Gastronomy is the study of food and culture, with a particular focus on gourmet cuisine. Modern gastronomy has its roots in several French texts published in the 1800s, but the idea of relating food, science, society, and the arts has been around much longer. True gastronomy is a demanding multidisciplinary art examining food itself along with its context, presentation, freshness, and history. While commonly associated with gourmets and gluttony, gastronomy is actually its own discipline, although some gourmets are certainly gastronomes, as are some gluttons.
The principle of gastronomy is that food is a science, in addition to an art form. By understanding how all of the senses contribute to an experience, a gastronome can more completely understand what is happening when a consumer claims to dislike or enjoy a particular food item. Gastronomy also examines the sociological implications of food, along with integrating other social science disciplines such as anthropology, psychology, and philosophy. The role of food in the fine arts such as performance art, painting, and sculpture is also examined, as part of a closer look at the role of food in society in general.
At the foundation of gastronomy is, of course, food. A gastronome looks at how fresh the food is, how it is prepared, which flavors are used, how it is presented, if the colors of the food blend on the plate, and what the overall message of the food appears to be. However, the gastronome also looks more deeply at the food, examining the cultural influences which contributed to that particular plate of food, the science behind it, and the history. The highly scientific study of food, sometimes called molecular gastronomy, also plays a role. For example, a molecular gastronome can explain the physical and chemical interactions which occur in a deep fryer, potentially leading to deep fried dishes which are lighter and less oily, since the precise mechanism is understood, allowing pitfalls to be avoided.
An apple pie is not simply just an apple pie to a gastronome, who looks at what type of apple was used, the history and classic flavor profile of that apple, the flour used in the crust, the origin of the shortening, the type of sugar or sweetener used for the pie, and the blend of spices which lends the pie dimension and flavor. In addition, the overall presentation of the pie is examined: a gastronome examines how the pie was made, how it interplays with other offerings in the dessert course including wines, and how the pie is presented, in addition to the nutritional science behind the pie which creates a specific nutritional content and flavor profile.
Gastronomy certainly informs the culinary world, but not all cooks and chefs are gastronomes. Many prefer to focus only on the culinary aspects of gastronomy, producing food of a high quality and flavor, but not delving into the scientific and historical implications of the foods that they serve. A chef who also studies gastronomy often works much more with fusion cuisine, presenting daring flavor combinations and foods made in unusual ways designed to defy convention and expectation. This cook can also explain the basis of scientific interactions in the kitchen, along with outlining the history of the foods used.