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Does Toronto hate Molecular Gastronomy?

22 February 2013

So, this week it was announced that Colborne Lane would be closing. This is a crying shame. As one of the most talked about restaurants since it’s opening in 2007, it was a beacon among what few Molecular Cuisine offerings we have in the city.

If you Google “Molecular Gastronomy in Toronto” you’ll find, nearly every result refers to this restaurant. While opinions about the quality (and indeed if it qualifies as ‘Molecular Gastronomy’) vary, one this is for certain – it was a pillar of the post-modern fine dining movement in the city, and a sign that Toronto is open to try and welcome the world of Molecular Cuisine into our city.

But now, five years later that doesn’t seem to have been the case at all. Between this shocking news, and the closure of L.A.B. last year, it seems Toronto isn’t ready for restaurants offering the unique techniques and scientific approaches which are so popular among the worlds greatest in the last decade – like El Bulli, The Fat Duck, or Alinea.

I’m left with a sort of frustration and sadness, at this news. I honestly believe that Toronto could be one of the greatest dining destinations in the world, and we’ve taken such great strides in the last few years. Considering both our USA imports (Momofuku, Cafe Boulud), and our own stellar home-grown talents (Hopgoods, Acadia, Parts & Labour, Scaramouche, etc), this just seems like an unfortunate setback towards greatness. What’s worse is, I’m honestly not certain of the cause!

Perhaps ‘Molecular Gastronomy’ is considered too elite? Too in vogue? Are people turning towards the more rustic, casual, dining experiences in our city? And if so, why does this differ from the rest of the world’s top dining cities? As far as I can tell, Toronto stemming against the tide when it comes to popularity of this type of cuisine. Perhaps we simply do not yet have the talent to hold diners and critics attention.

With Colborne Lane’s end, what we’re left with is a less obvious representation of this type of cuisine in the city. In restaurants list BarChef, Origin and Yours Truly, you’ll get just a vague idea that there’s something vaguely ‘molecular’ about the food – but in the way that tea vaguely reminds one of coffee. It’s not the same, but until a chef can come along to astound and impress Torontonians once again with their post-modern food masterpieces, and have Torontonians respond in kind, they’ll have to do.

  • Jay R.

    First off, no one calls it molecular gastronomy anymore! The stuff coming out of Colborne Lodge is simply outdated. El Bulli has closed and Achatz has shifted his attention to Next, even Blumenthal’s menus are being toned down. What lives on are the techniques that were developed in these places and how they can enhance meals without turning into a big budget science fiction flick. I suggest you watch David Chang’s show “The Mind of a Chef”. It shows how even the simplest of looking dishes can have modernist elements. While you can make an argument that Toronto’s dining habits are quite provincial and safe, the closure of Colborne Lodge is not indicative of this belief. It’s merely part of a worldwide trend that is largely moving away from this dining experience, while still retaining a few of its techniques.

    ps. Loving the blog, keep up the great work!

  • http://twitter.com/ChantelleJoy Chantelle Joy Otto

    Hey, if Toronto is somehow on the cusp in a part of some trend towards a new type of modern cuisine, I’d be delighted, I’d love to be proven wrong! I’m all for a fresh take on modern cuisine, and you may be right in the new trend, even Alinea revamped their menu recently – so it may very well be going that way.

    I just feel its a shame that we’re skulking away from something that we never really mastered in the first place, and that the only example of the type of “traditional” modern cuisine (as you seem to be implying) is no longer even going to be an option. Even WD-50 in NYC is still going strong with and they don’t seem to be backing down.

    Also, I will definitely look up that show, I’m a huge David Chang fan (can’t wait to see him in person at the TIFF Lightbox in April) – thanks for sharing!

  • iSkyscraper

    Too faddish.  

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=697530505 Janelle Awesome

    Hmmmm. . . I think 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=697530505 Janelle Awesome

    I think many of your speculations are probably correct!  In so many ways, Toronto has an impressionable-smaller-sibling complex relative to other financial/cultural capitals.  It feels like we often adopt the aesthetics of big trends (i.e., rustic, open-concept, repurposed wood everything) and privilege that over organically creating trends–whatever those might look like–using the actual resources and talents that are here.  Because a lot of people favor those “bigger-than-our-city” trends, even if they’re a paler version of them, investors likely shy away from anything too avant-garde or untested.  

    In some ways this state of being makes us a good representative of Canada, which has been wallowing in its own anti-U.S.-fuelled identity crisis forever. It’s telling that some of what I would see as the most innovative restaurants in the city (like Hopgoods or Keriwa) are forced to take out more remote real estate to make their businesses float.  This all sounds super negative but like you said, Toronto’s restaurant scene is nothing to sneeze at and has been blossoming like crazy.  May the internet watch over us and guide ever more of us to the white shining truth of authentic num nums.    

  • http://twitter.com/ChantelleJoy Chantelle Joy Otto

    Man, I’ve really got to go to Hopgoods!

  • Joe

    lol at being concerned by this 

  • simon

    I totally agree with this article on how Toronto hate molecular gastronomy. But Toronto especially the GTA is completely different from any other city, every city has a style and Toronto is international multicultural. And I’m sad to say that’s so big a genre of food pushing the envolope just isn’t feasible for our city. Toronto has half the population of new York city but our Indian/ Chinese/ Thai food is crazy better than any other city that’s not in Asia. I am Chinese and our dim sum, bbt, is crazy crazy authentic probably because our culture has a longing for there native cuisine this and other cultures probably push Toronto to have a home comfort feel rather than a nitrogen fozen baileys explosion kind of wibe.

    Having said that, I’m a big fan of molecular gastronomy and colborne lane seriously changed my life I’ve become crazy addicted to food and I’m completely crush to see it go.

  • simon

    Dude… Did u read his article where he mentioned momofuku …. The first restaurants by David chang and the restaurant constantly featured on the show.. Mind of a chef

  • http://www.iphoneappgirl.com ChantelleJoy

    Fantastic observations, thanks for your point of view! That makes a lot of sense – and I agree about the authenticity of Toronto’s Asian food – just outstanding! :)

  • http://twitter.com/ChantelleJoy Chantelle Joy Otto

    Fantastic observations, thanks for your point of view! That makes a lot of sense – and I agree about the authenticity of Toronto’s Asian food – just outstanding! :)

  • Urbane0323

    Toronto is made up of ethnic eaters who are not that adventurous and who would rather eat the same stuff eaten by their ancestors. In spite of all the big name chefs producing minuscule offerings at major prices in our fair city, most folks opt for pleasant comfort food and a nice drink at dinner time. Those with credit cards out to impress clients at lunch can spend their way to oblivion on food we would never buy for ourselves.

    if you want to make a buck in the Toronto restaurant business stick to selling vast quantities of meat with a little starch. Having been to Spain to enjoy tapas and molecular gastronomy, I fear it will never be a big item on Toronto menus.