I’ve been gazing, awestruck, at some of the famous-chef cookbooks that have appeared this season, trying to figure out what purpose they might serve in, say, my kitchen; and I finally realized my thinking was all wrong. Even the term “cookbook” is probably a stretch. These massive totems belong over in the Religion section of the bookstore. Or the shelf labeled Occult. Or maybe there’s a corner devoted to Irreproducible Results. ...
It’s no accident that these particular books come from restaurants devoted to what I’ve termed “techno-cuisine” and others call “experimental” cuisine, or “hypermodern” cuisine. You know what I mean—food that’s been chemically processed and redesigned beyond recognition, served in dozens of arduous little courses over many hours and costing hundreds of dollars. The fans and practitioners of this cuisine love to talk about the chemical properties of the ingredients and the complex physiology of taste; but what they’re really doing is creating the first common ground between science and faith. Nobody goes to one of these restaurants to eat dinner with friends. Nobody just drops in. You can’t, for these places are difficult to reach—so remote from our everyday culinary expectations that you have to reserve months, maybe a year, ahead of time. These aren’t places for skeptics and infidels. When at last you sit at a table waiting to consume a feather made of apricot pulp, radish skins, and cotton candy, suspended over your mouth by an attentive waiter, you do so in the sure and certain belief that you’re about to be transported to realms undreamed of in the world of mere food.
I don’t want to give the impression that these chefs are too lofty to distribute recipes, however. Far from it! Their books are packed with recipes, each written up in solemn and precise detail. Here are such classics of the ritual as beet spheres and gin-compressed rhubarb (Alinea), spherical-I green olives served on a medicine spoon (El Bulli), and a flaming sorbet (Fat Duck), all perfectly achievable in a home kitchen. Or so the masters claim. Ye of little faith, go eat Ring Dings.
Don't miss this great description which captures what I was trying to get at, but much better than I could!