In the twentieth century, Modernism swept through virtually every form of art and design—except cuisine. In painting, dance, architecture, literature, and nearly every other form of intellectual creative expression, the continual rejection of the old in favor of new, avant-garde styles became, as Renato Poggioli observed, “the typical chronic condition.” But it was not until the 1970s that Nouvelle Cuisine began to transform classical French cooking, and Nouvelle was a rather limited revolution, narrow in its focus on techniques and ingredients, and limited as well in its impact on Spanish and Italian cuisine.

A true Modernist revolution in food has begun only recently, as chefs such as Ferran Adrià began consciously developing gastronomic experiences that transform meals into dialogues between chef and diner. Avant-garde cooking emphasizes novel, unconventional presentation of familiar flavor themes—the “deconstruction” of the meal by evoking diners’ memories of past meals while taking the dishes in novel directions. A meal at elBulli or other Modernist restaurants often exposes conventions that guests do not even realize exist until the innovative food violates them. Like other good art, Modernist cuisine is challenging and provocative.

Dozens of chefs around the world are now advancing this culinary movement as it follows a trajectory that is similar, in many ways, to the Modernist transformations of other cultural disciplines. Like those predecessor movements, Modernist cuisine has faced some resistance and criticism. But it has arrived.

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