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John Mariani Bashes Molecular Gastronomy (Again)

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Photos: John Mariani, Eater
Hillary Dixler Canavan is Eater's restaurant editor and the author of the publication's debut book, Eater: 100 Essential Restaurant Recipes From the Authority on Where to Eat and Why It Matters (Abrams, September 2023). Her work focuses on dining trends and the people changing the industry — and scouting the next hot restaurant you need to try on Eater's annual Best New Restaurant list.

Esquire's restaurant man John Mariani still doesn't like molecular gastronomy. Beginning with a look at chef José Andrés' flagship DC restaurant Minibar, Mariani claims in his latest Esquire piece: "With all that success, you'd think that the molecular cuisine Andrés is selling would take the nation's capital, and the rest of the nation, by storm. But the fact is ... the expansion and influence of that avant garde cuisine has been next to zero." Sound familiar?

Mariani might be a bit biased in his assessment that molecular gastronomy has "next to zero" influence. He once defined molecular gastronomy as "[t]he contrivance of cooks for whom good taste is secondary to mere sensationalism." He also has a history of bashing Alinea and Next chef Grant Achatz, who he once claimed "has had no influence on anyone's cooking at all."

Similarly, Mariani now writes: "Especially in the U.S., the movement has barely budged beyond its first breakthrough in 2003 at Wylie Dufresne's wd~50 in New York and in 2005 at Grant Achatz's Alinea in Chicago." He also makes the somewhat stretched comparison between avant garde restaurants and chain steakhouses: "Yes, some of them fill their tables most nights they're open, but if you tallied up all the seats at all those restaurants, you'd have fewer than one night's seatings at any branch of Smith & Wollensky's."

Despite his assertion that molecular gastronomy has had little influence on American restaurants, Mariani does mention newer restaurants that have embraced molecular gastronomy like The Pass (Houston), Atelier Crenn (San Francisco), and Catbird Seat (Nashville). Mariani also has a track record with some of these newer restaurants. Mariani and Catbird Seat have some bad blood, and in his "Worst of 2012" listicle Mariani gave Catbird Seat the honor of "Worst New Dessert" for their smoked ice cream.

Of course, not everyone agrees with Mariani about the influence of molecular gastronomy. While Mariani writes that influence of Ferran Adrià and the chefs inspired by him is "next to zero," some chefs and critics have worried that Adrià's cuisine has had a "catastrophic effect" on the younger generations of chefs. It's also worth noting that while a restaurant might not be a molecular gastronomy destination, it may well be using techniques developed from molecular gastronomy.

· Modernist Cuisine Is Static: This "Bagel" Is Proof [Esquire]
· All John Mariani Coverage on Eater [-E-]
· All Molecular Gastronomy Coverage on Eater [-E-]