Note à Note, the Haute Cuisine of the Future?

If you’re one of those people who finds molecular gastronomy (where chefs cook using methods pioneered by the food processing industry to create things like flavored foams, because who doesn’t want spit on their plate) pretentious and annoying, I have good news and I have bad news. The good news is molecular gastronomy is soooo second season of Top Chef. Passé! The bad news is one of the inventors of molecular gastronomy, Hervé This, has cooked up (har har) another modern method for food preparation that you will probably find even more aggravating: note à note, or note-by-note for English speakers.

note a note dish

I *think* this is lobster soufflé and a “fibré” of beef and carrots. Image via Academia Europaea | Graz Information Centre.

This (pronounced “tees”) uses basic chemicals to create food from scratch. Molecular scratch, that is. Instead of a combination of garlic, olive oil, salt, egg yolk, and lemon, for example, This’ recipe for aioli looks like this: O[10-5, 10-4] / W[D > 6 X 10-7]. My mouth is watering just looking at it! Note-by-note cuisine started with cocktails (of course, why always the cocktails?) and has since spread to sauces, jellies, and ices. This hopes to create never-before-tasted foods with his new method.

But Tasha, you’re probably not saying, food is already made up of chemicals anyway. That’s right, and you know what else? There’s already a “chef” who puts all those chemicals together into tasty food products, automagically! It’s called… wait for it… nature. You might also say, if you were in this PBS video that we “shouldn’t be afraid of something just because our grandmother didn’t use it,” and that might be true. I mean, I’m sure the Romans thought the same thing when they pioneered the production of lead cups. Why not fix something that’s not broke, right?? Right? And god knows creating one’s own bizarre foods from molecular building blocks has no Dr Frankenstein-esque implications AT ALL.

note a note cuisine

I believe this is oyster tapioca, with Bavarian cream and sea jelly. Image via Academia Europaea | Graz Information Centre.

I’m not going to pretend I completely understand how note-by-note works on a practical level (I’ve never taken a chemistry course in my entire life), but one thing I do understand is This’ argument in favor of note-by-note cuisine. It’s not just, “Hey Mom, I found something new to play with!” This says note-by-note could help augment the world’s energy crisis by transporting crops’ chemical elements rather than the crops. One example he gave was transporting tomatoes from Spain to France is expensive, but without their water and reduced to chemical powders, it would cost less and use less energy. Mmmmmhmmmmmm. So instead of spending money and energy to transport crops, you’re going to spend a bunch of money and energy to extract the chemical compounds from a food, transport said chemicals, then use energy and money to recreate a food that was already a food to begin with! Makes perfect sense. Let’s go with that instead, of, say cooking with French tomatoes. Or canned tomatoes. Or tomato paste.

But that’s not really the major objection to note-by-note cuisine. Americans eat food chemicaled out the wazoo all the time. No, the huge, possibly insurmountable, hurdle This must overcome is that his cuisine doesn’t taste that good. One writer described a note-by-note meal as “sampling a food’s shadow.” Totes worth it, then.

note a note cuisine

“Eruption” of blackcurrant powder with a ball of blackcurrant. Image via Academia Europaea | Graz Information Centre.

That being said, maybe This is on to something here. Perhaps note-by-note cooking IS the cuisine of our future—our dystopian future. Once Monsanto’s unkillable wheat takes over the world and spreads its genes to other plants, we kill all the animals with poison meant to kill the zombie wheat, and the environment is shot to hell because of the Supervolcano or whatever, making food from chemicals in our 3-D printers may be the only thing left to us. I mean, we already know food made with chemicals can be delicious and long-lasting—I’m eating from a bag of Doritos right now that’s been expired for four years.

Better living through science, y’all.




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About Tasha Brandstatter

Tasha Brandstatter is a freelance writer, bibliophile, art historian, and cocktail blogger at Liquid Persuasion. Feel free to chat with her about libations and books @heidenkind.