I often wish I were a quantum physicist. Clearly I’m not. But science rocks. So, sometimes I like to pretend and I’ll do things like slog through an issue of Scientific American or take a tour of CERN. And, given my interest in food and drink, I’m naturally curious about food science – or molecular gastronomy (I know some of you get tetchy about that word, but that’s another topic). I’ve sampled the food at Tapas Molecular Bar, Tokyo, and put back a few cocktails à la Tony C at the impressive 69 Colebrooke Row, London. But when it comes to molecular, Paris is pretty barren.
About two years ago, MMCevents (Mixologie Moléculaire Consulting) stepped up to try and add a bit of molecular cred to the Paris scene. Their services include training, consulting, events and – coming soon – an online boutique. So, I stopped by one of their molecular mixology classes to indulge both my inner scientist and outer cocktaillian.
The course is held in the small basement of their office and on arrival the table is already tricked out with scales, beakers, powders and the like. I was joined by four other participants and we paired up into three groups of two (I came solo so I was paired with Benjamin, our instructor.) After handing out papers describing the scientific properties of the materials we would be using and talking a bit in general about the course, Benjamin got down to business with the first of our two ‘science projects.’
We started with a lesson in caviar made with sodium alginate. For readers who aren’t familiar with the term ‘caviar’ beyond fish eggs, my quick molecular gastronomy definition is: tiny bits of liquid flavor solidified into gel-like balls (I believe this is also the same process used to make faux caviar with fish juice and for a bit more information on how to do this at home using store-bought products you can check out Jamie Boudreau’s video here.) Benjamin had us measuring, pouring, whirling, watching, dropping, dipping – until we ended up with our own (if not perfect) well-intentoned little blue balls of mandarin essence. Once finished, we dropped a few into flutes, topped with champagne and drank our first assignment.
Our next project required gloves and goggles as we used liquid nitrous to freeze up a cosmo mix into a sorbet. We suited up and watched Benjamin pour out the liquid nitrous while the burning cold smoke oozed across the floor. I kind of dig liquid nitrous for its theatrical qualities. The finished product here is a smoking cold cosmo ice cream with a serious alcohol kick due to the absence of dilution that you get with a shaken one.
Benjamin has a background with reputable establishments in Paris and has a solid grasp on what he’s doing and teaching. He’s a helpful instructor and the small classes allow for one on one attention. You don’t just get to play with their equipment, but he gives really useful tips. For example: Sodium alginate won’t gel with something that’s too high in alcohol content. Liquid nitrous should be stirred with a wooden spoon. Some of the students in our class had clearly already tried doing some of these things at home and he gave them the lowdown on why their balls hadn’t gelled.
A few weeks afterthe class, I made a stop back into MMC with uber-cool foodie couple David & Mathilde as they got a rundown on how to use the liquid nitrous prior to her appearance on Un Diner Presque Parfait. In follow up I asked them what it was like to play with this stuff at home. David tells me that it’s easy to get (if you have a SIRET number) and efficiently delivered. It’s initially a bit frightening, but you become comfortable with it. If you’re a fan of the show, you’ll see them putting it to use in the next few months as Mathilde puts together her own fabulous dinner.
At 100+ per class, it’s not a course for cocktail newbies who just want to mix a G&T. Neither is it a class for those already schooled in molecular ways. It’s geared towards those who are already somewhat knowledgeable and willing to commit to doing more than just mixing up a martini. As for me, I was happy to play scientist for a couple or hours and also get to drink the results. Yeah….I’m no quantum physicist…but I can make a mean mandarin caviar now.