Ferran Adrià, in his endorsement for a book called "Eating Architecture" wrote that cooking, "like architecture, manifests itself in building."
Since hearth and home are almost inseparable, it should come as no surprise that cooking and architecture are related. Of course there is the obvious issue of kitchens; rooms where people cook have to be designed and built with cooks in mind. But the real link between these disciplines is something more than that. Cooking, it turns out, is a lot like building.
Ferran Adrià, in his endorsement for a book called “Eating Architecture” (edited by Jamie Horwitz and Paulette Singley), wrote that cooking, “like architecture, manifests itself in building.” Adrià, head chef at El Bulli restaurant in Spain, goes on: “The cook, like the architect, draws on an infinite array of creative resources which make it possible to create wonders from basic construction materials.”
In “The Architect, the Cook and Good Taste,” editors Petra Hagen Hodgson and Rolf Toyka examine the relationship between cooking and building in a series of essays by numerous writers, including Carlo Petrini, the founder of Slow Food. They write, “Since time immemorial, cooking and building have been among humanity’s most basic occupations . . . Moreover, both arts accord a central role to the materials employed. Both involve measuring and proportioning, shaping and designing, assembling and composing.”
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Like architecture, cooking crosses a line between fine art and craft. Tom Robbins once noted that “the most useful thing about art is its uselessness.” If a work gets lived in or eaten, is it still art? Can cooking be thought of as art? “Not in my opinion,” said Robbins. “Food can certainly have an aesthetic appeal, but it does not deal with the meaning of life the way art does.”
The 18th-century chef Marie-Antoine Carême might not have agreed. He started life as a homeless waif on the streets of Paris and came to be known as “the chef of kings and the king of chefs.” He once said that “architecture is the most noble of arts and pastry is the highest form of architecture.” Today, many of us know Carême for his sculptural pièces montées, elaborate edible centerpieces that often took the form of Roman ruins, temples or châteaux. Some of his pieces were so substantial that court jesters could perform inside them. It seems fitting that the homeless, hungry boy would grow up to build edible edifices.
Modern pastry chefs don’t usually bother with fanciful centerpieces. But just as architects transform buildings into sculptural forms, so pastry chefs redefine food, transforming the merely edible into something delightful, more about aesthetics than nourishment.
Greg Atkinson is author of “West Coast Cooking.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Barry Wong is a Seattle-based freelance photographer. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Recipe: Crisp Meringues with Chocolate Mousse
Even more than most foods, crisp meringues lend themselves to architectural assemblies.
For the meringues
¾ cup sugar
¼ cup powdered sugar
½ cup (4 large) egg whites
1 teaspoon lemon juice
¼ teaspoon salt
For the mousse
2 cups heavy whipping cream, divided
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
¾ cup (6 large) egg yolks
2 cups reserved unbaked meringues
For chocolate lattices
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
*People with compromised immune systems should avoid uncooked eggs.
1. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment and preheat the oven to 200 degrees. To make a template for meringues, cut a piece of thick, corrugated cardboard into a 4-by-6-inch rectangle, then use a utility knife to cut a 3-by-5-inch rectangle out of the center.
2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the sugar and powdered sugar and set aside. In the bowl of an upright electric mixer, whip the egg whites with the lemon juice and salt until foamy. With the motor running, very slowly stream in half of the sugar mixture and continue whipping until egg whites hold stiff peaks and are very smooth and glossy. Fold the beaten egg whites into the sugar in the mixing bowl.
3. Hold the cardboard template in one corner of the baking sheet with one hand, and spoon a heaping tablespoon of the meringue into the hole in the center. Use an offset spatula to fill opening with a flat rectangle of meringue, then carefully lift template straight up leaving the meringue behind. Repeat to make another dozen rectangles. Reserve the remaining meringue for the mousse.
4. Bake the meringues until very crisp and dry, about 2 hours.
5. While the meringues are baking, make the mousse. Heat half the whipping cream in a small saucepan over medium-high heat until it’s steaming. Stir in the chocolate and continue stirring until the chocolate is smooth, then stir in the yolks. In a separate bowl, whip the remaining cream until it’s stiff, then fold it into the melted-chocolate mixture. Fold in 2 cups of the reserved meringue, transfer the mixture to a heavy-duty zipper-lock bag and refrigerate until just before serving time.
6. To make the chocolate lattices, line a baking sheet with baker’s parchment. Put the chopped chocolate in the top of a double boiler over barely simmering water. When the chocolate is about halfway melted, remove it from the heat and stir it until it is completely melted and smooth. Transfer the melted chocolate to a zipper lock bag and snip off a corner to create an impromptu pastry bag. Squeeze the chocolate onto the parchment-lined baking sheet in lattice patterns and chill until the chocolate is firm. At serving time, peel the chocolate off the paper.
7. To serve the dessert, pipe the chocolate mousse into glasses and decorate as desired with the crisp meringues and chocolate lattices.
Greg Atkinson, 2008