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Molecular Gastronomy History

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The term Molecular Gastronomy was born in 1992 when an English teacher of cookery, Elizabeth Cawdry Thomas, proposed a workshop in which professional cooks could learn about the physics and chemistry of cooking. This first workshop of what ended up being a series of events until 2004 was called “Workshop on Molecular and Physical Gastronomy”.

Elizabeth Cawdry Thomas was married to a physicist who she met at a physics conference in the Ettore Majorana Centre for Scientific culture in Erice, Italy. At that time, there was a group of scientists that used to have annual meetings in Erice to discuss the physics and chemistry of cooking but there were no chefs involved. The Erice centre was the perfect venue for the first Molecular Gastronomy workshop.

Elizabeth then recruited Nicholas Kurti , an Oxford physicist who had a television show and had written a book about the science of cooking. The organizing group was then completed by the addition of Harold McGee, the American food science writer, and Hervé This, French physical chemist and magazine editor in Paris.

Even though the term Molecular Gastronomy sounds sophisticated, the first meeting just covered basic food chemistry involved in traditional preparations. About half of the attendees were scientists and the other half were cooks. At that point, most of the cooks were skeptical about the application of the scientists’ research findings in their kitchen.

The meetings then evolved giving the term Molecular Gastronomy more substance. More innovative techniques were discussed and well known molecular gastronomy chefs like Heston Blumenthal started attending. These chefs were doing their own experiments and research in their kitchen, using science lab equipment and ingredients from the food industry.

Even though the term Molecular Gastronomy is used equally to refer to scientists and cooks, its more appropriate use is to refer to the science of cooking. What the cooks do is molecular cooking or modern cooking. Given the widespread use of Molecular Gastronomy to refer to both, I am not going to be a purist and will use the term Molecular Gastronomy in this way as well on this website.