|Our hunter-gatherer ancestors would find many foods we eat today unrecognizable, but they would likely find a meal at a restaurant such as elBulli or The Fat Duck particularly perplexing. There, foods have unexpected textures and temperatures, and meals are served not just on plates but in an array of specialized serving vessels. Dish after meticulously crafted dish arrives at the table even after diners are well beyond sated, and leftovers are discarded, not preserved for future use. Exotic fruits and vegetables are combined and transformed in ways that people who view food merely as a means of subsistence would never contemplate. At these restaurants, food is about art, not nutrition. How did we get from our hunter-gatherer origins to this era of culinary innovation? This chapter outlines this process, starting with the important role that cooking played in human evolution. When early hominids harnessed fire and learned to cook food, a series of physiological changes followed. The agricultural revolution led to another major advancement in food preparation, helping to usher in the idea of cooking to improve taste. Up to that time, cooking was primarily used to make food digestible or to remove toxins, but after the advent of agriculture, cooking became less of a pure necessity and more of an art. Later, in many early civilizations around the world, the aristocracy played an important role in the development of cuisine. Wealthy families hired professional chefs to prepare their food, which led to vast differences between peasant fare and aristocratic food. We'll look at the cuisines that||
developed in some of the major world monarchies and discuss the role the nobility played in fostering this culinary advancement. As cuisines diverged and matured around the world, tradition and innovation often came into conflict. Various culinary movements arose to upend the traditions of the time, but the innovations they introduced soon became codified as new traditions. In France, for example, chefs such as Antonin Careme and Auguste Escoffier established strict culinary rules and codes that had a profound influence on high-end cuisine as we know it in the Western world today. In response to those strict rules, the Nouvelle cuisine movement developed in the mid-20th century. Setting out to shake up the French culinary establishment, the chefs associated with this movement largely succeeded; they helped to create a true revolution. We will argue, however, that the ultimate culinary revolution is the one that has taken place in the past two decades. We call this the Modernist movement, and we'lllook at what makes it so revolutionary and so modern. We'll examine the various factors that set the stage for Modernist innovations, including the revolution in industrialized food in the 1950s; Ferran Adria's amazingly creative work at e!Bulli, in Spain; Harold McGee and the advent of food science for the home chef; Heston Blumenthal's embrace of science and creativity at The Fat Duck, in England; and the advent of the sous vide method. Finally, we'll discuss where the Modernist revolution is today-and where it is headed.
ORIGINS OF COOKING
Nobody knows who the first cook was, but at some
point in the distant past, early humans conquered
fire and started using it to prepare food. Researchers
have found what appear to be the remains of
campfires made 1.5 million years ago by Homo
erectus, one of the early human species. In his
intriguing book Catching Fire: How Cooking Made
Us Human, Harvard University anthropologist
Richard Wrangham argues that cooking wasn't
just a nicety; it played an essential role in human
evolution. Cooking foods makes them more
digestible, so the calories and some of the nutrients
in them are easier to absorb. Thus, cooking
allowed early humans to tap a wider variety of
food sources and gain more nutrition from them.
The first cooks didn't do much to their food in
the way of preparation or technique. We don't have
any recipes from prehistory, but we do have
archaeological evidence of food preparation,
backed up by our knowledge of how modern-day
hunter-gatherers prepare their food. Meat is either
roasted over a fire or boiled to make it tender; fruit
is gathered and peeled; nuts are shelled. That's
Necessity, rather than taste, often dictated how
hunter-gatherers of the past prepared their food.
Some foods had to be prepared carefully to
remove toxins. Native American tribes in California
developed a procedure to make acorns edible
by removing their bitter tannic acid. Farther
south, native peoples in Peru, Colombia, and
Venezuela learned to remove the cyanide from
cassava (also called manioc), a starchy root that is
used today to make tapioca and is a staple crop
across the tropics.
Hunter-gatherers also processed foods to preserve
them. Because some hunter-gatherer societies
faced uncertain food supplies, particularly in
winter, they developed techniques such as smoking
and drying to make foods last longer. They also
created preparations such as pemmican (a mixture
of meat, fat, and sometimes fruit) to preserve foods.
Alcohol also required elaborate preparation, and
societies around the world (motivated more by
pleasure than by necessity) perfected means to
ferment fruit or grain into alcohol.
Agriculture was invented independently at
different places and times around the world, as
people domesticated local plants and animals.
This advance was a major turning point in human
history, because farming fed people more reliably
than hunting wild game and gathering wild
Farming wasn't easy in those early days.
Although farming worked well when the crops
came in, a crop failure meant famine and death.
Overreliance on one or a handful of crops also
resulted in malnutrition when those crops lacked
the necessary vitamins or nutrients. As the
archaeological record clearly shows, early societies
that relied on agriculture had many health problems,
including starvation and vitamin deficiency.
Gradually, however, agricultural societies improved
their farming skills, increased their
productivity, and decreased the risk of famine.
Farming became more productive than hunting
Yet agriculture also made the diet boring.
Whereas hunter-gatherers relied on a wide variety
of plants and animals, which changed with the
seasons, farmers were more restricted in the crops
they could plant and thus ate the same foods over
and over. This motivated people to come up with
ways to make their diets more interesting and
palatable. A new reason for cooking was born:
improving the taste and variety of food.
VO LU ME 1 HI STORY AND FUNDAMENTALS
Agriculture also enabled the development of
civilization. For the most part, hunter-gatherers
could not stay in one place very long, nor could
they live together in large numbers. Agriculture
changed that. Farm fields needed to be tended, so
farmers had to stay put. Agriculturalists needed
permanent buildings for homes and other uses. In
re sponse, cities and towns sprang up.
Because agriculture freed at least some of
s ociety from the task of providing food, people
began to spend time doing other things. Visual
arts existed before civilization, as cave paintings
and petroglyphs show. So did music. But each of
these art form s got an enormous boost from the
advent of civilization, as did writing, religion, and
politics. In societies nurtured and supported by
farmed food, all aspects of human culture flourished,
including cooking. Culinary customs were
born. Traditional cooking had begun .
Peasants, Chefs, and Kings
In most traditional human societies, the task of
daily food preparation fell primarily to womenmothers
and grandmothers-and both men and
women were heavily involved in food procurement.
Civilization allowed more people to specialize
in other occupations, and this trend eventually
produced a class of professional chefs, whose main
job was cooking for others. Tomb paintings,
sculptures, and archaeological remains from more
than 5,000 years ago clearly show that ancient
Egypt already had many different food-related
jobs, including butchery, baking, brew