Aspen Times Weekly: Eat and Learn
IF YOU GO ...
Master of the Edible Molecule
Fundraiser for Aspen Science Center/Aspen Pro Start
Sunday, May 17 at 4-7 p.m.
$20/appetizers and cash bar
Jimmy’s: An American Restaurant
205. S. Mill St.
WHEN THE “RADARANGE” debuted for home use in 1967, it was considered a magic box. Pop in a plate of raw food, press a few buttons, and dinner emerges in mere minutes. The futuristic device was mind-boggling — and it cost more than $3,500. But prices dropped as microwaves became popular in the mid- to late-1970s, and by 1986 roughly 25 percent of households in the U.S. owned one. In 1997, that figure skyrocketed to 90 percent. Sure, consumers understood that the countertop cookers worked by exposing ingredients to electromagnetic waves, but ask the average American to explain the process — even today, as the microwave’s popularity is crashing due to health concerns — and likely you’d be met with a lot of head-scratching and vague explanation.
Today the food world is abuzz with the newest concept that might revolutionize the way we make meals: 3D printing. Recently Fortune magazine asked: “Will 3D printed food become as common as the microwave?” Judging from the breakneck pace of development—the chef-intended Foodini will hit the market later this year for $1300; meanwhile, at the International Consumer Electronics Show in January, a Tawainese company unveiled a $500 home contraption that prints chocolate, cookie dough, icing, and similar sweets — it’s quite possible. However, it’s just as likely that most users won’t truly grasp the technology behind their 3D-printed hamburgers. Our tendency, it seems, is to ignore the science of food in favor of efficiency. Who cares how it’s made — does it taste good?
The Aspen Science Center is out to change that. While there may not be 3D printed fare at Sunday’s “Master of the Edible Molecule,” the final installment of the year-old Science Sundays at Jimmy’s, there will be plenty of discussion on the chemical makeup and properties of various ingredients. The series found a natural partner in restaurateur Jimmy Yeager after Harvard physicist David Weltz lectured on molecular cooking at the Aspen Center for Physics in June 2013.
“That really inspired Jimmy to get involved in the science of cooking idea,” says Jacquelyn Francis, executive director of the nonprofit Aspen Science Center. (Yeager is so passionate about the topic that recently he sent Francis a video of a 3D printer creating food—from vacation in Europe.) “It’s a perfect marriage for him to be involved. There are so many of the same silent auctions [in Aspen]. I wanted to do something different.”
The event on May 17, which also benefits the Aspen ProStart high-school culinary program, invites adults to experience an educational demonstration in the guise of a fast-paced game show featuring local personalities. Five teams, each led by a professional who works outside of the food and beverage industry (a jeweler, a CPA, a realtor, a doctor, and an architect), compete in rounds that explore scientific principles prevalent in cooking. Along the way, teams may bid on advantages to create winning dishes, as judged by a panel of area restaurateurs.
Held at Jimmy’s, the first challenge, naturally, centers on the science of mixology. Each team captain will prepare a cocktail; the audience may help them out by purchasing the help of a bartender or bidding on additional ingredients. Perhaps Yeager, a known ice geek, will drop knowledge on how to create the best cubes for different beverages.
Twelve Aspen ProStart students — including five members of the culinary team, which placed second in the state at the 2015 ProStart Invitational — get in on the first food round: Emulsification. Charged with preparing a salad, teams may “rent” help (via audience bid) from the students, each equipped with knives, cutting boards, and tools required to present a finished plate.
“Who will get a food processor? Who will get a fork to emulsify a dressing?” explains Aspen ProStart instructor Morgan Henschke, who likens Master of the Edible Molecule to the kitschy Food Network reality show, “Chopped.” As a teacher on an endless quest to make learning fun, Henschke appreciates that the fundraiser cloaks continuing education in creativity and excitement.
Subsequent rounds spotlight the art of molecular gastronomy — making “caviar” spheres from liquids and churning ice cream with liquid nitrogen — securing help from a stable of top chefs including Barclay Dodge, Bryan Nelson, Mike Ziemer, Tamara Ferro, and Kip Feight. Technology specialist and former restaurant owner Vince Lahey will serve as commentator, explaining scientific terms to the audience and auctioning off team privileges; judges hail from El Rincon, Meat & Cheese Restaurant and Farm Shop, and Brunelleschi’s. Francis hopes to fill Jimmy’s restaurant with 100 people or more — the last Science Sunday event on May 10, an Amazing Race-style teen scavenger hunt ending at Jimmy’s Bodega, drew 50 participants and saw a crowd double that size.
“One of the reasons we can do this in the offseason is because we don’t have a space [for the Aspen Science Center],” Francis says. “We need to use what’s given to us. We’re so appreciative.”
Considering that it’s as important as ever to be aware of what we eat, Master of the Edible Molecule is a great opportunity to understand how meals are made. For some it might even reignite a passion for old-fashioned home cooking — a good thing, since 3D printing could lead us out of the kitchen entirely.
“Without any exception the worst snow storm known since the advent of the railroad west of Leadville has been raging over the crest of the continental divide since last Thursday,” asserted the Aspen Tribune on January 31, 1899.