What does a laboratory grade rotary evaporator, canister of liquid nitrogen, oak infused ice cream, an iPad, and single malt scotch have in common? Usually not a darn thing. But last week the various disparate elements came together ironically for an event presented as, “Delicious Deconstruction”, where molecular gastronomy boy wonder and French Culinary Institute’s Director of Culinary Technology, David Arnold, took a few of us through a memorable journey of taste, pairing food and drink through the vacuum tubes of science.
The event was sort of an epiphany of taste, since I've long since relegated myself as someone who just doesn't enjoy alcohol (the dreaded Asian genetic allergic predisposition), yet found myself pleasantly pleased learning about the process of determining and describing sometimes fleeting sensations on the tongue or on the nose (yes, my nose was oenophile deep into my tumblers, if only mimicking my fellow educated invitees). There I was...sipping, sniffing, tasting and carefully considering smells/tastes that evoked memories of tart cold green apples to scorched caramel. Even this scotch whiskey nOOb was able to distinguish the sometimes subtle, other times glaringly obvious, changes in taste, bouquet and mouth feel of whiskeys straight from the distillation process versus those aged 12, 15, and 18 for years, though I admit my vocabulary was often limited to "fruity", "spicy" and "this tastes pretty good"!
It was fascinating to learn about the minute infusions of molecules through traditional technique and modern day scientific monitoring, resulting in the wide range of flavors that determine the youthful clean exuberance of a non-aged "new make" versus the complex experience of a spirit that laid dormant waiting to be sipped nearly two decade later. Arnold also used his trusty rotovap contraption as a means of pulling out the essence of flavor from various drinks, then infusing them back into a few clear elixirs for us to compare to their more traditional counterparts (one admittedly tasted like a Motörhead guitar solo blasted in your grandfather's study).
If you'd like to learn more about David Arnold, I highly recommend PopSci's 2008 profile, Doctor Delicious to better understand the method to his joyful madness. It may inspire a few of you out there to hack your cordless drill to make the ultimate stick immersion blender for the kitchen, reconsider how to utilize a soda machine to carbonate unexpected ingredients (just take our word, carbonating fruit juice should only be done in a fully tarp-covered kitchen!), or simply enjoy the world of food and drink with slightly wider eyes and mouth like I left Delicious Deconstruction with.