Marcel's Quantum Kitchen

Reminder - these weekly columns will be quite short with erratic posting times for the next eight weeks as I'm in school taking six units of accelerated classes – the equivalent of twelve units, working full time and trying to stay sane. We should return to normal at the end of May.

An interesting but ultimately annoying show debuted on the Syfy channel this week. Called Marcel's Quantum Kitchen it's about the travails, mostly self inflicted, of a self described molecular gastronomist. I'm skeptical of his claim. He may be doing a few interesting things with food but he's no Ferran Adrià. (Coincidentally I happened to read this fantastic article about Ferran Adrià, the world's greatest chef, just before seeing the premier episode of Quantum Kitchen. Consequently I had high expectations, which were dashed, for the show. http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/features/2010/10/el-bulli-201010?curre...)

Marcel is just starting out as a caterer but doesn't seem to know much about business and less about being a manager. In the premier episode he has a tantrum with an employee who burns something, complaining vociferously about other people not paying attention to detail, while he appears to be missing both detail and the big picture. I realize that the show is trying to create drama and conflict, thinking those are the elements that make television interesting, but Marcel still comes off in a bad light.

He's just as ham-fisted with a woman who has lots of experience with the business end of catering but not so much with the cooking. Instead of putting her in charge of things he plainly knows little about like or isn't good at, like speaking with the client or the client's representative, he sets her to work peeling apples and making apple butter. He also makes her extremely nervous, which doesn't help her with hands-on jobs like speedy apple peeling. Why didn't he hire someone to do the prep work and leave her to do what she did best? Surely he could train her in cooking at a time when everyone isn't panicking.

Marcel demonstrates similarly inept people skills when interacting with the party planner. Marcel wants to walk the venue floor with the planner but the planner says it isn’t possible for them to do it together. Marcel is free to walk it by himself but instead of taking this opportunity he complains several times about his inability to walk the floor and is shocked when he finally sees the venue on the big day. At this point he makes several hurtful, disparaging remarks to the party planner and never seems to be aware that he's being inappropriate. This is Marcel's first big event and if he wants more work he is going to have to learn how to get his points across without ruffling feathers. The last thing any new company owner wants is to be labeled hard to work with, especially when their company is in a field that is essentially frivolous. A client may put up with some diva behavior from the best heart surgeon in town but nobody needs to have a party with an ultra fancy catering company.

So was the show entertaining? Yes, with caveats. I don't like trumped up drama so all of the fake panic about whether or not everything would be done in time struck me as silly. Obviously Marcel had a backup plan and if his newly invented dishes didn't work he would have gone with something less showy. He didn't show his dishes to his client until the day before the party so he wasn't locked into preparing exotic foods with surprising prep, like the dessert he made with frozen nitrogen that simulated Himalayan's tiger breath. (Not that tigers breathe frozen nitrogen, although if they did it might explain their endangered status.) The map the company made of fruit leather was charming and I particularly liked the effect of hanging the birds nests (made from shredded potato deep fried) in the tree. Also the snow machine was nice but nothing special. I've run one of those myself for a community theater production of a play so I know they're a dime a dozen. I’m also curious why Marcel went with making a meat dish when the party was to raise money for an animal sanctuary. Wouldn't a vegetarian meal have made more sense?

What this show needs is more cooking and less faux conflict. I'll give it one more chance but if it doesn't improve I'll delete it from my DVR schedule.

You can watch an episode here: http://www.syfy.com/marcelsquantumkitchen/.

Bonus Treat:
Allie Brosh writes about a fish that almost ruined her childhood in another hilarious Hyperbole and a Half post. I adore her illustrations and her writing is every bit as good. http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/2010/03/how-fish-almost-destroyed-... I think these stories are so great because they're so relatable. Anyone with an active imagination has similar stories to tell from their own childhoods, although of course most of us don't have quite such a flair for storytelling.