We all scream for “I Scream”: Q & A with Studiofeast’s Mike Lee

March 12, 2011 § Leave a comment

The kitchen is home to many a chef. The zealous baker armed with hand mixers and pans of all sizes to prove his/her devotion to the craft. The lazy college student satisfied with popping Shin Ramyun on the stove. The happy mother thrilled to whip up family comfort foods – from memory not recipes, she proudly declares.

However, the catchall kitchen has found a new resident – the scientist. With the rise of scientific techniques and tools (liquid nitrogen, anyone?) used by chefs like Grant Achatz and Wiley Dufresne and upcoming release of Nathan’s Myhrvold’s ode to the craft, science is here to stay.

This new tool isn’t just for chefs, though.

Mike Lee, founder of New York-based supper club Studiofeast, brings science to the masses next weekend in his ice cream workshop (“I Scream”) at Eyebeam, an art and technology center in Chelsea.

Mike Lee (center), taken from studiofeast.com

Here’s what Mike has to say on this project and science in the kitchen:

E: What do you have planned for “I Scream” next Saturday?

ML: So, the Counter Kitchen is a series that Stefani Bardin [Eyebeam resident] runs. Thewhole purpose of the project is to take common household ingredients, frommanufactured food to personal care products, and try to deconstruct all the ingredients in there. It’s like of kind hacking stuff of supermarket shelves.

So, I’m doing something on ice cream. We choose Breyers Neopolitan ice cream. The general approach is to look through the different stabilizers and preservatives and talk about why they’re there. We’ll teach visitors about basic ice cream science and show them how to make it naturally.

I’m also going to do a demo with some liquid nitrogen to make popcorn ice cream. The main idea there goes back to heating techniques. When you cook, there’s different ways of heating ingredients. There’s direct heat with a frying pan, ambient heat with an oven, etc. If you think about how we cool things, there are only two ways – a fridge or a freezer, which is basically a cool oven, and then, ice. The interesting thing about liquid nitrogen is that it’s analogous to heating an ingredient with something really hot but with the opposite results.

E: How did you become involved with the Counter Kitchen and Eyebeam?

ML: Stefani has an art project called M2A™: The Fantastic Voyage. It’s an installation that visualizes the information that comes from ingestible pill recorders. The projectinvolves feeding people different foods and and then having them digest theserecorders. So, there’s one pill down someone’s tract who may have eaten manufactured food, like Lean Cuisine. Then, there’s another person who may haven eaten a more natural approach to these manufactured foods. Stefani included me on this to design the menu. So, we chose Top Ramen stuff and I made it all naturally.

E: Is looking at food through the lens of art and technology something you want to continue doing?

ML: I wouldn’t say it’s my sole focus – I want to be balanced. I try to choose the science things sparingly. I’m not whipping foams for the sake of making it. But, I think trying to produce food that way is interesting.

E: Reviews of Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking by Nathan Myhrvold just came out this week (the book goes on sale March 14th). Do you feel like there is a rising movement to approach, prepare and experience food from a technological and scientific view?

ML: Yep! I agree. I actually have a copy of that coming to me. I just bought it! I have high hopes for the book because Nathan has taken a very thorough approach. He’s earnestly trying to understand basic things, like what happens when you fry an egg. There’s nothing high tech about that on the surface, but he has excellent learnings  on why that happens.

E: Where do you see the movement going next? Do you see science coming to household kitchens anytime soon?

ML: It’s all just about being really curious about what you’re eating and cooking. I think  what we’re doing at the Counter Kitchen definitely has some parallels with Nathan’s book. People are starting to think more about their food, like where it comes from and the whole organic movement.

I think this stuff that can be pared down to very practical knowledge. I don’t think people will be firing up liquid nitrogen to make their ice cream, but maybe it will change the way they boil their egg.

Click here to check out Mike’s “I Scream” workshop next Saturday, March 19th at Eyebeam.

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