Even the best food could use a dash of ones and zeros. Geek out with us as we explore the intersection of food and technology this month.
Some use centrifuges to separate plasma and red blood cells. Others rely on the rotating force flinger to infuse pomegranate juice with a whole grapefruit, skin and all, for a less scientific, albeit much more delicious discovery.
These days, chefs, bartenders and coffee pros are stocking their workspaces with tools that seem to align less with Escoffier and more with Watson and Crick (aka the guys who figured out that DNA is a double helix). Here's what they're obsessing over:
"I look at it as an endless starting point for inspiration," Todd Maul, the bar director and partner of Café ArtScience in Cambridge, Massachusetts, says of his mechanic muse. Nathan Myhrvold's Modernist Cuisine first got him into the lab staple: "After reading about the device, I realized that a lot of what he was doing would be far more applicable to bartending, because almost everything we use behind the bar is liquid," he says. Behind the bar, the centrifuge pounds out 10,000 rotations per minute, sucking out the sour notes from citrus juice and clarifying it to make it last about seven times longer.
② Immersion Circulator
Just like humans, food likes lounging in stable warm waters. A constant in labs for microbiologists and environmentalists, the slim pump has reached a certain cult status among sous-vide-converted chefs, like The Meatball Shop's Daniel Holzman. "I'm a firm believer in old-school cooking over fire, but they're an amazing tool that allows you to hold ultra-precise temperatures," the chef says. "We're using immersion circulators at all of the shops for our poached eggs and hollandaise." On the sweet side, Top Chef Desserts winner and Tout Sweet pastry chef Yigit Pura slips bags of ganaches and glazes into the bath with a set-it-and-forget-it sort of sensibility. "When we come back, it's at the perfect temperature for glazing and emulsifying," he says. "Definitely helps to cut the time in melting, watching, and keeps product from overheating!"
Want to impress the coffee nerds in your life? Talk about the Poursteady, an automated pour-over coffeemaker that's way better than what's hanging out in Jordan Schlansky's office. "We have been talking with Poursteady since January 2015, when we first heard about a NASA engineer who was working on making a coffee pour-over machine in Gowanus, Brooklyn," Darleen Scherer, the coffee guru behind Brooklyn's Supercrown Coffee Roasters, says. "For years, I have been following innovations in single-serve coffee ever since owning a Clover, a single-cup brewing machine, back in 2006 before Starbucks bought the company. The idea of being able to offer a list of coffee by the cup in a really dialed-in, perfected way has appealed to me ever since then." The Poursteady allows baristas to play with brewing time, water temperature, volume of water and pour pattern to make the perfect cup for each type of bean and crank out five pour-overs at a time.
This retro-looking little box looks like it doesn't do much, but don't judge a book by its cover. Officially dubbed Controlled Vapor Technology, this glorified oven preserves the texture and juiciness of ingredients by controlling the temperature for doneness and sealing that just-cooked finish over long periods of time. Naturally, steakhouses are freaking out over it. "As chefs have become more interested in controlled low heat cooking lately with the resurgence of sous vide, this essentially is a chamber that is very specifically temperature and moisture controlled," Travis Strickland, the chef at Baltaire in Los Angeles, says. "What's amazing to me is the ability to cook several different items at the same time without flavor transfer—think duck, pork and chicken."
⑤ Force Carbonator
DIY force carbonators are the stuff of homebrewers' dreams. All you need is a tank of CO2, a regulator to maintain pressure (and not blow up the tank) and tubing to connect it all for adding bubbles to your brew. However, in the cocktail world, the tank has a bit of an opposite effect. "They're great for using positive pressure to flash-infuse ingredients into a spirit or syrup, which helps a lot when making bitters, tinctures or something on the fly that a guest requests," Justin Lavenue, the owner of The Roosevelt Room in Austin, says.
⑥ Le Whaf
Tons of paperwork doesn't sounds like real sexy way to find this Willy Wonka-esque device. But that's how Maul found Le Whaf. Dreamed up by Harvard University inventor David Edwards, it turns liquid into vaporized particles, or as Maul is partial to, inhalable booze. "I wanted to prepare people's palates for the rest of a cocktail, similar to the way you'd start with an amuse before dinner," he says. Right now, as he harnesses the full potential of Le Whaf, Maul is making Mind over Matter, conjuring Scotch vapors and pouring them over more Scotch studded with frozen amontillado sherry cubes. "Because of the temperature difference between the Scotch and the frozen sherry, the sherry actually stays at the bottom of the glass instead of floating, and it mixes with the Scotch as you're drinking it," he says.
⑦ Escali Digital Scale
If you snagged one from our holiday gift guide, then you're probably already familiar with the glories of the digital scale (precision! sleekness!). Chef Brad Farmerie of PUBLIC in New York City agrees. "Not fancy but so necessary," he gushes. "It's the best $45 ever spent in the kitchen. We have about five in each restaurant, and I carry one when doing events anywhere in the world. Yes, the X-ray machine doesn't love a metal coil connected to a battery, but it will always make it to your destination."
⑧ Pressure Cooker
They're good for beans, stock and, for chef Kevin Nashan of Sidney Street Cafe in St. Louis, Missouri, octopus. "I'm super into the pressure cooker right now. We're doing an octopus confit dish using one, and it comes out so tender and delicious." It's the opposite of a slow cooker, speeding up braises by trapping steam inside the pressure cooker to raise the internal temperature. Your slow cooker is probably feeling jealous and antsy right now.