Cutting-edge chefs are thinking like scientistswhether they're inventing brand-new flavors in state-of-the-art laboratories or cooking with centrifuges. Here, how their kitchen science innovations are bringing us better chocolate, calorie-free food and a tastier waffle.
In this article:
Kitchen Science: Cool Gadgets
© Phase one Photography
Chewing food is so 2010. Breathable, virtually calorie-free meals are the future, according to Harvard professor and inventor David Edwards. His new "Le Whaf" is a fishbowl-shaped device that turns food into a breathable vapor. When he launches Le Whaf this fall, will it finally become acceptable to inhale your dinner? About $100; davidideas.com. © Carlos Aponte
Chefs drool over PolyScience's immersion circulator. Its latest invention is the $4,000 Sonicprep, which creates stocks without heat using ultrasonic waves, thus preserving more flavor. cuisinetechnology.com.
© Travis Huggett
Wylie Dufresne has a new toy. The chef at Manhattan's WD-50 recently purchased a Hettich centrifuge to separate liquids.
Some experiments had the intended outcomes, like clarifying red cabbage juice for boiling pasta. Others did not: The machine turned cream into butter.
Wylie Dufresne transforms ordinary ingredients into extraordinary garnishes.
Wylie Dufresne on creating unexpected presentations of familiar ingredients
© Travis Huggett
Ice-water baths are ubiquitous in restaurant kitchens, but chef Sang Yoon was troubled by the amount of ice and water wasted. At his new Los Angeles restaurant, Lukshon, Yoon turned a sink into an insulated freezer, which recirculates ice-cold water and only needs to be filled once a day. "It's not glamorous," he says, "but on the back end, it's really helpful."© Antoinette Bruno, StarChefs.com
More High-Tech Tools
Food scientist Dave Arnold on his futuristic kitchen.
1. Rotary Evaporator "Labs use this $12,000 piece of equipment to distill solvents; I use it to make amazing cocktails, like a clear chocolate liqueur that's not too sweet and nonspicy habanero vodka."
2. Liquid Nitrogen "A lot of chefs make ice cream with it, but I also turn fresh herbs into fine powder, separate citrus segments into jewel-like pieces, and freeze alcohol to make liquid-centered orbs."
3. Whipped Cream Siphons "You can infuse flavors into liquor almost instantly with a $45 iSi Cream Whipper. Briefly: Put liquor and almost any food into the whipper, charge it with the nitrous oxide cartridge, swirl it for a minute, vent, strain and drink. You can use seeds, herbs, spices, fruits, cocoa nibs."
4. Pressure Cooker "Home cooks use it to save time, but I like it for flavor modification. Pressure-cooked mustard seeds absorb lots of liquid, so they get soft, and the high heat destroys the pungent notes. I eat them by the spoonful. Same with garlic: It gets a deep flavor, but without giving you the garlic sweats."
5. Next Big Inventions "I'm in the process of starting a new company with chef David Chang to build equipment. First up: a sturdy, more affordable rotary evaporator. But I also want to tackle projects with wider applications, like a salad spinner that doesn't leak or break and a super-powerful blender."
Dave Arnold is the director of culinary technology at the French Culinary Institute in New York City.
Kitchen Science: Food & Flavors
Chilled Cucumber Soup
Chef Eric Skokan of Boulder, Colorado's Black Cat grows hundreds of vegetables at his farm, analyzing each variety for its best use. He prefers the Zagross Persian cucumber for this tangy soup.
Jeff Potter offers a waffle recipe made with yeast instead of baking powder in his book, Cooking for Geeks. A yeast enzyme called zymase helps make the waffles rich and sweet.
Slideshow: Step-by-Step Guide to Making a Fluffy Omelet Soufflé
Aki Kamozawa and H. Alexander Talbot, of the food science blog ideasinfood.com, are beloved by chefs like Richard Blais for culinary innovations. Here, they share their method for creating a fluffy omelet from their new book, Ideas in Food.
© Carlos Aponte
Diners at chef Homaro Cantu's new Chicago restaurant iNG can "flavor trip" through courses at the chef's table. Cantu uses the so-called miracle berry an African fruit that tricks taste buds by blocking bitter, sour and spicy flavors, leaving only sweetnessto mess with diners' expectations. "Depending on the level of sourness, the sweetness can go up and down," he says. "It's hugely entertaining!" Next up: a flavor-tripping cookbook. ingrestaurant.com.
Courtesy of NBC© Lloyd Bishop/NBC
Jimmy Fallon talks about the breakthrough behind his own ice cream flavor.
"I was really interested in using potato chips, but no one at Ben & Jerry's could figure out how to keep them crispy in ice cream. Then their food lab discovered that if you crush kettle chips and dip them in chocolate, they stay crispy. It's salty, it's sweet, it's so cool!"
Courtesy of Oriol Balaguer
Innovations in Chocolate
Cacao Tech "Chocolate technology is way behind wine, beer and coffee," says Brad Kintzer of San Francisco's Tcho Chocolate. Tcho is trying to catch up by installing satellite labs on cacao farms in Peru and Ecuador. Kintzer can test beans' fermentation levels and bitterness before producers ship them to the US, helping farmers tailor their operations to Tcho's specifications. tcho.com.
Futuristic Vision While working at Spain's El Bulli, pastry chef Oriol Balaguer combined eight chocolate textures into a single dessert. Now he's bringing avant-garde innovation to his namesake line, newly available at NYC's Borne Confections. He specializes in wild flavors (hazelnut praline with Pop Rocks) and futuristic shapes, like his Atomic Egg (photo), sprayed with cocoa butter. borneconfections.com.
Kitchen Science: Modernist Mixology
The Aviary is Chicago chef Grant Achatz's new experimental cocktail loungethere's no bar, no bartenders (chefs do the mixing) and each drink comes in a custom-designed glass. Here, a look at a creation called the Blueberry.© Christian Seel
Strong Spirits Similar to a Manhattan, the base of the drink is a mix of rye, Carpano Antica Formula sweet vermouth, and bitters (two kinds: orange and Angostura).
Fruity Mixers White verjus (tart grape juice) and Berry Meritage tea, a blend of raisins, rose hips, hibiscus and currants add complexity.
Bespoke Glassware The sides of the custom "porthole" vessel, created by Martin Kastner of Crucial Detail, come off so chefs can add large ingredients like citrus peel and mint sprigs.
Slow Steep "The cocktail changes over time," says Schoettler, who serves it with a small glass, so the final pour is much sweeter than the first.
More new creations from experimental mixologists:
The Bellucci Shawn Soole of Clive's Classic Lounge in Victoria, Canada, tops his Negroni with an Aperol Spritz foam. He says it's like "drinking a cocktail through a cocktail." clivesclassiclounge.com.
Kitchen Science: Style
Courtesy of Pop Chart Lab
Over 100 cooking toolsin categories such as "Those That Measure" and "Those That Divide"appear on this Pop Chart Lab poster. $25; popchartlab.com.© Kate Mathis
These porcelain pieces by Belgian designer Pieter Stockmans come in 26 geometric shapes, including octagons and hexagons. From $3.50; yoox.com.Courtesy of Museum of Robots
Flower vases evoke chemistry sets in these polished-aluminum pieces from Museum of Robots. $60 for three; museumofrobots.com.Courtesy of Roll & Hill
The angular structure of the Agnes chandelier resembles a molecular diagram. From $6,000; rollandhill.com.