Maxime Bilet is coming off an incredible run, having spent nearly five years in Seattle at The Cooking Lab, co-authoring Modernist Cuisine with Nathan Myhrvold and Chris Young, and helping kickstart the conversation about the future of food and cooking. What’s he gonna do for an encore?
For starters, he’ll take his show on the road, aiming to educate and advocate, to show the world how the techniques he’s been developing in the Lab can both improve home cooking and do a better job of feeding the world. One of his first stops is Harlem on Monday, October 15, where he’ll team up with Food Republic co-founder Marcus Samuelsson for a one-night-only dinner called “The Future of Taste,” downstairs from Red Rooster at Ginny’s Supper Club (a few tickets are still available for this six-course tasting menu).
Here, Bilet tells us about what’s he’s got cooking…
How has it been being on your own since leaving The Cooking Lab a month ago?
It’s been great enjoying some freedom and a LOT of sleep. I was ready for a change. I’ve been exploring my vision of modern food within the context of social advocacy and educating kids to have a healthier experience with food.
How would you describe your five years with Nathan and the Lab?
Incredible. Transforming. During my five years leading the Culinary Lab I was able to learn and create such an incredible variety of techniques and dishes. As an artist I had always rejected the scientific perspective, but that has all changed now. Nathan gave me an opportunity to open my mind to the benefit of studying the whole spectrum of cooking and food. The truth is that the scientific process is a very creative one, and the more you know, the more your capacity as an artist is expanded.
What will you be cooking with Marcus in Harlem?
We’ll be cooking some modernist inspirations of Marcus’ food and the classic foods of Harlem. I’ll be working on an interpretation of chicken and waffles and steak and grits with some very fun twists. I will also cook a dish of root vegetables seasoned with a Berbere-infused oil, which is a staple seasoning of Ethiopian cooking.
Do you think big-name chefs like Marcus are ready to incorporate some of the science-based techniques you’ve been working on over the years?
Absolutely. Marcus’ food is already so refined. What modern techniques provide is both a practical aspect to making sure quality is extremely consistent and just as importantly it offers a new creative avenue, which is what all great chefs are looking for. We all want to push boundaries and examine new possibilities for flavor, texture and the experience of eating.
Which chefs have impressed you with their knowledge of technique?
I love David Kinch’s down to earth and incredibly refined food [at Manresa in California]. He incorporates modernist touches in such a subtle way. I ‘ve always been a huge fan of Wylie Dufresne, especially in his willingness to pursue technique constantly on a very high level. Chefs like Sean Brock and John and Karen Shields are making some very cook food with some very innovative techniques. But the fact is there are so many chefs that are curious and pushing those boundaries, it’s hard to name them all.
Some people have issues with the term “Molecular Gastronomy.” Is it an accurate description of the type of cooking you do?
I am not fond of that term because it has stood for so many misrepresentations of what modern cooking really is. We have access to new technology and new ingredients and we are making the best of it as creative chefs. It is a continuation of classic cooking, not a separation, so again I do take issue with that term because of how it has become engrained in peoples minds as a pile of foams and gels.
What are some things you’d like to see happen in the future, to put some of the ideas you’ve been working on over the past few years to use?
I want these ideas to become more prevalent as a service to making food whether it’s school or hospital food, your local diner, or a three star restaurant, more delicious, more wholesome and more flavorful. Education gives confidence and capacity and I want to create a system where that kind of education and capacity is applied to all levels of the food system.
What’s next for you career-wise? Do you see yourself going back into the restaurant business?
I am not sure yet but I don’t see myself getting back into the pure restaurant business. I am fascinated by R&D, education and promoting change and awareness. That doesn’t mean I don’t want to cook publicly. I think I’m looking for a new format of that. I really believe in a bright future for the food system, but we have a lot of work ahead of us.