doctor delicious and molecular gastronomy
October 10, 2007 10:00 PM   Subscribe

Carbonated watermelon. Gelatin spheres with liquid centers. Broths and sauces whipped into foams. When the world's best chefs want something that defies the laws of physics, they come to one man: Dave Arnold, the DIY guru of high-tech cooking. Want to turn your kitchen into a science lab? Check out 25 extreme kitchen gadgets. Related, previously on Mefi: molecular gastronomy.
posted by madamjujujive (50 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
Oh dear lord I want to taste one of those 'gin and tonics'. Many of them, even.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 10:05 PM on October 10, 2007

What a delightful surprise. Carbonated watermelon? It's already such a light spirited fruit, carbonation seems superfluous. But gelatin spheres with liquid centers, now there's a culinary mystery that sounds yummy. Can almost feel them in my mouth.

oops, *drooling.

Ok, now my link appetite is whetted. Checking out the second one on extreme kitchen gadgets it says of that weird looking retro-futuristic gizmo straight out of Flash Gordon,

a rotary evaporator is a small distillery: It extracts intensely flavored syrup from almost any food. Just put your ingredients—say, strawberries and black pepper—in a glass evaporation flask, which heats them by rotating in a bath of hot water. A vacuum pump reduces the air pressure in the flask, which drops the boiling point of the water inside to as low as 112ºF. As moisture seeps out of the strawberries and reaches a boil, vapor rises into a condenser. There it cools, collects as a clear liquid, and drips into another flask. The distillate adds flavor to dishes without changing the color or texture.

On the menu: Strawberry-pepper sauce, gin and tonic with clear lime syrup

o m g. That sounds *amazing*.

I bet those gizmos are what the Jetsons' rich neighbors had in their kitchen.

Molecular gastronomy. wow. Will need a Periodic Table of Desserts.

Heard something on the TV the other night about asparagus foam (I think I fell asleep to one of those chef shows) and remember vaguely thinking how the hell do they make foam out of asparagus? Now I know.

As ever, a marvelous post madamjujujive.

Thanks for the likely visions of hi-tech sugarplums in my dreams tonight.
posted by nickyskye at 10:39 PM on October 10, 2007

I bet one of those G&Ts is $500.

As interesting as it sounds, I'm probably going to stick with good old sub-hundred-dollar gin and tonics...
posted by blacklite at 10:53 PM on October 10, 2007

So, he distills the water out of lime juice, and then adds citric acid and malic acid and a few other chemicals to make it taste like lime juice again?

How exactly is this different from the way Sprite makes "lemon lime" soda?

Sounds like he's one of those Jersey flavor factories writ small-- and froufy.
posted by dersins at 11:02 PM on October 10, 2007

I'm game
posted by growabrain at 11:02 PM on October 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

Whoa. That site I linked to for the Fast Food Nation exerpt is pretty fucked up. Sorry. It was the first thing that came up in the google, and I didn't see what else it had on offer...
posted by dersins at 11:08 PM on October 10, 2007

So, he distills the water out of lime juice, and then adds citric acid and malic acid and a few other chemicals to make it taste like lime juice again?

Actually, you know, I was thinking that by the time I got to the 5th page (I commented before finishing the piece, because I'm thirsty).
But ultimately, McGee ventures, he himself would probably prefer the old-fashioned kind: “For me, a gin and tonic is a tall drink that you sip. It’s not a martini; it’s a drink to quench your thirst. So I kind of like the standard one, with some Schweppes. I like the bursts of acidity from those little lime bits.”

Of course, he knows, “if I were having this conversation with Dave, he would be saying, ‘Well, if you like those little bursts of acidity, we can put some gelatin pearls in there, infused with Clearlime, so that whenever you bite one ...”
I thought at that point that there's a certain degree of Tom Swifty Gee Whizziness that is fun and exciting, but most of the worst of what modern societies manufacture and call food has come from pale imitiations of natural things (like a little pip of lime juice bursting between your teeth) made by well-meaning labcoats with a god complex.

Not that the stuff this guy does doesn't sound just plain cool, but given the choice, I'll take stone, steel and wood over plastic and textured concrete any day (you know, metaphorically speaking).
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 11:13 PM on October 10, 2007 [2 favorites]

I'm game

I was saddened to read that Grant Achatz, the chef and owner of Alinea, developed mouth cancer that spread to his lymph nodes. The chemo may likely cause him to lose his sense of taste.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:17 PM on October 10, 2007

Excellent article.

Note for amateur mol-gastro people: buying used labware w/o giving it a thorough soak in all of the solvents that you'll encounter in a mol-gastr environment (minimally: hot water with high and low pH, hot aqueous alcohol and preferably some kind of light oil) = all kinds o' chemical goodness in your food that you don't want there, as your spiffy techniques leach the stuff out of the hardware you just bought from carcinogens-r-us.
posted by lalochezia at 11:19 PM on October 10, 2007

Blazecock, that's great modern serviceware from Crucial Detail!

aww, Sad the cancer zapped him like that in of all places. Chemo may cause loss of taste to one degree or another iin any case.

mol gastro

Love it.

stavros, would you believe a $10,000 Dave Arnold gin and tonic?

There's something spectacularly over the top in this description of that bajillion dollar drink,

The base of the gin is to be Fleischmann’s vodka, a bottom-shelf brand found at any self-respecting student party. Noren pours the vodka three times through a hand-held charcoal filter to eliminate what he politely calls “the hospital aromas”, then pours it into the bell jar with the pureed aromatics. A couple of hours and a few tired wrists later (the rotary mechanism failed to work; we had to turn the bottle by hand), we had a liquor of a clarity, depth and freshness unlike any I had ever tasted. It had the floral top notes of basil and cilantro, the grassiness of cucumbers, and an earthiness imparted by the roasted oranges.

And then he makes “edible martinis”—cucumbers submerged in gin and vermouth, placed in a Mason jar, and run twice through a vacuum machine. When the seal on the jar is broken, gin rushes in to take the space left vacant by the vacuumed air. Sprinkled with Maldon salt, celery seed and lime zest, they are as alcoholic as the next shot of liquor, but far easier to consume. The watery crunch of a pickle is followed by the pleasant mind-reel of a martini. The tastes are at once new and familiar. Their evolution is traceable from memory to mind to palate.

Now definitely intoxicated on the gee whiz factor, and liking it. (although, like you, my favorite food is all hand made, low tech.) The coolness aspect is still really fun.

oh, and Periodic Table of Candy.

Love the Jersey flavor factories link dersins. That Rense site has some good articles amid the National Enquirer style hoo ha and conspiracies.

Hope MeFite GrammarMoses joins the thread and tells us what she thinks of mol gastro and these new fangled tools, she's written quite a bit on food, cuisine and restaurants.
posted by nickyskye at 11:34 PM on October 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

i haven't been yet to one of them molecular gastronomy joints, but i'm dying to try it. any good places in southern california that anybody knows of?
maybe some metafilter foodies should do a culinary el ay meetup at the local m.g. joint?
/drunk too/
posted by growabrain at 11:40 PM on October 10, 2007

*misdirected my comment to stavros, meant it to be in response to blacklite 's thought about the exorbitant cost of the G&T.

growabrain, Providence in LA?

Must stop reading and get some sleep. lol
posted by nickyskye at 11:51 PM on October 10, 2007

I don't know restaurants but I do know that one of the top equipment suppliers, Le Sanctuaire, has a location in Santa Monica. However, the really impressive aspect of the store is the really obscure and wonderful ingredients they keep in stock.
posted by junesix at 1:05 AM on October 11, 2007

The popsci gadgets are really interesting until no.13 when they just turn into stupid gimmicky crap you find in junk mail catalogues.
posted by rhymer at 3:04 AM on October 11, 2007

Carbonated watermelon? Gelatin spheres with liquid centers? Broths and sauces whipped into foams?

sounds an awful lot like Ferran Adria circa 1998 to me.
posted by silence at 3:11 AM on October 11, 2007

Arnold wheels out a cart piled high with laboratory equipment—a rotary evaporator (rotovap) that he salvaged from Eli Lilly on eBay, cheap, and that he has jerry-rigged for just this sort of thing.

posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 3:40 AM on October 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

ohhh, the foodie in me is reeling with joy.. great links, thank you ;)
posted by Dillonlikescookies at 3:57 AM on October 11, 2007


Metafilter: Pedants R Us.
posted by Jakob at 4:59 AM on October 11, 2007

This was a wonderful FPP and some great links in the comments. This is why I have been coming to Mefi for 7 years now.
posted by autodidact at 5:34 AM on October 11, 2007

He totally has the tools to whip up a mean "Essense Of Gelfling."
posted by sourwookie at 6:21 AM on October 11, 2007

I admit the Gin & Tonic sounds tasty, but reading about this and all this fancy food, I harken back to a conversation I had a number of years back with co-worker, thumbing through some men's 'gadget' magazine:

"You see this? Speakers. $1500. People have these. In their homes. And I sleep on a couch that itches." *indignantly flips page*
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 6:35 AM on October 11, 2007

That "serviceware" from Crucial Detail is crazy.

The Antenna is meant to force diners to focus on a single bite—which they will do for fear of skewering an eye or a nostril.

The early version of which was a bog standard plate, but the Chef would stand at your table, threatening to stab you in the eye with his knife if you didn't treat his dish with the respect he believes it deserves.
posted by splice at 7:05 AM on October 11, 2007

Great post. Thanks. Very interesting.

I've wanted an immersion circulator ever since I saw it on Iron Chef.
posted by dios at 7:12 AM on October 11, 2007

Number 5 looks like something a college student would build, right before the big party.
posted by Mr_Zero at 8:05 AM on October 11, 2007

This is the future of cooking just like flying cars and jet packs are the future of transportation.
posted by kjs3 at 8:10 AM on October 11, 2007

I am not too enthralled with molecular gastronomy, too reminiscent of mass food manufacturing and processing. Aspects of the movement remind me of Futurist style meals as well with the process and aesthetic being more interesting than the meal or the diners.

But it is cool, being able to do these things and have that equipment. Nice links.
posted by jadepearl at 8:37 AM on October 11, 2007

Greg Nog: putting the high in high cuisine.
posted by nickyskye at 9:04 AM on October 11, 2007

He totally has the tools to whip up a mean "Essense Of Gelfling."
posted by sourwookie

I dunno, that "Sour Wookie" sounds pretty good, too.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:11 AM on October 11, 2007

I bet he puts more than hickory chips in that smoker!
posted by hortense at 9:12 AM on October 11, 2007

Image 7 of 25

For the Pros: The Whipper
Adds a touch of air to every bite

How it works: Fill the Thermo Whip with a hot or cold liquid, and pull the trigger to pump in flavorless nitrous oxide, transforming it into a light, airy foam.

posted by quin at 10:29 AM on October 11, 2007

Cool stuff, though it was odd how the kitchen gadgets go a little "as seen on TV" near the end.
posted by craven_morhead at 10:50 AM on October 11, 2007

lalo, I'd go farther than that. Soak all wetted glass or noble metal parts in KOH/isopropyl alcohol for at least a day. Anything else, replace. Especially the rotation seal on a rotovap--those things are like sponges.

Also, wipe the exterior of the motorized/powered bits as thoroughly as possible with Simple Green. I guarantee it was touched by at least one person with dirty gloves.
posted by oats at 11:38 AM on October 11, 2007

I can't really get too excited about this style of food. I like the gadgets, when I am looking at them, but I like my built in the 60's kitchen in which I turn out restaurant quality food that actually fills your stomach. I think that's the thing that keeps me from getting too excited about this stuff (because I do love food and flavors). For as much as people pay to eat this stuff, there really isn't much "stuff" there. I'd have to go out for a steak and baked potato afterward.

Glad to see I am not the only one who thought about something other than eating when I saw the Smoking Gun. Heh, indeed.

And quin, I have to publicly declare my love for your mind. Some year, you and yours and me and mine should get together to celebrate our "spooky" wedding anniversaries. I'll bring my Whipper. ;)
posted by Orb at 2:25 PM on October 11, 2007

It's like a little mini Christmas morning when you leave a post for many hours and then open the thread to find wonderful links and conversation. I am having fun exploring, so thanks to all who contributed to the thread.

For me, it's the tech magic, the wizardry, and the artistry that is captivating and delightful in this type of fare. Less the substance of the food and more the sensuality of the entire package. When you look at the photos of the presentations, these are exquisite little works of art and flavor. Creativity to excite all the senses.

I agree with those who say "the real thing" (stavros's good metaphor of stone, steel & wood) is the more satisfying in reality; this fare intrigues me as a rare and sensual ambrosia to be savored as an extravagance in the company of others who would appreciate such an ephemeral pleasure. Probably 9.8 out of 10 people that I know would find a $200 "tour" of this delicate cuisine outrageous and pretentious, and I could certainly understand that. But I guess it's no more decadent than spending the same amount for a ticket to a sporting event, or whatever. When it comes to that rare indulgence, it's whatever rocks your particular boat.

One food porn blog I enjoy is from Mefi member chuq, who has the joie de vivre thing going on - originally from New Orleans but now in L.A. (so growabrain, you might find some cuisine leads.) From a bite-by-bite tour of the tasting menu at Spagos (scroll down a bit beyond the bacon-wrapped hot dog) to more down home and hearty rib-sticking Mexican fare, he's always got some great food adventures to share.
posted by madamjujujive at 4:02 PM on October 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

madamjujujive, You're such a gracious host in your threads. And I love you too, while we're declaring wonderfulness à la Orb's admiration of quin. Merry Christmas to you too.

silence's educated snobbery about this all sounding like Ferran Adria circa 1998 set me agoogling to find out what the hell that meant. Lo and behold a major player in this mol gasto thing is Ferran Adrià Acosta. He's a Grand Hot Shot of mol gastro although "he has referred to his cooking as deconstructivist". It seems it's taken almost a decade for the technology, know-how and trend to circulate the planet.

It truly sounds like a kind of performance art in his words, Adrià's stated goal is to provide unexpected contrasts of flavour, temperature and texture. Nothing is what it seems. The idea is to provoke, surprise and delight the diner."[1] This is also combined with a large dose of irony and a sense of humour, making his dishes highly épatants (impressive). As he likes to say, "the ideal customer doesn't come to El Bulli to eat but to have an experience."

It's the Cirque de Soleil of dinner.
posted by nickyskye at 4:40 PM on October 11, 2007

Other links to pique your curiosity...

Ideas in Food - a behind the scenes journal of food experiments by a working husband-and-wife chef team. They use some really wild techniques and flavor combinations and comment on how well they turn out. Lots to see complemented by great photography. Don't expect any detailed recipes or explanation of techniques though.

The academic counterpart to Ferran Adria is Herve This, a French scientist who studies mol gastro. He often serves as consultant to the two leading practitioners, Ferran Adria and Heston Blumenthal. Profiles of him in Wired and Discover.

Movable Feast - another blog, this time of a chef, Louisa Chu, who's cooked or staged (brief apprenticeship) in the top mol gastro restaurants: El Bulli, Alinea, and Moto. Sift through her archives for discussions on the subject and photos from working and dining in various places as guest of chefs. Oh, and if you're not impressed by her pedigree, she led Anthony Bourdain around Paris for No Reservations and will be an upcoming judge on Iron Chef America.
posted by junesix at 5:13 PM on October 11, 2007 [2 favorites]

MAS 4 evah, miss nickyskye!

Wonderful links, junesix, thank you.
posted by madamjujujive at 6:18 PM on October 11, 2007

Wow. I am in the wrong century and the wrong part of the world. Nothing against these foodie gadgets; if I had the money I might go to a restaurant that used these things. I would stick to spoons and pans in my own kitchen, though.
posted by kozad at 9:13 PM on October 11, 2007

*waves at Orb*

Speaking of bizarre foodstuffs, didja ever make your Kool-Aid pickles?

posted by quin at 9:17 PM on October 11, 2007

Yes! I decided on Cherry Limeade Kosher Dills. I loved them. My friends didn't. Good. More for me!!
posted by Orb at 10:49 PM on October 11, 2007

sorry, nickyskye, if my comment came across as snobbish. It is kind of irritating though to read this kind of article which seems to suggest that this guy has invented these techniques. Ferran Adria has been doing this stuff for a very long time, and almost every technique mentioned in that article has been in use for ages.

And I REALLY REALLY fucking HATE the term "molecular gastronomy". What the fuck is it supposed to mean? Can we start the backlash here ?

I suppose I sound mean spirited, but "molecular gastronomy" is such a imbecilic term that I think it contributes to the mistranslation and misunderstanding of the kind of thing Ferran Adria does. Nickysye's "deconstructivist" quote is more accurate and conveys more about why it's interesting (at least to me).

Ferran Adria as the Cirque de Soleil of cooking is pretty depressing though.
posted by silence at 2:14 AM on October 12, 2007

silence, I hear your bile.

Let's put the word "molecular gastronomy" up on a wall and throw mudpies at it. (I'd do that for you because I enjoyed your articulate, contemplative comments in the Salcedo Shibboleth thread.)

Kidding aside, the subject of the article, Dave Arnold says, I detest the word "molecular gastronomy. I hope the term is a fad, but the movement towards using science and technology to make better food is here to stay.

But Arnold is obviously a major geek, so I don't get his anathema for the term.

Your temper tantruming had me go agoogling again...

Molecular gastronomy is the application of science to culinary practice and more generally gastronomical phenomena.

The term was coined in 1988 by Hungarian physicist Nicholas Kurti and French chemist Hervé This, both vocal advocates of applying modern science to culinary problems.

The fundamental objectives of molecular gastronomy were defined by This in his doctoral dissertation as:

* Investigating culinary and gastronomical proverbs, sayings, and old wives' tales
* Exploring existing recipes
* Introducing new tools, ingredients and methods into the kitchen
* Inventing new dishes
* Using molecular gastronomy to help the general public understand the contribution of science to society

Leaders in the field of Molecular Gastronomy include: Pierre Gagnaire, Ferran Adrià, Heston Blumenthal, Homaro Cantu, Wylie Dufresne and Grant Achatz.

Chefs practicing these techniques around the world include: Sat Bains, Richard Blais/Atlanta, Kevin Sousa, Sean Brock, Marc Lepine /Ottawa, Will Goldfarb/NYC

It would appear that Dave Arnold is given more credit than due in the OP article. Dave Arnold is the man behind the curtain of today’s hottest movement in cooking, molecular gastronomy. He’s the Q to James Bond as embodied by esteemed mad-scientist chef Wylie Dufresne. A former paralegal, performance artist and, briefly, Domino’s Pizza driver

When it says,

Armed with a B.A. in philosophy from Yale and an MFA from Columbia but largely self-taught in the areas of cooking and engineering, he was hired at FCI in 2005 as director of culinary technology, a new department augmenting the school’s traditional instruction with scientific techniques, tools and rigor. He instantly became one of the most popular instructors there.

I was wondering how the hell a Yale graduate ended up being a paralegal and Domino's pizza driver. The author of the article, Ted Allen, in the original post, would likely know about the real origins of molecular gastronomy not being Dave Arnold, so I wonder what his agenda was in pedestalizing Arnold.

Food science, technology and cooking processes combined seem wonderful to me and the term molecular gastronomy appropriate. Burst in Your Mouth.

And just because Cirque de Soleil is passé, doesn't mean it's not wonderful.
posted by nickyskye at 5:39 AM on October 12, 2007

Whew, here I am at last. Thanks for giving me the heads-up on this thread, nickyskye. I actually have tasted some of these MG concoctions, and part of the fun is in the sheer mystery of how the chef got This to taste like That and look Like So. It would be very disorienting to eat all your meals that way -- I'm more of a Slow Food believer and find it far more comforting to know what to expect from a dish. But now and again, when in an adventurous mood, I think it would be a blast.

Also, in case this hasn't been mentioned, Marcel on last season's Top Chef was an MGist; you can see him in action on some of the clips from the show. Here's one. More from Wired. And here's a recipe he made using some of his specialized equipment.
posted by GrammarMoses at 6:36 AM on October 12, 2007

oh dear, must work on my tantrum management.

The reason I hate the phrase molecular gastronomy is that it doesn't seem to really mean anything. And anything it does mean seems to imply that the technique of cooking hasn't been about chemistry forever. Despite all their technical exuberance I don't think Ferran Adria, Heston Blumenthal or any of the other "molecular gastronomy" chefs (none of whom seem to like being called that) has ever made an advance of such extraordinary scientific complexity as, say, cheese making or baking or fermentation. Most of the MG techniques are actually pretty simple in comparison - use of extreme cold to freeze and dehydrate, foams and other forms made possible by clever use of gelling agents, distillations, sous vide cooking etc.

The Molecular Gastronomy label caricatures one aspect of the kind of thing Ferran Adria (for instance) does - it isolates some novel technique and wraps it in a 50s scifi movie catchphrase, a commodity novelty for "gee wizz" TV reporters. But (at least as far as I'm concerned) what Ferran Adria does isn't as much about the technique as about deconstructing ones perceptions of food and the culture around it. To that end he's used some pretty fancy equipment sometimes, but he's also served some things that are startlingly simple.

As for Cirque de Soleil, again my prejudices are hanging out. Actually I'm secretly quite ford of them, but my girlfriend for many years was a highly respected aerial choreographer and for many circus types they represent a kind of monstrous Disney Vegas reflection of what they do - stripped of most of what it's about, packaged for easy consumption with lashings of schmaltz and spectacle. I think I reacted particularly violently to your comparison because that's kind of what I feel (probably very unfairly) that the likes of Grant Achatz do to the ideas of Adria.
posted by silence at 9:39 AM on October 12, 2007

Oh shit. Maybe I am a snob. God help me.
posted by silence at 9:45 AM on October 12, 2007

GrammarMoses, YAY you coming to the thread. I was so curious what you think because of all of us MeFites, it seemed likely you actually tasted the dang stuff in your professional jaunts and restaurant knowledge.

Love the clips of MG in action. (Although I think of MG as a sports car I had a lot of fun in years ago, so I'm sticking to enjoying mol gastro as the sushi version of those words).

silence, So what would a deconstructivist recipe be? I've never had any and I'd love to know. Silly thoughts come to mind, like water frappé compote à la menthe poivrée.

The scientists, Hungarian physicist Nicholas Kurti and French chemist Hervé This, who set out to explore the actual molecular structure and physical properties of foods, most likely didn't think they'd be starting a global dining trend. They coined the term as a science project but the gourmet foods they concocted, using industrial chemicals and hi-tech tools, rather than the usual ingredients/tools in most chefs cabinets, took off like a rocket. So the term stuck and now it's a restaurant term that people are having fun with, especially the gee whiz aspect.

Having a huge gee whiz, wow, amazing, awesome, incredible, wonder of it all streak, which offers me lots of enjoyment in life, I understand others who feel similarly about this kind of food preparation.

That said, I am sincerely curious what your thoughts are about the spectacle aspect of this food enjoyment as an aesthetic element.
posted by nickyskye at 11:03 AM on October 12, 2007

There's another food blog that I like, Opinionated About Dining, by Steve Plotnicki. He's a reviewer of high-end restaurants (Not only MG). His photos in the archives are worth the dig.
posted by growabrain at 9:02 AM on October 13, 2007 [1 favorite]

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