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Cooking Issues
August 11, 2010 3:34 AM   Subscribe

Cooking Issues (mentioned here and here previously), from French Culinary Institute Instructors Dave Arnold (previously) and Nils Norén (former Executive Chef at NYC's Aquavit and Top Chef Masters participant) is a blog exploring cutting-edge cooking techniques. While some techniques they describe require expensive and specialized equipment like liquid nitrogen dewars, a 1750°F custom-made loggerhead (also profiled here), a wet grinder (for ketchup "chocolate", of course!), or a turkey whose leg bones have been replaced with aluminum tubes through which an immersion circulator pumps hot oil, many others are well within the reach of the motivated home cook: gin-infused cucumbers, clarifying lime juice with agar, using enzymes to dissolve citrus pith for zest and supremes, quick-infusing liquor with a whipped cream maker, or making the world's best french fries (part 1, part 2). Here they are demonstrating some of their techniques on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon.

There's tons more great information on their site including primers (on using liquid nitrogen in the kitchen, sous-vide cooking, and meat glue), the science behind cast iron cooking, forums where they and other experienced chefs respond to questions, and SKOAL, which you'll just have to see to understand.

Dave Arnold also hosts a radio show (podcast link).
posted by joshuaconner (25 comments total) 63 users marked this as a favorite

 
Sweet. Thank you joshuaconner.
posted by unliteral at 5:38 AM on August 11, 2010


Oooooooooh, thanks!
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:58 AM on August 11, 2010


But, but, but, the crazy? What about the crazy?
posted by bryn at 5:58 AM on August 11, 2010


I'm having ginger vodka tonight. Just gotta stop off for some booze and ginger.
posted by Netzapper at 6:21 AM on August 11, 2010


Love the part where they blanch the fries and then sandpaper them before frying. They must have sandpapering elves to do that.
posted by cogneuro at 6:30 AM on August 11, 2010


The gin infused cucumber looks wonderful. So wonderful that I'm comfortable admitting it now, well before 10am.
posted by .kobayashi. at 6:40 AM on August 11, 2010


Looks fascinating, in an insane way.

"Hey, that would be great to try! Now I just need 300 feet of medical-grade tubing and an industrial pump! Or a team of kitchen workers! Or...."
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:41 AM on August 11, 2010


These things are interesting, and almost certainly useful for manufacturing, but not especially enticing from a food-I-would-actually-eat point-of-view.

Although I'm certain to be condemned as a Luddite, I prefer drinks that were not created with a soldering iron, turkey that hasn't been de-boned then "re-tubed" and meat that hasn't been glued.

The first one is strictly from a food-safety point of view. The tools they're screwing with were not designed for food contact and the list of potential contaminants are nearly endless.

The second two just seem disrespectful to the animal. Killing and eating something is the way life has been for millions of years. Killing something, then replacing it's bones with metal or gluing it to another animal is a little to Frankenstein-y for my tastes.
posted by WebMonkey at 6:49 AM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


I like how the header illustration makes them look like Mad Scientist and Assistant.
posted by The Whelk at 7:21 AM on August 11, 2010


I'm with you, webmonkey. I'm all for innovation in the kitchen, but I tend to think that this sort of gimmicky stuff, along with molecular gastronomy, is as much a fad as all of that blackened cajun everything that was all the rage in the 90's.
posted by crunchland at 7:22 AM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


There's no question these guys are out at the weird, geeky end of their field. That's because they're geeks who love pushing their field to the weird extremes. What's much stranger than their techniques, though, is that they post the results of their experiments in public, and actively support amateurs who want to reproduce their techniques or push them forward. That's amazing -- and I suggest that it's a revolution, not just a fad, in a field that had been characterized by family secrets.

Even if you're not into this particular sort of weirdness, I think these guys should be cheered on. The world can sustain this level of culinary wackiness and passion.
posted by jhc at 8:04 AM on August 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


I've seen people do a lot of wacky things with food that made me go, "Really? Was that necessary?" but I've never felt that way with anything Dave's done. Full disclosure: I might be biased because I know the guy in real life, but seriously, Dave's a decent guy and his passion and jgeek need to explore different ways of doing things is ridiculously palpable in person and pretty infectious. Even when he's talking about how he infuses habanero into spirits in front of a humming and spinning roto-vapor machine and you're looking over his shoulder with a raised eyebrow, soon enough you realize the guy really feels for this stuff and it's not some cutesy gimmick. The guy's like a food and drink Tesla. And the product of his experiments erase any skepticism because they're pretty damn tasty too.

And while he does do crazy stuff, he cares about the basic solid science of things. It's like having that cool science teacher that did wacky experiments in class. Necessary? Arguable I suppose, but he wanted to demonstrate something to you. As crazy as some of his demonstrations get there's some kind of lesson to be learned or a point to be made about the limits or capabilities of any particular tool, ingredient or technique. That's his job. He's the guy that teaches about food tech.
posted by kkokkodalk at 8:14 AM on August 11, 2010


As someone who uses most of the tools for other purposes, I have to say that they're doing some very innovative stuff with food. While it may look over the top from a home cook's point of view, realize that experimentation requires that the systems be as flexible as possible so that one can try all kinds of things. This means ad hoc, fragile and unsafe equipment like open LN2 dewars and rotovaps.

When they find a process that works, then the engineers strip out all of the unnesseary flexibility and supply a push button operation. Think about home espresso machines: they provide very dangerous, high-pressure, high-temperature steam conditions that even a bored untrained teenager can safely and routinely operate at a McDs Cafe.
posted by bonehead at 9:04 AM on August 11, 2010


They must have sandpapering elves to do that.

Dude, they're called interns.
posted by joshuaconner at 9:14 AM on August 11, 2010


In all seriousness, that looks like Dave Arnold's hand in the picture, though.
posted by joshuaconner at 9:20 AM on August 11, 2010


I've seen people do a lot of wacky things with food that made me go, "Really? Was that necessary?" but I've never felt that way with anything Dave's done. Full disclosure: I might be biased because I know the guy in real life, but seriously, Dave's a decent guy and his passion and jgeek need to explore different ways of doing things is ridiculously palpable in person and pretty infectious. Even when he's talking about how he infuses habanero into spirits in front of a humming and spinning roto-vapor machine and you're looking over his shoulder with a raised eyebrow, soon enough you realize the guy really feels for this stuff and it's not some cutesy gimmick. The guy's like a food and drink Tesla. And the product of his experiments erase any skepticism because they're pretty damn tasty too.

This is really tough call. As a geek, there's pretty much no limit to what I'll try with software, however as a cook, I don't like to create food with anything much more complicated than heat, cold, time and various mechanical actions (cutting, kneading, etc.).

Gambas Ajillo for example, when served with some fresh, crusty bread and a nice wine, easily rates in the top 10 things I've ever eaten, contains only six ingredients (including the kosher salt), and uses nothing more complicated than a cast iron pan, heat and a knife.

It's all in the quality/freshness of the ingredients and care taken in a simple preparation. Even if it tasted just as good, somehow it seems like it would lose something significant if it required items from a chemical supply house or if the bread, for example used dough conditioners instead of water, kneading and time.

I don't have a logical explanation. It just seems disrespectful to the food somehow.
posted by WebMonkey at 10:02 AM on August 11, 2010


WebMonkey: Which is all fine. Everyone has their own food philosophy, but there was a whole second-half to my comment. As well as bonehead's comment. I guess I don't understand what you mean by "disrespectful" when these are all experiments and knowledge gathered by someone whose job it is to test out new and different things. The point of these experiments aren't so much about taking away what you're doing in the kitchen or saying what's been done for ages is wrong (unless he benchmarked kneading techniques). He teaches food tech, it's kind of his job to explore what's out there and test things out. The kids at FCI aren't just learning his way of doing things, they're learning all that good stuff about freshness in ingredients and how to knead things and use water and time and whatever along with this. And if the folks following along at home want to try it out, look, here's a resource of things that have been done and I don't begrudge them that. I'm not asking for a logical explanation, I think you're just starting off judging the content based on an incorrect premise.
posted by kkokkodalk at 10:18 AM on August 11, 2010


Flavedo is my new favorite word.

"Excuse me while I use this microplane grater to remove the flavedo from this lime."
posted by slogger at 10:19 AM on August 11, 2010


Nice collection of links, thanks!
posted by StickyCarpet at 10:25 AM on August 11, 2010


As a biochemist, I'm amused to see the tools of my trade move into the kitchen for the purpose of geekifying food. But I also wouldn't want to cook with them because of years of associating labware with carcinogens and other nasty stuff. (Sometimes we use ordinary kitchenware, like Pyrex baking dishes, in the lab and there's always a moment of cognitive dissonance for me. Brownies? No - methanol and Coomassie Blue!)

I also wonder how much flavor and texture improvement is gained for the extra effort. I'm too broke (and cheap) to ever eat at one of these restaurants, but I have a feeling the results are asymptotic (that's not quite the right word - anybody remember what it is?) Basically, the effort goes up exponentially but the improvement is relatively small. If you've got the scratch to pay someone else to do the work the food is probably exquisite, but if you have to do it yourself, it's probably not worth the effort compared to regular ol' cooking.

Fun post; thanks, joshuaconner!
posted by Quietgal at 10:32 AM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Lime juice can only be directly clarified in a centrifuge when subjected to forces in excess of 27,000 g’s. To make sweet tasting clarified lime in a centrifuge you need 48,000 g’s. Wow.

Wow indeed. Do they mean RPM, or should someone contact NASA? A centrifuge that can produce 48,000 gravitational accelerations must be using a black hole as a power source.
posted by Enron Hubbard at 10:47 AM on August 11, 2010


They mean RCF (relative centrifugal force). 48k g is really, seriously high, but you can get benchtop units that do 18k g pretty easily.

"g-Force" or RCF is used because it's a quantity that isn't machine dependent. Otherwise, if you specify rpm, you need to specify arm length and possibly swing-out angle too. Tl;dr, g-force is simple, rpm gets complicated.
posted by bonehead at 11:23 AM on August 11, 2010


Basically, the effort goes up exponentially but the improvement is relatively small.

At the same time, in art, it's the small differences and subtle changes that make or break a piece of work, in front of an actual audience. Surely this applies to cuisine as well.

Anyone who tries these exploratory techniques in a home setting is basically in it for fun. Time or effort would not be an issue; only the budget for equipment and ingredients is the overriding constraint.

I'd also point out that the majority of the methods described in the blog are about improving efficiency (e.g., categorize the half dozen ways to do clarification), or coming up with novel foods (e.g., the ketchup chocolate). Some of the tasks would be a chore if attempted solo at home, but if a polynomial-sized kitchen staff can handle it and meet the bottom line, then the benefit-cost ratio probably isn't as bad might seem.

Let me share this, which I made one Saturday afternoon. Was it more than 2x tasty as the eggs-in-basket in its essential format? Probably not. Was the experience worth the endeavor, considering me/friends/family who would eat it? Yeah.
posted by polymodus at 3:12 PM on August 11, 2010


Loosk awesome! Can I come over for breakfast? 8-)

You elevated food to art.
posted by WebMonkey at 10:59 AM on August 12, 2010


I've been trying to do some of this stuff myself at home; have been looking for a cheap wet grinder and I've been building a low-temp immersion cooker for sous vide. I've wanted to do some of the savory ice creams using gelling agents, and I've been fascinated by some of the other techniques they're using.

Some of this stuff can be done really easy; I did some sous vide steaks by filling a beer cooler with water at the right temp (calculated thermal mass of the steaks, cool-down rates, etc) and left 'em for an hour. Awesome steaks and slightly freaky with being medium edge-to-edge.

Like other cooking techniques, they can be used well or poorly. I'm hoping I'll be on the "used well" side…
posted by caphector at 1:53 PM on August 13, 2010


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