfood-like food, like transparent ravioli, or oak moss vapor—delicate operations, more or less limited to professional kitchens. Like many of his contemporaries, Lopez-Alt explains instead how to cook optimized versions of already familiar foods: potato hash, roast chicken, lasagna, and the like. He has more in common with contrarian food bloggers like L. V. Anderson, who debunked misconceptions about cooking in her Slate column “You’re Doing It Wrong”. He shares, too, the completist tendencies of Felicity Cloake, who combines the art of cooking with the art of aggregation in her Guardian series, “How to Cook the Perfect…” Every week, she compares a set of well-known recipes for a new dish, documenting her results with iPhone-quality photos. It’s an experimental method that yields generally trustworthy results, though of course it can only build on old methods.

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What's most interesting to me about the Science of Food is how many different approaches are listed above. There are many ways to construct a perfect meal.

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