Look closely into the open kitchens of Washington’s Elisir, Mintwood Place and Rogue 24, and Baltimore’s Wit and Wisdom. You’ll spot excellent visual representations, side by side, of two recent trends in American restaurant cookery: the emergence of modern technique and the rebirth of rustic, home-style cooking.
At first, traditional chefs bristled at notions of de- and reconstructing dishes. They scoffed at science-lab gadgetry, such as cream whippers dispensing lobster foams; “outboard motor” circulators; and smoking tanks dispensing liquid nitrogen.
But then a shift occurred, within the past decade. Avant-garde elements began to filter down, taking root in professional kitchens of all kinds. “Things have switched from the old way of cooking, thanks to molecular gastronomy,” says chef Enzo Fargione, who can be seen at his Elisir kitchen pass as he places smoking apple wood embers in cigar boxes for a presentation of branzino carpaccio.
“I adopt those techniques if the idea and the final concept make sense for the taste, not just the look,” declares the chef. “If it was just about the look, I’d have a museum.”
So the days of setting up the line with water baths to hold containers of stocks and purees are fading, as is the use of tongs, ladles and, in some cases, gas-fired appliances. In their place: induction burners, wood-burning grills, oversize tweezers, sauce-filled thermoses, siphons, Microplanes and the occasional can of sodium alginate or calcium chloride. And you have a front-row seat for the counter revolution.
Hagedorn writes The Process column, which appears monthly in Food.