You people are going to laugh at me. I bought a recirculator. Granted, it was $4 on ebay (yes, it works) but still. I've gone on about the perils of molecular gastronomy and here I am, lab equipment in hand, ready for sous vide.
I've been trying to open my eyes without turning off my brain. I really appreciate Joy's review of her visit to Alinea. Part of the problem I've had with technology and cuisine, beyond some rather bizarre flavor combinations, is that most of the practitioners seem to take themselves soooo seriously. Her review and comments pulled some of that away.
That said I've had to look at my attitudes toward new, or even not so new, technology as it applies to my profession. Clearly I am no Luddite as I'm writing this on a laptop, and will freely admit that internet access is partially what has made my life here in the sticks bearable. I use a cell phone. My music collection is digitized, playable on the computer and portable. So why am I resistant to any kitchen device that doesn't come out of the Middle Ages?
One word. Fear. All kinds of fear. First, just the personal insecurities. I'm not (good,creative, worthy, fill in your own pejorative) enough to use this technology. Second, financial. I can't afford all the gizmos. Third, my customers. We have people who walk out because we don't serve fish and chips, people who don't know what polenta is and a whole lot of people who are looking for a meal, not an "experience". Fourth, fear of being ridiculous. When I see people calling things "watermelon steak" I get violent. It's exactly this kind of crap that makes my job more difficult, and makes it harder for me to convince a client to trust me and order something different.
At the same time a few things have stuck with me. Remarks by Gray Kunz while at Lespinasse about changing the brutal work environment of the professional kitchen come to mind. His new kitchen was full of induction burners, wireless headsets for communication between stations, natural light and other modern marvels. He wondered when restaurants would catch up to the rest of the world in providing a comfortable environment for workers. This is certainly true, most other first world industries don't have people standing 10+ hours a days in front of things spitting flame, under fluorescent light, handling dangerously sharp objects in extremely tight quarters under near constant stress. Yes, to some degree that's the nature of the work, but there certainly are ways to make things safer and more comfortable.
The introduction of new technologies brings out the best and worst. Remarks by Escoffier that food would never taste the same upon the introduction of gas cooking rather than wood show this type of fear has been around a long time. These days food processors are standard issue in even home kitchens, to the point that many young cooks have never made a mayonnaise with a whisk, or a pesto in a mortar. Both have their place. The microwave oven is probably the poster child for a tool that is nearly always abused. I still don't have a real use for one in my restaurant, although I have seen chefs use them to cook vegetables to order and I'm sure there are other uses for them besides what I use my home microwave for, namely to heat up a neck pillow my sister-in-law gave me.
Obviously, it's what you do with the tools that counts. And whether you have the capacity to use the tools to expand your range, not just wank blindly into the wind. To illustrate using a musical example, my father-in-law invented a device for the guitar that allows the user to manipulate specific strings to specific pitches. He invented it specifically for one man, a guitarist he played with for many years. This guitarist was amazing to begin with, and with this device, his range soared and he took his instrument to amazing places. The device is now widely sold and though there are plenty of them out there, there are very few guitarists who can really use them well, because their mind doesn't work in the same way as the original guitarist's.
So, all that said, we'll see if this recirculator expands my range. At heart I feel like I've never belonged in either century I've lived in. Can a 19th century man use 21st century technology?
PS: a friend from SF Slow Food asked me to post the following: Slow Food Perfect Pairing with Evan Goldstein a food and wine pairing event at the Acme Chophouse on July 9th.