Was it the public or the critics? Or perhaps the public led by the critics.
With news that Fenix is closing its restaurant to concentrate on conferences it is a question to be asked.
Molecular cuisine never made it big in Australia. Perhaps this is because of the lack of local molecular gastronomists (the scientists behind the art of the cuisine) to work with local chefs in developing ideas.
Nevertheless more than a few chefs locally have tried to emulate the likes of Ferran Adria and Heston Blumenthal, none more so that Ray Capaldi at Fenix.
Tomatoes! Tomatoes! with basil dust and sorrell sorbet.
Fenix in turn spawned George Calombaris who made it as young chef of the year in 2004 for his molecular whimsy at Reserve just before the restaurant closed.
Now the last surviving overt practitioner is Robin Wickens at Interlude, itself a restaurant that had a bumpy financial ride until it found wealthy Hong Kong-based backers last year.
People simply don’t pop out for a foam and some synthesized caviar of undetermined flavour. They reserve that for the very occasional special occasion.
The good news is that the pure ideas of molecular gastronomy do live on in the techniques used by many chefs. You’ll find low temperature cooking – mostly sous vide – dehydrating and many other techniques alive and well. It’s there in a low key form in restaurants such as The Royal Mail Hotel in Dunkeld, Attica, Circa The Prince, Vue de Monde and Nobu.
I was lucky enough to review Fenix for The Age Good Food Guide last year, a year that Ray Capaldi had hoped to make two hats. I scored it higher than the 15.5 points that it got in print.
With my guest, who likes to hold her liqueur by the tongue and her drug dealer to ransom, I spent a pleasant evening on the terrace listening to the bellbirds’ whoops. She, rocking in dark jeans and a plunging neckline, felt underdressed for the venue. Everybody else was very smart and conservative. Think tweed jackets.
We couldn’t believe that this crowd had come all this way to have their tongues cleansed with a mousse (I nearly said mouse) “cooked” in liquid nitrogen.
Eventually, the bellbirds gave way to neighbouring chat of self managed super and opulent holidays in Paris.
Both of us near death from extremely rich deconstructed chocolate, it was time for hard liquor. But that adventure had nothing to do with molecular cuisine.