Cooking appliances that looked like they belonged in a laboratory rather than a kitchen, sat on the gleaming counters of the Michelin Star restaurant where Victoria and I came to interview the head chef about modern cuisine.
Chef TJ couldn’t be more different from an immigrant grandmother’s kitchen but as we would later discover, it was the first thing we both thought of while its Chef, Joey Elenterio explained that these machines can change the molecular structure of food in minutes. We had just gotten back from a local farmers market where Elenterio bought an armful of fresh produce. His Sous Chef followed with a bouquet of freshly picked lavender from the restaurant’s garden, which was used to grow herbs and other seasonal produce. At the time, he was the young, 25-year-old chef who presided over one of the oldest, and, at that time one of the only, molecular cuisine restaurants in the Silicon Valley.
When we asked him about the new and innovative techniques of molecular cuisine – by name alone, it sounded more like a project fit for a physicist rather than a chef – he gave credit to hundred-year-old traditions and not the fancy equipment. He explained that all the technology didn’t matter if the ingredients weren’t right. The freshest, local in-season produce was the star of the show. The invention of molecular cuisine seemed to relate more closely to old world techniques than modern cooking.
As Americans, we tend to complicate food in order to simplify it or make it “better.” Growing up in an immigrant home, most recipes followed a similar guideline: buy fresh ingredients, don’t mess them up (while cooking), add some herbs, and enjoy. I still remember my grandmother sending my grandfather to the market with a shopping list. He would come back with the day’s catch of fresh fish and if it was really fresh, it was still be breathing (seriously).
Both Victoria and I come from immigrant families, so we naturally talked a lot about the culinary traditions we saw at home. We loved the new foodie trend as much as anyone, but every new trend always seemed to come to back to cooking principles we both experienced in our families kitchens. To us, it seemed that cultures from all over the world are the ones that have always known the secret to good food. What appeared to separate a good chef from a great one, like Elenterio, was a deep respect for these traditions. Here was the hottest chef in town, cooking the most refined type of cuisine and he seemed to see himself as less of an innovator and more of a vehicle for these ancient practices.
This assignment got us thinking about what this meant for every other new food trend. Why was it that culinary fads seemed to get closer and closer to old world traditions? We weren’t sure, but it looked like we were all searching for something in these foods, something deeper, almost primal and instinctive. It’s the reason Victoria’s grandmother still makes handmade tamales, and the reason my mother makes an Uzbek rice called plof — in a pot brought over from the Ukraine, no less. This is what inspired us to start this exploration. We are excited for you to join us on this journey as we discover more cultural tidbits, secret family recipes and the personal experiences of the artisans who make this food possible. XOXO, Alex and Victoria