|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.
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.