I left the kitchen world just as molecular cuisine was really starting to take hold as a technique. Cooking is all about technique and applying heat to a product in the best way possible to achieve the desired result for the chef. Those who employ “crazy molecular science” in their kitchen get a bad rap from some. Personally, I see them as the test pilots of cooking. They push an envelope that for a long time hadn’t been pushed. They keep asking questions and expanding boundaries of what is possible not only in a restaurant but at home.
About 3 weeks ago, I was in Seattle for an alumni conference for an old college student group I belonged to. While the group went on a duck cruise around Seattle, I snuck off and popped in to the offices of Chef Steps. This tucked away space in Pike Place Market is a workshop of culinary delights. To say they just do molecular cuisine would be wrong, but they are famous for it. This group is a mix of cooks, engineers, designers and other creative types looking to push the boundaries of cooking. The BEST part is they SHARE their findings on the site through video and blogs allowing anyone at home to become better cooks.
If you look on their site, you can find a lot of recipes that are clear, concise and have a video so you can see the dish or process happening in front of you. They also provide resources on where to buy certain items in the classes. The comments section on posts is also a learning environment with great questions and information sharing.
During my visit everyone was very gracious and took time to say hello and share a little bit of their world. That day they were working on burgers and making not so melty cheese, melty! If you’re a cheeseburger fan, who isn’t, you sometimes may experiment on your burger with different varieties of cheese and typically get not so great results on how that cheese will melt evenly if at all. You may have even said, “Why does that shitty processed stuff melt so well but taste awful! I want my (gruyere, blue, swiss) cheese to melt that perfect.”
The day I visited Chris Young and his team were setting out to answer - how can they make any cheese melt perfectly like processed cheese? Chris explained about fondue and how enzymes & chemical compounds in the white wine allow for cheese to be so perfectly gooey and melty within its molecular structure. I got about 80% of what he was saying but nodded the whole time. His quickly, staccatoed, rhythmic explanation showed his passion and excitement for the thought process in solving this puzzle.
The video on the burger and perfect melty cheese went live yesterday (links are above.) It’s so good and easy - I know need to buy an immersion circulator and find Sodium citrate, Sodium hexametaphosphate. That’s how amazing it looks! Chef Steps not only make the food look delicious but the process stupid simple! ANYONE can make this at home with a bit of patience and the right equipment. By the way, they have a section on equipment and ingredients.
If you’re a food fan and not been to the site GO, but I warn you – you could easily fall down the video rabbit hole and find yourself, three hours later, hungry and debating, “When do I have time this weekend to make starburst at home???” When you haven’t had or wanted a starburst in the last 3 years.
Thanks again to Chris and his team at Chef Steps for making me feel welcome and to Lorraine for helping to set up my visit.
Let me know what you think of their site in the comments below.
Joe Campagna is the Chicago Food Snob. He's a former restaurant General Manager, Server and Chef. You can find him on twitter or instagram @chifoodsnob. You can reach him through email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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