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An admission: I've talked with a lot of chefs about hydrocolloids (substances that create gels in the presence of water), but haven't had too much actual experience using them, aside from some playing around with Ferran Adrià's Texturas line of chemicals and tools, and a little bit of behind-the-counter action at the now-shuttered Room 4 Dessert in Manhattan (I learned how to make tiny mango balls).
On Saturday, I attended a class called Hydrocolloids at Home, led by the fabulously geeky H. Alexander Talbot and Aki Kamozawa (formerly co-chefs at Keyah Grande in Pagosa Springs, Colorado) in their home in Queens. Laid out on their dining room table: a single induction burner, an immersion blender, a traditional blender, a calculator, two gram scales, Pyrex pans, and all sorts of chemicals from Texturas, Le Sanctuaire and Terra Spice Company. (An aside: When I poked in their tricked-out kitchen, I saw a Pacojet (which freezes and purees), a dehydrator, a vacuum sealer and a piece of equipment I'd never seen before, a CVap, which essentially cooks with moist heat at low temperatures—like sous-vide out of water.)
For the lesson, I sandwiched myself in between the two other students—both tattooed, both taking furious notes and both nodding in understanding at everything I didn't. I was sure they were chefs (they aren't). We started off with a tasting of olive Pop Rocks—a definite wake-me-up, especially in the back of my head—made by combining dehydrated olives with neutral pastry rocks from Chef Rubber. Other step-by-step demos and tastings followed: an intense "gel of tea" made with agar-agar; wonderfully eggy, perfectly spherical honey-custard balls that used carrageenan; and full-flavored juniper-parsnip gnocchi with methylcellulose.
What I learned is that I don't have the patience to cook with hydrocolloids—I barely marinate, much less take time to measure by the gram and calculate percentages—but I'd be happy to be eating this kind of food anytime.