The following is an interview with Hervé This, author of Note-by-Note Cooking: The Future of Food:
“All food is ‘artificial’! Do you think that barbecue meat hangs ‘naturally’ on the trees of the wild forest?”—Hervé This
Question: How does note-by-note cooking differ from molecular gastronomy?
Herve This: Molecular gastronomy is a scientific activity, not to be confused with molecular cooking. Indeed, molecular gastronomy, being science, has nothing to do with cooking. In other words, science is not about making dishes. Science looks for the mechanism of phenomena. That’s all. And technology uses the results of science to improve technique. So, note-by-note cooking is a technique.
Another question could be, how is note-by-note cooking different from molecular cooking? And here the answer would be that the definition of molecular cooking is “to cook using modern tools” (such as siphons, liquid nitrogen, etc.). But you still use meat, vegetables, etc. However, with note-by-note cooking, the instruments are not important, and the big revolution is to cook with pure compounds, instead of meat, vegetables, fruits, eggs, etc.
Q: Where does the name Note-by-Note Cooking come from?
HT: In 1999, when I introduced the name “molecular cooking,” I was upset, because it was a bad choice, which had to be made for many complex reasons. Unfortunately, people now confuse molecular gastronomy and molecular cooking. So, For note-by-note cooking, I wanted a name that could appeal to artists and it’s fair to say that note-by-note cooking is comparable to a term such as electro-acoustic music.
Q: Won’t not-by-note cooking produce artificial forms of food?
HT: Yes, but all food is “artificial”! Do you think that barbecue meat hangs “naturally” on the trees of the wild forest? Or that French fries appear suddenly from potatoes? No, you need a cook, to make them. In ordinary language, “natural” means “what was not transformed by human beings”, and “artificial” means that it was transformed, it was the result of human “art”.
Instead of “artificial,” it is better to think of “synthetic”, and again in this sense, note by note is synthetic in a similar way as electro-acoustic music. But just listen to the radio and synthesizers are everywhere, often with sometimes beautiful sounds. Moreover, in art, the scope of what is possibile increases with more choices. And more choice is better!
Q: I’m a home cook, but do not have a background in chemistry, is note by note cooking for me?
HT: You don’t need any background in chemistry. Just follow the recipes. Of course, you will need the ingredients, but this is also true for traditional cooking: your fridge is not miraculously filled, you have to do shopping but trust me, this is very simple. The most exciting aspect of note-by-note cooking is that you can play with new consistencies and new flavors. And evidence of the accessibility of note-by-note cooking is that in the Second International Contest for Note-by-Note Cooking, the youngest competitor was 10 years old!
Q: Can you give us an example of a specific molecular compound and how it can be used in produce a dish?
HT: Please forget about “molecular compound”, and just say “compound”. Water is a compound, as well as glucose, sucrose, aminoacids, vitamin C, etc. For glucose, for example, put a jar of it in your kitchen—the taste is wonderful. By the way, there are many simple recipes in the book. And as with “normal” cooking, you add, you pour, you mix, you heat, you cook…. However, new ingredients means new art production!
Q: Where can readers find examples of note-by-note cooking in the grocery store?
HT: Of course, the internet allows you to easily find proteins and various saccharides, from corn starch to alginates, carraghenans (and look to pastry shops, because the pastry chefs are using a lot of wonderful compounds), oil (made of triglycerides), amino acids, organic acids (tartaric acid, citric acid, ascorbic acid…), colorants (choose the one you want, and remember that cooks have been producing colorants since before the Middle Age), and odorant solutions (this is very exciting, because it’s cheap, and the odors are sometimes wonderful.