The art and science of playing with your food
A dash of tech and a hint of fun keep the ‘hungry scientists’ satisfied.
At an ice-cream booth, Patrick Buckley dished out ice cream to attendees of Maker Faire, a do-it-yourself festival held earlier this month in Austin, Texas. With flavors such as frozen mint cucumber lime and BBQ honey, the treats were far from traditional. Nor were they handchurned the old-fashioned way, with the required hour-long wait before serving.Skip to next paragraph
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Instead, Mr. Buckley and a group of so-called “hungry scientists” were serving instant, microbatch cryogenic ice cream, frozen in about 30-second intervals using liquid nitrogen.
“Food’s always been a focal point for communities,” says Buckley. “We’re just doing that with a twist of interesting new technology.”
While the latest developments in experimental and scientific cooking, known as molecular gastronomy, might originate from the high temples of haute cuisine, a group of part-time tinkerers have been exploring quirky cooking at home.
The hungry scientists have whipped up everything from lollipops embedded with LED lights to a modular pecan pie using a basic understanding of structural engineering.
This do-it-yourself spirit sets them apart from formal food scientists, he says. “ ‘Molecular gastronomy’ is an almost foreboding term. It almost makes you seem like a food snob,” Mr. Horan says. “A ‘hungry scientist,’ it’s more like a tinkerer in the garage, working under the hood of a Ford.”
These cooks combine lab materials – dry ice and circuit boards, for example – with traditional ingredients, such as powdered sugar and whole milk. Borrowing a page of the open-source software world, they post their favorite innovations on websites such as instructables.com and hungryscientist.com.
Buckley, along with friend and cookbook author Lily Binns, recently wrote “The Hungry Scientist Handbook: Electric Birthday Cakes, Edible Origami, and Other DIY Projects for Techies, Tinkerers, and Foodies.” The book contains 20 projects that range from solar-powered, heat-sensing coasters (that change colors depending on the temperature of a person’s glass or cup); portable stoves made out of the bottoms of aluminum cans; and überbubbly root beer.
To boldly go where no cook has gone before
The group started with a dinner party at Buckley’s home in the San Francisco Bay Area. “It was Patrick and his friends,” Ms. Binns says. “They were not paying a premium to eat at restaurants; they were treating food like any other techie project or craft: taking apart food like they were doing any other project.”
They carefully disassembled regular recipes and customized them to fit their tastes, creating projects for the handbook that are both practical and whimsical.