High-tech cocktails push the envelope

SUE McCALLISTER
San Jose Mercury News
Modified: August 21, 2012 at 3:32 pm •  Published: August 21, 2012
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photo - Renowned New York chef and mixologist Dave Arnold offers up samples of Bangkok Daiquiris during a demonstration of his technology-assisted techniques for mixing drinks at the California campus of the International Culinary Center in Campbell, California, on August 1, 2012.  (Josie Lepe/San Jose Mercury News/MCT)
Renowned New York chef and mixologist Dave Arnold offers up samples of Bangkok Daiquiris during a demonstration of his technology-assisted techniques for mixing drinks at the California campus of the International Culinary Center in Campbell, California, on August 1, 2012. (Josie Lepe/San Jose Mercury News/MCT)

And he drew gasps and groans early in the demo for a decidedly low-tech but high-priced cooking maneuver: Arnold dumped an entire bottle of 15-year-old Glenlivet whiskey — about $50 worth of booze — into a pan to reduce it into flavoring for a scotch ice cream he planned to make toward the end of his demo.

“This is a rather spendy way to do this, “ he admitted, the whiskey sending foot-high flames shooting into the air as it warmed.

Then again, Manhattan is a place where some people are always keen to spend money, he noted. At Booker & Dax — the bar within David Chang’s Momofuku Sam Bar — most cocktails cost $14.

In addition to making two cocktails and the ice cream, Arnold dispensed various bits of advice to students—“There’s no reason you should ever use old lime juice!”—as well as safety tips such as always wear goggles when using liquid nitrogen.

And he made sure to underline his point that cooks and bartenders should only care about using vacuum-sealers and centrifuges if they’re making things that are yummy.

“We’re not about being a cocktail palace. You’re not coming to genuflect at the technology altar,” he said. “You’re coming to have a drink.”

———

TOP 5 FAVORITE INGREDIENTS FROM CHEF DAVE ARNOLD

Chef Dave Arnold, technology director for the International Culinary Center and the mixology mastermind behind Booker and Dax, his cocktail bar within Momofuku Sam Bar in New York City, says these are among his current favorite ingredients to include in cocktails, in some form or another:

1. Thai basil

2. Apples (his favorite is Ashmead's Kernel, a drab-looking but flavorful English variety)

3. Horseradish

4. Nectarines and other stone fruit

5. Onions may be coming soon, too — Arnold said he’s working on a cocktail with pressure-cooked onion juice, “but I haven’t gotten there yet.”

But don't try...

Arnold says experimenting with new techniques means making lots of mistakes along the way. Among those mistakes:

1. “I tried to distill wasabi once. That was horrible.”

2. “I've never made a good coffee distillate that I really liked. Distilling coffee is horrible.”

3. “Many hydrocolloid experiments go horribly wrong.” Hydrocolloid “gums” thicken ingredients or render them as gels or liquids, but things don’t always go smoothly. “When you're working on a new gum system ... you fail quite often,” Arnold said.



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