Sunday, January 10, 2010


Deconstruction started out as a literary concept. Jacques Derrida, a French philosopher, described deconstruction as a style of literary analysis where "text is analyzed and broken into separate parts that work in the context of a paragraph but may contradict each other." Derrida would look at the individual parts of a commonly accepted whole and analyze how those parts interacted outside of the whole.

Jacques Derrida, looking pretty badass.

Chefs have begun serving deconstructed dishes--a traditional dish served as its component parts. Again, like a lot of things I've written about, this topic is easier to explain through example.

Take a caesar salad: lettuce, dressing (emulsion of egg yolk, anchovy, oil), crouton, parmesan cheese. A deconstructed version of this dish would present all of the flavors of a caesar salad, but with variations on temperature, texture, etc. Instead of grated parmesan, parmesan gel. A crouton becomes brioche foam. The dressing is served as a poached yolk, spherified olive oil, and a seared anchovy. The lettuce might be a sauce made from pureed romaine. The idea is that when you mix everything on the plate together, close your eyes, and take a bite, the result tastes exactly of caesar salad.

Deconstructed caesar salad from a contestant on season six of Top Chef.

Ferran Adria at el Bulli became famous for his deconstructed dishes, as did Wylie Dufresne at wd~50.

I have mixed feelings about this approach to cooking. It is definitely a novel idea and requires a great deal of creativity to execute well. However, it feels a bit superfluous, especially when an entire menu is devoted to deconstructed dishes.

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