Molecular Gastronomy in the Triangle

Andrea Weigl has an excellent piece in today’s N&O on restaurants using molecular gastronomy techniques in the Triangle, including The Mint, 1705Prime, Four Square and The George. Included online are some of Shawn Rocco’s great photographs including a step-by-step overview of the preparation of The Mint’s “strawberry shortcake.”


22 Responses to Molecular Gastronomy in the Triangle

  1. CHall says:

    We’re all entitled to our opinions, it’s a free country, maybe I’m a backward old f*rt, etc. etc…..that said, I wouldn’t partake of what The Mint is offering if it were given to me for free. When I’m hungry, I want some substantial, recognizable, honest-to-God food instead of a few chemically doctored-up morsels that have ohsuchaheavenly flavor. Although we actually have the means to pay $350/whatever for a meal, we do not choose to spend our money that way especially when there are so many people (not only in India, but right around here!) going hungry. We’re not going to support “food geeks” who choose to make their living playing around with food. The article mentions McCrady’s in Charleston….been there a few times, not going back again. What they serve in the way of food is simply not my idea of good eating; I’ve never left there feeling satisfied. Also I’m under the impression that many of McCrady’s patrons are there mainly for the vast wine selection rather than the food. As for the strawberry shortcake, I’ll take Varmint’s version (similar to my own) any day over The Mint’s.

  2. Varmint says:

    I think there’s a bit of a misunderstanding of what these restaurants are doing. There are no restaurants in the Triangle that have menus anything close to WD-50, Alinea, McGrady’s, Moto or any of the other pure molecular gastronomy institutions. Instead, the folks around here are using these techniques sparingly. The strawberry shortcake is probably the one dish where contemporary techniques are extensively used. The chicken dish, which is quite incredible, is just a really good form of chicken, sausage, potatoes and a poached egg. If you ate it, you wouldn’t think this is a science project. The only thing slightly “odd” about it would be the “froth”, but that’s just a different way of saucing the dish. Most of the items on The Mint’s menu, for example, are cooked with classic techniques — using fire and pans and traditional sauces.

    When you eat food that has been cooked en sous vide, you would only notice that it’s moist and tender — the texture might be a little different — but that’s about it.

    And as far as spending money when there are people going hungry, that’s a bit much. C’mon, people buy nice wines, nice cars, nice clothes. People wear jewelry, which has NO practical function at all. To splurge on a great meal is a choice we can all make, and although I’m as concerned about global hunger as much as anyone, this argument carries as much weight as when my mother made me eat my brussel sprouts because of those same starving people.

  3. CHall says:

    Addressing your last paragraph….I drive a “nice” car and wear fairly nice clothes (out in public, at home it’s a different story). But, just as I wouldn’t pay $350 for a meal to nourish my body, neither would I pay $100,000 for a car or $400 for, say, a white blouse. Some people happily pay those prices for those particular items; not I, not even if I had money coming out the wazoo. Who knows, maybe the day will come when those will be the going rates for cars, clothes, restaurant meals, etc. But right now, I know that I can find a satisfactory white blouse/a good, satisfying meal for much less than the previously stated prices. And no one has ever had to guilt me into eating Brussels sprouts; I’ve always done it willingly. Come to think of it, I don’t recall that anyone ever had to use that line about starving children in India on me.

    Since I haven’t set foot in The Mint, I can’t fairly comment on their meals. But I’d never call the meals I’ve had in (for example) McCrady’s “great”….regardless of their price. I guess it boils down to a person’s idea/opinion of what’s great and what’s not. I personally know people who, when they want a “great” meal, head to the Angus Barn. Yet these same people wouldn’t set foot in Fins, where I’ve always had meals ranging from very good to great. Although I can’t quote you, I believe you’ve stated in various places that you aren’t/haven’t been favorably impressed with Bloomsbury Bistro; I, on the other hand, have always been pleased with my meals there.
    To each his own, right? If someone wants to pay big bucks for “froth” and flavor, fine; it wouldn’t be my choice.

  4. Joe says:

    Whassamatta, Varmint? Didn’t get enough controversy with the Greg Cox post? 😉

  5. Varmint says:

    I guess not.

    I’ve always had a problem with folks saying that they can’t justify paying a lot of money for food because of world hunger, but then they spend a lot of money on other luxuries. I’m not criticizing chall’s choices, as I don’t know what she drives or if she wears jewelry. But if you indulge in any luxury, then you shouldn’t be in a position to use the world hunger argument. I drive a Honda. Neither my wife nor I wear any jewelry other than our wedding bands and cheap Timex watches. I buy a lot of my clothes from Target (shhh, don’t tell). But I, like a lot of people, will spend some money on a meal from time to time, and that’s my luxury. Whether the food comes from a place like Alinea or a Michelin 3 star restaurant in France, they’re equally expensive and equally luxurious. But it’s my choice.

    But this discussion isn’t about personal choices, it’s about the use of molecular gastronomy in the Triangle. Even if that use is very, very limited.

  6. LB says:

    I think Ms. Weigl did a great job with the article. What a great introduction to “molecular gastronomy” for the Triangle! I wish the very best to the local chefs who are making use of these techniques, and I look forward to dining in their restaurants. The area needs this kind of culinary diversity.

    I only take issue with the way that McCrady’s is being lauded along with restaurants like Alinea, The Fat Duck, and el Bulli! Sorry but McCrady’s is nowhere near that level of cuisine!

  7. CHall says:

    “But this discussion isn’t about personal choices, it’s about the use of molecular gastronomy in the Triangle. Even if that use is very, very limited.”

    And I hope it stays very, very limited. There was nothing in that article (or in the articles/posts about the Z Kitchen) that made me want to try it.

  8. ncn8tive says:

    There are many places I don’t like to eat, and foods and cooking methods that I don’t care for, but I don’t think they should be “very, very limited” just because I don’t like them…to each his own. There are too many problems in the world that stem from folks trying to force their views on others.

    I like cooking for a hobby…and the discussion of en sous vide cooking has had me researching a new use for that food saver vacuum thingie that my mom gave me for Christmas.

  9. Chad says:

    I thought the piece was quite well done. Another fine example of Andrea Weigl’s in-depth reporting. I was puzzled and a little saddened by two things, Todd Ohle’s quote and the ending of the article.

    Ohle, executive chef at 1705Prime, is quoted as saying, “We haven’t put it (molecular gastronomy) on the menu because, in my opinion, Raleigh isn’t ready for it.” He may mean exactly that, though I suspect there’s more background that we’re not getting in the article, but that quote was used as a pull-quote, larger and out of the context of the main piece. It’s going to come back to bite him in the ass. Unless the editor and layout artist were deliberately trying to inject controversy into an innocuous food piece, using that as the pull-quote was a terrible decision. It makes Ohlne look bad, and it makes Raleigh look bad.

    Along the same lines, while the article closes with a cheery quote from Jeremy Clayman, the preceding paragraphs make the completely unnecessary point that the chemistry behind these dishes is “safe to consume.” No kidding? Really? Somebody, either Andrea Weigl or her editor, assumed that diners are too ignorant to know anything about this stuff. Consequently, they raised a fear about safety that never would have been there otherwise.

    Again, I liked the piece overall. I think Andrea Weigl is doing a great job with the section, but those sour notes really leapt out at me.


  10. Varmint says:

    Here’s an interview of Grant Achatz that should be required reading for anyone interested in contemporary cooking:

  11. Fuzzy says:

    I would cheerfully partake of The Mint if it were free, just for the experience. Or if someone else were paying, or if I get a surprise bonus.

    I certainly understand the differences in people’s expectations and where they think it’s “great”. I have relatives who think that Golden Corral is the height of the restaurant industry because they measure quality by quantity by price by a minimum level of cleanliness / atmosphere / service / and quality of the actual food.

    I confess that I have in the past eaten at nouveau cuisine restaurants or molecular gastronomy places where I have complained about the 3 peas and a leaf on my plate, even while recognizing that I live in a country where over 60% of the people rate as obese.

    I think it’s pretty clear that Varmintbites is a great place to discuss everything from Chittlin’s to Molecular Gastronomy, but I’m not sure this blog is the place to get into in-depth arguments about world hunger, population control, and the evils that are CAFOs and Corn Subsidies Surely there are other places, and we can keep this as foodie heaven. /grins.

  12. Varmint says:

    As god is my witness, I’ll never talk about chittlin’s again!

  13. Scot says:

    I’m an actual practicing chemist, and I find reading about these types of things fascinating. I like to cook, I think I’m a good cook (as far as that goes; anyway, I’M usually willing to eat what I cook hehe), and what’s REALLY neat about ‘molecular gastronomy’ is what it teaches me about real cooking – “So THAT”S what I gotta do to get those dang egg whites to stand up! SCIENCE!” I love people like Alton Brown, who take some time to explain why and how different techniques work (the Chocolate Chip Cookie episode of Good Eats is awesome!) I bet the guys at the Mint could speak volumes.

    I also find it interesting when cooks use processed products like corn starch, agar, LN2, etc., the stuff on the ingredients label that gets people up in arms, to get the properties in food they want, given the general trend toward natural foods. Anybody ever heard an explanation for the ingredients in a Twinkie? Maybe you don’t want to eat them, but it sure is neat!

    Anyway, they may be doing it for art, but I like the techniques. Gotta get me a subscription to the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry …

  14. Scot says:

    And I’m not equating the Mint’s offerings to Twinkies – haven’t even eaten there (yet!)

  15. CHall says:

    Fuzzy mentioned eating at “….molecular gastronomy places where I have complained about the 3 peas and a leaf on my plate, even while recognizing that I live in a country where over 60% of the people rate as obese.”

    I refuse to patronize places which charge exorbitant prices for the proverbial 3 peas and a leaf on the artfully arranged plate. If someone wants to pay for that…well, it’s a free country; as for me, I refuse to be ripped off in that manner.

  16. ab says:

    CHall, sounds like you are just bitter about not leaving with a to-go box. Calm down. It IS a free country, and no one is twisting your arm to step into these places. If you are not willing to be open minded about good food and people who are just loving what they do for a living and perfecting food to make it more enjoyable for the consumer, then maybe there is really not a lot you can say. Didn’t you say that you have not even been to The Mint yet? This type of cooking is certainly not for everyone, but it seems really silly to criticize something you haven’t tried yet.
    I have had several FANTASTIC meals at McGrady’s and the things they are doing there are mind blowing in flavor and presentation. Raleigh is ready for this kind of food, and people need to give it a chance. I am one of those people that will spend my extra cash on a good meal, and by no means can I do it that often.
    I think it is great that these certain ingredients are being brought out, and that you now have the option to go have an amazingly FUN meal. There is nothing like leaving a restaurant satisfied-not disgustingly full-and not taking home a to-go box that you are just going to leave on the table or in the fridge. I am a loyal customer to places like Chili’s and Lonestar, but those meals do not provide near the excitement as one using great cooking techniques! To each their own, but I am glad Raleigh is coming around!

  17. CHall says:

    Thanks a lot for the lecture. You’ve got your opinion; I’ve got mine and it’s very different from yours. I too have had several meals at McCrady’s in Charleston and I’d never describe any of them as “fantastic”. I’ve never eaten anything there that was “mind blowing in flavor and presentation”. More like a big rip-off. I assume we’re talking about the same place. For the record, I’ve never been in a Lonestar, have eaten at a Chili’s twice at the most. I’ve also never left a restaurant with a “doggie bag”. We dine out usually one night a week at locally owned restaurants. Guess we’re just not into FUN and EXCITEMENT and so-called great cooking techniques. Hey, we’re able to find plenty of great food around here without setting foot in The Mint.

  18. Varmint says:

    First of all, let’s play nice, folks.

    Second, I still don’t think folks understand that The Mint is nothing like McGrady’s. If you go to The Mint, which has a very sizable menu, you’ll get very traditional-looking food. There are only a couple of dishes out of, what, 30, that could be described as “unusual.” The portions are large. The plates are well composed. And frankly, the food tastes really, really good. Might you run into a flavor combination that you’ve never had before? Yup. Crab and vanilla really work well together. But you’ll also run into a classic combination of tender English peas and morel mushrooms, served with a lovely piece of fish.

    A friend of mine wrote me yesterday, reminding me of Einstein’s classic quotation: “A mind that has been stretched will never return to its original dimension.” That’s all we’re talking about here, folks. Take a little chance, and who know, you might like it.

  19. ab says:

    Varmint, great quote! And you are exactly right, these two restaurants are not alike when it comes to menu, etc. Just comparing the fact that no matter what you order, its presentation is not going to be what you expect. It’s all about experience. It goes back to the, “try it, you may like it” quote we all probably heard when we were growing up.

  20. Maddy says:

    I’m not going to knock the Mint, I think it is great that they are willing to experiment with the latest techniques. But for me the strawberry shortcake just didn’t look that appetizing. I like substance, simplicity, and foods that are as close to their natural form as they can be. Glad to hear that the Mint does have some less “unusual” items on the menu. Not revealing their ingredients to diners because they are afraid people will think they are putting “chemicals” in the food is a little unnerving, while they may be perfectly safe as far as we know, they are still manufactured ingredients.

  21. who says:

    these hydrocolloids that are used to manipulate foodstuff are for the most part seaweed derivitives, others come from soy or corn. these hydrocolloids are vegan and make cooking for vegans and vegetarians more fun for the chef and the diner, we can manipulate ever so slightly (as in, the vegetables are pureed almost raw so we can incorporate our additives, or we can just cut and soak said vegetables in something like a simple syrup that is not sweet in order to dehydrate and make crispy. pretty natural. or is granola too crazy as well? same idea) also, the mint is not the only restaurant that is mentioned in this article. i like the fact that we are in the forefront and we are trying to do a lot of the educating about foreward thinking in food for the triangle. again though, people are using whatever they can to pile on and spit their propaganda about how bad the mint is and how our food and real estate is a cancer to all things simple and…BORING. if we suck so bad, then why is everyone paying so much attention? if you don’t like different, that is fine, but how did you learn to ride a bike, or drive clutch? those two activities are very unnatural and not necessarily simple (in the beginning), but somehow we all got over it and took a chance. not to mention as varmint and jason perlow have both said, most of our food is very simple, it’s just techniques that are so classic and involved that not too many chefs in this area take their time to showcase it. i love food and i take all the time in the day to show how great it can be, so shoot me. as far as simple food is concerned i love to eat street side hot dogs and totinos pizzas and food i don’t even know how to order at the road side taco joints on my way home in the summer time. food is just fun and wonderful and nourishing physically, mentally, and sometimes emotionally. sometimes food just wants to wear a different mask, sometimes we all do. if change is such a bad thing, wear the same socks everyday. that’s how i feel about not adapting and overcoming the monotony. have a blessed day! hey now varmint…

  22. detlef says:

    In response to maddy. Like you, I am not commenting on any of the local versions of MG because I have limited experience with any of their forays into it. I have, however, had a few meals including these techniques and feel that the chefs really need to be careful with how they “improve” a classic.

    A bit over a year ago, I ate at mini-bar in DC. 37 courses of very experimental food using the whole bag of tricks. I have to say that very little of it hit home for me. There was a dish called New New England Clam Chowder that was deconstructed and manipulated to the point of being sterile. One of my dining companions put it perfectly when he said, “I don’t think the next time I have clam chowder, I’m going to wish it was more like this.”

    Now, perhaps that’s why many of these hyper modern places serve tasting menus that are so long. After all, if you’re eating 30 courses, then you’re not going to sweat it if some are more interesting than good. At least, not the way you’re going to if you’ve committed to a full entree portion of something.

    Our 20 course chef’s table meals are ones where we’re more likely than others to include a proto-type level dish. In fact, I often tell people before they start the meal that there’s a lot of food coming and, while I hope that they find each and every dish to be a delight, there might be one or two that don’t do it for them because we push the envelope a bit further than usual. If that’s the case, just don’t finish that course. I assure you that you’ll be happy you saved the room later in the meal.

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