The worlds of complex chemistry and physics do not often reach the general public. Often relegated to science fiction, these subjects are more accessible when placed in front of you in the form of food. Often molecular gastronomy dishes bear little resemblance to traditional food (coconut bubbles, pine cone mist) but appeal to a sense of playfulness. And for good reason, the customers have the control.
I believe that molecular gastronomy is a pure form of citizen science because the citizenry has direct influence on the success of the science. Molecular gastronomy is not judged by the efficiency success of a chemical reaction but the deliciousness of a piece of food. Each individual diner judges the chef’s science and is entitled to their distinct opinion. If the science (food) is of poor quality the restaurant will become unpopular and die out. This process happens especially quickly at restaurants practicing molecular gastronomy due to high equipment and ingredient costs. Science is not usually in the business of being marketable to the larger public. If a chemical experiment is well thought out, performed well, and deemed acceptable by the chemist’s peers then the judging process is nearly over. However, this is not the case at restaurants. If chefs only had to please other chefs, menus would be filled with offal and small pungent fish. But the customer always rules.
Restaurants practicing molecular gastronomy walk a particularly fine line with their customers. Although the audience for a place like Alinea is limited (due to price and reservation availability), not everyone has already been sold on the dishes. It is the restaurants role to please the customer, no matter the ambition or genius of the chef. It is the judgement of the food by customers every night which makes molecular gastronomy an example of citizen science through and through.