My Lightbulb Moment

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My Lightbulb Moment

It involved a chicken, an egg, and a little science.

When it comes to molecular gastronomy‹or mad-scientist cuisine or postmodern
cooking or whatever you want to call the kind of kitchen magic people like Top Chef Masters competitor Wylie Dufresne are famous for, I’d always been a nonbeliever. Don’t get me wrong; I get the appeal: chefs want to push the boundaries of cooking by concocting fanciful edibles (“spherified” mashed carrots, for example) made with unorthodox tools (immersion blenders,
vaporizers), and diners are dazzled by their inventions. But paying serious cash for the privilege of eating such food had always struck me as silly. My idea of good eating is a well-crafted meal made with basic ingredients, like the dishes I learned from friends when I was living in Indonesia: crisp salads made from vegetables just gathered from the garden out back; vibrant curries seasoned with local spices.

Then Episode 2 happened. About two-thirds of the way into the show, I made a pretty big pronouncement and said, “Molecular gastronomy is profoundly not my thing.” Sure, I’d eaten Wylie’s food before, and I’d liked (though not necessarily loved) some of it. But the dishes he created for the “Lost Supper” episode — the chicken and the egg cooked in the immersion circulator the delectable mustard sauce — caused me to see the light. His cooking was far
more honest and direct than I’d expected it to be. I forgot instantly that it involved utensils that would be at home in a science lab. It was just soulful food made by an inquisitive chef. Wylie transformed those ingredients into something new and wonderful, not just for the cerebral
effect but for the sensory pleasure of the diner. I liked what the other chefs prepared for us that night: Suzanne Tracht’s satisfying “holiday” boar; Elizabeth Falkner’s yam-papaya pudding (yes, it looked like baby food, but so what? It tasted great); Graham Elliot Bowles’s knockout tuna niçoise. Still, for me, Wylie was the real winner. Was I disappointed that Gael, Jay, and the “Lost” judges didn’t agree? Sure, but at least I got to have my lightbulb moment.