Aspen Misc.: Dragon’s Breath and Boiled Ice Cream
Special to The Aspen Times
“Double, double, toil and trouble; Fire burn and cauldron bubble.”
While local chefs and Aspen High School ProStart culinary students certainly did not follow Shakespeare’s recipe by adding “eye of a newt” and “owlet’s wing,” they made food magic all the same.
Once again, the Aspen Science Center collaborated with Jimmy Yeager, owner of Jimmy’s restaurant, to bring interactive, relevant and entertaining science into the forefront of the conversation.
The Master of the Edible Molecule event May 17 was a remarkable afternoon for its innovative cuisine and cocktail demonstrations, its community support for the ProStart program and Aspen Science Center and its hilarious commentary on the science behind cooking.
“Formally, the term ‘molecular gastronomy’ refers to the scientific discipline that studies the physical and chemical processes that occur while cooking,” MolecularRecipes.com says. “Molecular gastronomy seeks to investigate and explain the chemical reasons behind the transformation of ingredients as well as the social, artistic and technical components of culinary and gastronomic phenomena.”
What it doesn’t state is that this type of scientific exploration is crazy fun.
The entertainment began with Jimmy’s cocktail demo and discussion about the connection between science and the nuances of juices, alcohol and ice and whether a cocktail should be shaken or stirred. Five team captains, Robin Smith, David Houggy, Roger Marolt, Eric Cohen and Harry Teague, subsequently tried to imitate Jimmy’s “pisco-rita.”
Their struggle to shoot flames over an egg-white foam in order to form a toasted layer provided great audience laughter and a flurry of folks anxious to taste the somewhat failed but still delicious drinks.
Afterward, the bidding began, with auctioneer Vince Lahey chiding audience members to help their favorite team captains in the competition. Chefs and ProStart pairs were awarded while bidders, such as Eli Cohen, joined in to ensure their teams’ success. Manuel Diaz of Jimmy’s, Tamara Ferro of Hotel Jerome, Francis Stuckens of Green Cuisine, Bryan Nelson of Bodega’s and Carolina Vela of Casa Tua became prized possessions, leading their captains and students into extraordinary culinary territory. Add in Kip Feight from Conundrum Catering and Chris Lanter from Cache Cache, who roamed the room to offer advice, and it was a truly tantalizing display of how science and art combine.
“There was plenty of good chemistry going on within the teams competing as well as in the food they prepared,” Marolt said.
Smoke curled up off caramel popcorn and, subsequently, out of the mouths and noses of the audience, causing Lahey to laughingly reassure the audience that, “This is liquid nitrogen, folks, not nitrous oxide!”
Mike Ziemer, Caribou Club’s chef, had poured the nitrogen onto his concoction, creating a delicious frozen snack as teams of participants behind him scrambled to complete their competitive salads and desserts.
“Dragon’s breath” surrounded Ziemer’s demo as attendees watched the five teams race to create dishes to impress the palates of the judges.
“You know, I was just joking when I said at the beginning that I wanted to make a dish that exploded. But in fact, my team of brilliant, talented, creative cooks, led by Tamera Ferro, did in fact make a dish that exploded in your mouth with brilliant taste bombs (of frozen raspberries). That liquid nitrogen is amazing,” Teague said.
The most envied folks in the crowded room were the three animated and very lucky judges of each competition: Aidan Wynn of El Rincon, Emily Kolbe of Brunelleschi’s and Wendy Mitchell of Meat and Cheese. They scored each course on the criteria of presentation, taste, use of molecular gastronomy, balance and creativity, licking their lips each time. Food became science and science became food with edible paper panes, spicy gels, unique emulsifications, boiled ice cream and exploding pieces of chocolate.
The room was electrified with laughter, wonder and joy.
“Its simply amazing to me the events that this city comes together for. Jimmy is the epitome of Aspen, and people like him make this community what it is. I am so proud to call Aspen home. It’s great to see high school kids so interested in a big part of this community’s economy,” Wynn said.
So who was crowned master of the edible molecule? Team Teague rejoiced as the trophy, now a fixture at Jimmy’s, was handed their way. ProStart students Emery Major and Chris McNamara and chefs Ferro and Lanter were his team members, and they all seemed to enjoy their victory thoroughly.
Robin Smith, whose team came in second, said, “We cannot emphasize the importance of science enough for the kids and adults in this valley. As a nation, it is critical that we continue to nurture our curious minds and light fires in our young people to create, engineer and innovate. I, for one, love to cook, so experiencing the culinary science at work at the Master of the Edible Molecule event was a thrill for me. And being surrounded by such brilliant chefs and the incredible ProStart kids was both humbling and inspiring. I’m trying to recreate the soup tonight! The ice cream I’ll leave to the professionals.”
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