From the blog March 1, 2012 Scott

Scott Visits Ireland, Talks Modernist Cuisine, Centrifuges Everything in Sight

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Centrifuged foods, from top-left: cauliflower, Galia melon, white onion, lettuce, celery, cucumber, pea, leek, broccoli, grapefruit, apple, carrot, plum, strawberry, tomato, blueberry, beet, eggplant, kidney bean, potato.

I recently had the pleasure of visiting Ireland for the first time to participate in EDIBLE, an exhibition on food, art, and science held at the Science Gallery in Dublin. But I had ulterior motives for my visit as well — to promote, nay, evangelize, Modernist Cuisine. Our past European press tours hadn’t had the pleasure of stopping in Ireland, so I was glad to be the first official ambassador to represent our incredible book on Irish shores.

But first, I had to transform from food geek to “food artist.” I was contacted by Cat Kramer and Zack Denfeld from the Center for Genomic Gastronomy. They were looking for exhibits to include in the EDIBLE exhibition and stumbled upon some of my work at SeattleFoodGeek.com.

In my mind, one of the most fascinating topics covered in Modernist Cuisine is the use of the centrifuge for culinary applications. For the un-indoctrinated, a centrifuge spins liquids at a very high speed, causing those liquids to experience centrifugal force. The heavier elements experience more force than the light ones, so the liquids separate into discreet layers by density. Heavy stuff at the bottom, light stuff at the top.

In Modernist Cuisine, we show you how to exploit this process to transform pureed peas into three amazing layers: pea water, pea “butter,” and pea solids. Among all of the groundbreaking techniques cataloged in the book, centrifugation is one of my favorites. Why? Because it is one of the only techniques that allows a chef to discover new ingredients.

Without a centrifuge, peas are an all-or-nothing affair. If you’re extremely patient and have the dexterity of a surgical robot, maybe you can peel the skin off a pea, but that’s about all you can do to isolate one part of the pea from the rest. However, using a centrifuge, a chef can transform one ingredient into three! It’s like alchemy, minus the extravagant costuming and shouted Latin. Even more exciting, though, is that most foods have never been tested in a centrifuge. There is literally a new frontier (the voice in my head now sounds like Patrick Stewart) of foods that we may boldly centrifuge to discover components for new preparations!

So when presented with the opportunity to explore this frontier for EDIBLE, I grabbed a juicer and a centrifuge and went to work. With the help of two culinary students in Dublin, I juiced and spun twenty different, common foods. I had a good idea of how some — like peas, grapefruit, and apple — would turn out. Others were a complete mystery, but that was all part of the process. As you can see in the picture below, there’s a lot of water in most of these foods. Some, like potato, produced fascinating strata. Others, like grapefruit and lettuce, yielded a nearly clear liquid that retained the vibrant flavor of the original food.

Of course, it wasn’t enough to spin half of a grocery aisle and hang it on the wall, I needed to show the process in action to get folks really excited about Modernist techniques. So I went on the Irish daytime show, Four Live, to explain the process and to make some pistachio gelato while I was at it.

I wish I could show you the video, but territory restrictions prevent it from playing outside of Ireland. Suffice it to say that the segment was epic, and the entire crew descended on the pistachio gelato as soon as we went to commercial.

four live framegrab
To churn the gelato in a short time, we used liquid nitrogen, an effective and TV-friendly technique for quick freezing. The show’s host was enamored with how “sciency” the technique was, and indeed it has all the visual appeal of Thomas Dolby’s “She Blinded Me with Science” music video. However, the extreme cold of the liquid nitrogen also serves an important, practical purpose: by freezing the gelato quickly, we inhibit the formation of large ice crystals that would otherwise give the finished product a gritty mouthfeel.

The best part, though, was disposing of the excess liquid nitrogen when the show was over. I emptied the 25-liter Dewar in the middle of an expansive parking lot to allow the nitrogen to evaporate back into the atmosphere. As a result, the enormous, Terminator-shattering puddle created a two-foot cloud that blew across the asphalt and into the open door of another nearby sound stage. A security guard emerged, bewildered, as if the fog were an omen of the impending rapture. It was awesome.

My visit to Ireland was very rewarding; everyone I encountered was extremely friendly and had a charming accent. The Science Gallery, enveloped by Dublin’s Trinity College, was an amazing place for scientists and artists to come together and share their work with the city. And it’s true what they say: Guinness really does taste better in Ireland.

Discussion

  1. Michael Natkin March 1, 2012 Reply

    Nice trip! The red vials are extremely creepy, looks like we are about to eat a transfusion ;).

  2. maria conboy March 4, 2012 Reply

    hi Scott,
    I’m glad you enjoyed your time in Ireland. I’m disappointed I hadn’t free time to go to the science gallery to see your work. I teach cookery in Galway and we recently got modernist cuisine in the library. It’s fantastic and there’s always a volume in my office!!If you come to Ireland again, please get in touch, our students would love your work and you’d love Galway.
    regards, Maria

  3. Erik May 6, 2012 Reply

    The main reason that the Guinness is better in Ireland has to do primarily with the water they use to brew it. In the Republic of Ireland, that water comes from the Liffey river that flows through Dublin and right past St. James Gate.

    The water of the Liffey filters down through the Wicklow (Dublin) mountains, picking up all sorts of rich minerals including peat, which gives the water a clean, sweet, earthy taste that makes you think, “This is what water should taste like”. Close your eyes though, because for as good as it tastes, it looks like toilet water.

    The truly religious fans drinkers of Guinness will add, that where you drink it makes a difference as well. While most beer aficionados know that the shorter the distance between keg to tap, the better the beer in your glass, some claim that there is also a settling that takes place in transit, that is necessary in order to achieve the truly perfect pint.

    For me, that distance seems to be about what’s traveled from Dublin to Galway. I’ve never had a better pint than what’s to be enjoyed in Galway during their oyster festival.

  4. Jason @ veggiebasics April 1, 2015 Reply

    Once again Congrats Scott for for having good time in Ireland. It was pleasure to have you in Ireland.
    We all are love you…..Thanks!!

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