I’ve always secretly wished I were a scientist. Maybe not so secretly, actually. Which is why, when Chris walked into the kitchen today, he said “the only thing that would make this picture better is lab goggles. Kristie, wearing giant oven mitts and a skirt, leaning away clearly nervous about the reaction she’ll get from pouring a chemical into a boiling pot on the stove.. It’s just so…Kristie.” I love to cook, but I REALLY love science.
Maybe that’s why I married a scientist, actually. I get really jealous when Chris gets his science publications in the mail and he gets to throw around words like “methylcholine” and “antigen” in casual sentences every day. I’d love to be able to do that. When I worked in a pharmacy, I would wile away all my hours just hiding in the back, reading the little white pamphlets that are folded into tight squares and stuck to the sides of pharmaceutical bottles. I learned my drugs, their interactions, their indications, fairly quickly. Pharmaceuticals fascinate me to no end, and not just because some show recreational promise (obviously not for me, I’m a lady). When Chris and I were first dating, and we’d spend one of his on-call weekends hanging out, I’d tag along to the hospital if he got called in. He’d sit me down in his office, hand me a dermatology textbook, and leave to handle his bid-ness. By the time he’d come back, I’d be gabbling on about, I don’t know, erithema migrans or something. He was really more tolerant than I ever deserved.
The biggest reason I’m not a scientist (aside from my inability to get along with math teachers) is that they’re a fairly regimented group of people. I love the ideas and the experiments and the occasional setting of things on fire. I think the chemicals are fascinating, and I love the nomenclature like it’s my only child. But the second things get strict (WHOA there, Newton. Whaddaya mean LAWS? I’m a GROWN ASS WOMAN, and you can’t BOSS me) I bail. I love making a chemical reaction, but if asked to do the same experiment a shitload of times, and then put it in an Excel table, and I’m gone so fast that I leave a Kristie-shaped cloud where I once stood. There’s not much room for creativity, and there is a level of precision that I would never be able to achieve (Okaaaaaay, so um, I need to put in 2.1 grams of this white powder, and then 2.1 of the pink…ah, close enough *BOOM*). So I stick to my kitchen.
With the dawn of molecular gastronomy, I’ve now been able to bring chemicals, reactions, and words like “hydrocolloid” into my kitchen. Two days ago, I spherified butter using calcium lactage and sodium alginate. Yesterday, I made a rich caramel, then mixed it with tapioca maltodextrin to make a powder that looked dry, was manipulated as if it were dry, but immediately turned into viscous, perfect caramel the second it it the tongue. So unexpected, to take a powder into your mouth, and then feel as if you’ve taken a big spoonful of rich caramel. I knew what I was making, and I was still taken aback by the strange sensation–the dissociation between what I’d visually perceived as the texture, versus what I could feel in my mouth as the texture. I just think it’s awesome. And it was so good that I nearly rolled up a dollar bill and did lines of it, but caramel drugs are bad, mmmkay?
Those two recipes are from my new Alinea cookbook, as is the one I did today. Today was a liquid caramel corn shot. That’s right, a liquid shot that tasted EXACTLY like biting into a clump of caramel corn. Insane. It involved popping corn, making that popped corn into a stock, with butter and sugar and salt and water, straining it, blending it, straining it again and then making a liquid caramel froth with liquid lecithin (which incidentally is stickier than gorilla glue and more slippery than teflon, simultaneously). The shot settled into layers, and then went down the hatch in one smooth gulp. A moment of thought, and then all of a sudden…WOW. That tastes EXACTLY like caramel corn. I’m going to make the buttery popcorn stock into some kind of ice cream, and then make a caramel sauce to serve with it. That’s my most recent idea. Or maybe substitute the caramel for butterscotch schnapps. The stock is THAT good.
Anyway, it makes me happy that there’s a full-blown experimental science that can take place in my kitchen (aside from the obvious chemical reactions involved in baking or the maillard reaction). I think it’s cool that my chef’s jacket can become a lab coat. And I’m happy, more than anything, that we can EAT my experiments. Nothing too edible about most lab work, is there?