A few weeks ago, I had the honor of telling my story at the Business Innovation Factory, a TED-inspired conference in which innovators from a variety of fields share the personal experiences that transformed their businesses and their lives. The conference was overwhelmingly powerful – I was in awe of so many of the storytellers who, in very real and tangible ways, are changing the world.
The story I told was my own. It describes the sequence of events between posting my first crappy recipe online to landing my dream job at Modernist Cuisine, to launching a very successful Kickstarter for Sansaire. Anybody who proclaims, “follow these steps and you can do it, too!” is lying. The truth is, I got really lucky several times over. But, in retrospect, there are a number of things that I just happened to do right, and they allowed me to capture the opportunities that came my way. Being boldly passionate was at the top of that list.
Ironically, this was the most difficult presentation I’ve ever had to give. Not because of stage fright, or because I needed to do a bunch of research, or because it was difficult to condense into the time I had a available (I went over my time. Oops.). It was difficult because I was telling my own story, but I had rarely stopped to put it in perspective. In fact, it was my wife, Rachel, who ultimately crafted the narrative I presented at BIF. After floundering my way through a fuzzy set of bullet points for the fourth time, she finally said, “Why don’t you let me tell you your story? I know it better than anyone.” She was right. I took out my notepad, and Rachel proceeded to connect the dots with far more insight than I ever had.
It’s highly worth your time to check out the other storytellers in the Business Innovation Factory series. They’re pretty badass.
*OK, “successfully funded” is a bit of an understatement. We hit our $100,000 funding goal in the first 13 hours, 4 minues of the campaign. In 30 days, we raised $823,0033 and became the most-funded food project in Kickstarter history. We are absolutely blown away by the level of support and enthusiasm from our 4084 Kickstarter backers, as well as our family and friends who helped spread the word about the project. Since I like charts and graphs, check out this beauty. That dotted blue line at the bottom was the funding goal.
The night before the Kickstarter campaign, I was a nervous mess. I was only cautiously optimistic that we’d hit our funding goal within 30 days. When I did the math in my head, we had to sell just over 500 units, or about 17 per day. That seemed achievable… maybe… as long as we could get the word out, and as long as I could coerce all of my friends to buy one. But what if everyone hated it? What if we were criticized because there have already been other sous vide projects on Kickstarter? I had that same feeling as where you show up to school in your underwear in a dream.
The campaign launched at 5AM PST. I was up. By the time I checked the Kickstarter page we already had two backers. Phew, I thought – at least it’s not a shutout! I made coffee (the night before a Kickstarter is a long night), took a shower and checked the page again. This time, we had $4,000 in funding. “Whoa, that’s awesome. But maybe we peaked early, and we’ll run out of interested people soon.” I got dressed and said goodbye to my wife before heading to work. “How’s the campaign going?” she asked. I checked my phone. $11K. That was pretty much the best morning ever. I wore a stupid grin all day.
I left the office a little after 5PM to meet Lukas and Widad, the other Sansaire co-founders, at a coffee shop in Seattle. I made it just in time to watch us tick past the $100,000 mark. It was a surreal moment! We looked at each other. “I guess we have to make sous vide machines now!” Nothing could make me happier!
Over the following weeks, we were fortunate to get some really great press. We owe a tremendous thank you to Kenji at SeriousEats.com for writing an incredible piece that he posted the same morning as our Kickstarter campaign. If you aren’t already a religious reader of SeriousEats.com, you will be soon. Thank you, Kenji, for testing the Sansaire and giving our backers confidence that the machine works! Thank you, as well, to the awesome folks at Mashable, Tested, Cnet and LA Times who gave us some love during the campaign! Finally, I want to thank all of the readers of this blog who have supported and encouraged the sous vide cooking movement. You guys rock.
Now that the Kickstarter campaign is over, we’re focused on building the Sansaire on schedule and with high-quality. We’re beyond thrilled to bring this project to life, and we can’t wait to deliver the Sansaire to all of our Kickstarter backers and pre-order customers. Speaking of which…
The Sansaire is available for pre-order right now at Sansaire.com. It’s still just $199, but act fast – due to the incredible demand, we’re likely to sell out of our first shipment soon.
I am very proud to announce the Sansaire sous vide immersion circulator. It’s the only tool you need to cook sous vide, and it only costs $199. This morning, my team and I launched a campaign on Kickstarter to raise funds for the initial production run of the Sansaire, and we have 30 days to reach our goal of $100,000.
If you’re a reader of Seattle Food Geek, you know that it has been my dream to create a high-quality, low-cost sous vide machine for the last three years. My $75 DIY Sous Vide Machine post is still the most popular article on this site, and is evidence of the growing audience for sous vide cooking. As rewarding as it’s been to help people build their own immersion circulators, there’s a much larger group of people who aren’t ready to pick up a soldering iron and don’t want to spend $400+ on a commercial device. The Sansaire is the result of three years of work designing, testing and constructing a sous vide machine that is reliable, good looking, and affordable. It’s an evolution of the original DIY device, engineered by my team here in Seattle, and [we hope] poised to make sous vide more accessible than ever!
Funding this project on Kickstarter will give us the money we need to pay for the initial production run, and will give you an opportunity to be one of the first to own the device! So, if you’ve enjoyed reading Seattle Food Geek in the past, if you’ve built your own DIY circulator, or if you’ve always wanted to try sous vide but were waiting for the right machine, please consider supporting our Kickstarter campaign by making a donation, or by helping us spread the word!!
It’s been a long time coming, but I finally got “sous vide” tattooed across my knuckles! This might turn out to be a career limiting move, in hindsight, but I’ve been so passionate about sous vide cooking that it’s become a part of who I am. I’ve already got the geek glasses on my right forearm, and I’m thinking of doing a time and temperature table on my left forearm next.
Update: April Fools! No ink on my hands… yet. Photoshop FTW.
My previous attempts at DIY cotton candy were insanely dangerous, and frankly, a lot of work. However, I realized that my Aerolatte might be an even better tool for the job. The Aerolatte is sold as a milk frother, and it certainly does that job well. But I’d argue that this tool is one of the most versatile and convenient pieces of gear in a Modernist home kitchen. The Aerolatte is a battery-powered whisk that’s perfect for mixing liquids in small quantities. I use to incorporate hydrocolloids like xanthan gum and tapioca starch into sauces – an application where thorough mixing is critical. I also use it to quickly dissolve salt and sugar into liquid brines, to emulsify salad dressing, and even to hyperdecant wine, a glass at a time.
But let’s talk sugar spinning. Professional and home cotton candy machines work by heating sugar inside a fast-spinning chamber. The centrifugal force produced by the spinning motion forces molten sugar through very tiny holes or slits in the chamber. As the sugar is pushed out, it forms thin filaments that solidify almost instantaneously to form the characteristic delicate threads of cotton candy. However, in our DIY approach, we can use the Aerolatte’s spinning whisk to produce the necessary centrifugal force.
Here’s the recipe:
- Start by heating granulated sugar in just enough water to wet it. Bring the sugar to a boil, monitoring the temperature with a candy thermometer or an infrared thermometer, and without stirring. The temperature will stall at 212°F until most of the water has boiled off. At this point, reduce the heat to avoid overshooting the final temperature of the sugar.
- Continue heating until the sugar to at least 260°F. This is the minimum temperature, in practice, at which it will produce threads. However, anywhere between 260°F and 300°F is a safe temperature range to reliably produce cotton candy. At lower temperatures the cotton candy will be more pliable, and at higher temperatures the final product will be more brittle. Unlike caramel or candy making, you don’t need to be super obsessive about maintaining a precise temperature here.
- With the Aerolatte off (not spinning), dip the whisk tip in the molten sugar. Then, while holding the Aerolatte perfectly vertical, position the tip just below the opening of a wide bowl and switch the Aerolatte on. The whisk will spin, throwing threads of sugar outward. It’s important to use a bowl that’s at least 12” wide, so the sugar has room to form long threads before hitting the wall of the bowl.
- Repeat this process until you have enough cotton candy for your application.
Just as with a cotton candy machine, you can also melt down hard candies instead of using granulated sugar. Additionally, you can add color and flavor to the molten sugar; dry powders work well, but oils and fats can affect the formation of the sugar threads.
This has been an incredible year. 362 days ago, as of the time of this writing, I walked into Modernist Cuisine headquarters for my first day of my new job. I was excited, nervous, and not quite sure what to expect, or what would be expected of me. I was thrilled that my work on SeattleFoodGeek.com had led to the incredible opportunity to leave Microsoft and work in a job that ran parallel to my passion. I had no idea just how amazing this would turn out to be, and what an indescribable dream of a year would lay ahead. With deference to the art of the humblebrag, here’s a look back at just a few of the incredible things that happened in 2012.
I met some amazing people
THE Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History, and legendary geek hero. We had an intense conversation about the physics of cooking pizza on the surface of Venus, and about what really happens when you decant wine.
Chef Wolfgang Puck, who achieved fame at Spago and invented California-style pizza, and renowned Spago pastry chef Sherry Yard.
Chopped host and former Queer Eye food guy Ted Allen and Barefoot Contessa Ina Garten. Ted was intrigued by a number of techniques that our culinary team demonstrated for him in the lab. Much to my surprise, Ina and Nathan had a long conversation about nuclear reactor design – it turns out that, prior to becoming a Food Network icon, she was a White House nuclear policy analyst.
…Not to mention dozens of other incredible chefs, scientists, businesspeople, artists and generally inspirational folks who were wise enough to avoid having their picture taken.
I traveled and I ate
My wife and I made our first pilgrimage to The French Laundry. Ever since I fell in love with food, it had always been a dream to visit this mecca of fine dining. We enjoyed 17 courses, including many of the restaurant’s iconic dishes (oysters and pearls, salmon tartare cornets) and incredible hospitality from the entire staff. In any previous year of my life, I would not have had the opportunity to eat this meal, nor would I have appreciated it so deeply,
I also had my first meal at Alinea. It would be an understatement that dinner at Alinea blew my mind. It would be more apt to saw that dinner at Alinea attached itself to a dozen points on my head, then ran off in opposite directions expanding my brain like a Hoberman sphere. Surrounded by my wonderful friends Jethro, Mindy and Eric (who works for Chef Achatz), we were served 25+ courses, perhaps a dozen wines, and enough caviar to make an emperor blush. That meal has forever changed the way I think about the restaurant experience.
In August of this year, Nathan and the culinary team were invited to cook for Charlie Trotter’s 25th anniversary, which precluded the restaurant’s announced closing by just a few weeks. I was very fortunate to be invited to tag along – although my cooking responsibilities were… limited, I managed to make myself handy as the unofficial event photographer. Throughout the weekend, in between being spoiled with dinners and parties, I got to hang out with chefs Sean Brock and Tetsuya Wakuda, both of whom have every right to be far less humble. I also briefly met Rahm Emmanuel
At the other end of the fussiness spectrum from Alinea and French Laundry, I also had my first meal at Chez Panisse. Some people perceive a tension between Alice Waters’ philosophy on food an the philosophy we extoll at Modernist Cuisine, but that tension is entirely false. We both seek to honor our ingredients and we both believe that food that is grown with more care tastes better. Well, lunch at Chez Panisse proved that within a few bites.
These were just a few of the incredible food experiences I had this year. There were dozens of others, from Momofuku Ssam Bar and NoMad in New York, to Canlis in Seattle, to grabbing an In-N-Out burger in the middle of the night in Hollywood. I feel like this has been a year of culinary rites of passage, and I feel unworthy knowing how many great meals still lie ahead.
I Helped Evangelize Modernist Cuisine
Part of my job (a big part, as it turned out) is spreading the word about Modernist cuisine, and specifically about our books. Sometimes this means getting on stage or in front of a camera, and other times it means doing whatever’s necessary to help Nathan or any other member of the team spread the word.
Here’s Nathan presenting at the American Museum of Natural History for the Modernist Cuisine at Home launch in New York City. We had just come from Google, where Nathan gave another presentation. Although you can’t see me in the photo, I was running the slide deck that night from the back of the room while Nathan was on stage and our culinary team was preparing tasting samples for the attendees.
This year, I also had the honor of officially representing Modernist Cuisine. Do you know what it feel like to go from being a fan of something to being a spokesperson? It feels really, really good. The photo above shows a talk I gave on our newest book, Modernist Cuisine at Home, at Powell’s in Portland.
While Nathan was cryofrying a burger for Jimmy Kimmel, I was just offstage. I actually did this demo, onstage on the Jimmy Kimmel Live set, in a run-through with the segment producers before Nathan arrived at the studio. They recorded my “performance” onto a DVD. That means, technically speaking, that there’s footage of me doing a cooking demo on Jimmy Kimmel Live. I’ll take it!
I also demonstrated liquid nitrogen ice cream and centrifuged tomato water live on Irish daytime TV to promote Modernist Cuisine. I also participated in a Food/Art/Science exhibition at the Science Gallery in Dublin. With the help of a few student assistants, we made a “wall of centrifuged foods” to illustrate the individual component ingredients that you can only obtain through culinary centrifugation. Unfortunately, I didn’t predict that the temperature created by the backlights in this display would be ideal for active bacterial growth inside the sealed test tubes. Within 24 hours, the centrifuged foods began fermenting. The gas released by the fermentation process caused enough pressure to pop the lids off most of the tubes, sending a spattering of food juice across the room. I called it a “kinetic exhibit” and pretended it was all part of the plan.
In perhaps the most rockstar moment I’ve ever experienced, I spoke to a record crowd of 2,500 fans at the Exploratorium in San Francisco, along with Modernist Cuisine chef Anjana Shanker and our former head chef Max Bilet. Neither before nor since have I seen a crowd cheer and make the sign of the horns in response to the person on stage saying the words “sous vide.”
Photo Credit: Gayle Laird © Exploratorium, www.exploratorium.edu
I think this one unlocks some sort of nerd achievement: I appeared on the NOVA ScienceNOW profile of Nathan and Modernist Cuisine. At the time that NOVA was filming the segment on Nathan, I was our PR manager. We had a few minutes of downtime while we were waiting for someone to arrive for an interview, so they asked if I’d sit in. I didn’t expect that they’d use any of the footage, but when we watched the show, there I was!
I Made a Web Video Series with CHOW.COM
We call it MDRN KTCHN and all 12 episodes of season 1 are live. The show wouldn’t be possible without my awesome production team: Roxanne Webber and Blake Smith, without the fantastic support of CBS Interactive, and of course, without my job as Director of Applied Research at Modernist Cuisine. This show has been an incredible platform for reaching people who are interested in Modernist cooking, and I’m extremely proud of what we’ve created. Season 2 will be off the hook.
I’m on the Forbes 30 Under 30
To top it all off, as if a square millimeter of this year’s lily might go ungilded, Forbes Magazine named me as one of their 30 Under 30 in Food and Wine. Holy. Shit.
This year has been a phenomenal confluence of professional success and personal passion. Every day I work with people who I respect and admire, I’m having a blast doing it, and they pay me for the privilege. I owe thanks to my friends and family, particularly my wife Rachel, who gave me the support and courage to take a risk and pursue my dream job. But I also have an immeasurable debt of gratitude to Nathan, not only for hiring me and giving me these opportunities, but for literally creating the business of Modernist Cuisine. None of what I described above would have been possible without his trust that a food blogger and fanboy with a Microsoft day job could have something to contribute to the incredible work that takes place at Modernist Cuisine.
OK, enough gushing already. 2013 starts soon, and I’ve got big plans…
Ever wondered to yourself, “WTF is Modernist cuisine?” Here’s our answer. If you’re curious to learn more about the history of the movement, the reason that Modernist chefs don’t like the term “molecular gastronomy” or the difference between Modernist cuisine and Nouvelle cuisine, there’s no better resource than volume 1 of Modernist Cuisine.
This is an incredible honor, capping off an unbelievable year. I’m humbled by the talent in this year’s 30 Under 30 list, and so proud to be included!
Look for a round up of this year and some long overdue thank yous coming soon.
One of my favorite homemade gifts are flavorful infusions that taste like they’ve been aging for months. But, with a whipping siphon, you can get the same infused flavor in a matter of seconds.
Navigating the world of Modernist cooking equipment can be a daunting task for the uninitiated, but don’t worry, I’m here to help. This year’s list gift guide includes everything you need to start cooking like a Modernist in the comfort of your own home kitchen.
“You can’t manage what you can’t measure” is an old management adage, but it’s just as applicable to precision cooking. An accurate, responsive probe thermometer is the single most critical tool in any chef’s arsenal for ensuring properly-cooked proteins. But, in Modernist cooking, temperature control is just as critical for hydrating hydrocolloids and activating enzymes. I recommend the Thermapen because of its exceptional accuracy and lightning-fast read times.
Any fan of Modernist Cuisine knows that an accurate, digital scale is required for every recipe in the book. This scale, by American Weigh, measures in 0.1 gram increments up to 2 kilograms, making it one of the most versatile I’ve found.
How would you like to give all of your favorite cheeses the same melting properties as Velveeta with out any compromise in flavor? Well, my friends, this ingredient does the trick. A carefully-measured dash of sodium citrate acts as an emulsifier to keep your cheese from separating into an oily mess when it melts. For more, see my CHOW video on High-Tech Melty Cheese.
The whipping siphon is not just for savory foams anymore! This indispensable tool also makes quick work of flavorful infusions, pressure-marinates meat, carbonates drinks, carbonates fruit, and much more. If you’re tempted by a cheaper, off-brand siphon, I’m afraid you (and the Modernist cook in your life) will be disappointed. iSi is the only siphon brand I’ve tested that can handle thick foams and purees.
As we explain in Modernist Cuisine at Home, The key to moist meat and crispy skin is injection brining. Brines help the meat absorb more water and hold onto it during the cooking process. Unfortunately, it has the same effect on poultry skin, and moist skin is just the opposite of crispy. To get around that conundrum, we recommend injection brining, which both protects the skin and speeds up the total brining process.
A chamber vacuum sealer is one of the most-used and most-critical pieces of gear in any Modernist kitchen. Unlike edge-style sealers, like the FoodSaver, a chamber vacuum easily seals bags of liquid. It’s the perfect companion for sous vide cooking, but it’s far from a one trick pony. Want to make pickles in 60 seconds, or compress fruits and vegetables? Done. How about extracting the dissolved gas from your omelet? Done. And if you’re preparing food for a potluck, leave your Tupperware behind: a vacuum bag is the ultimate way to transport your foods, cooked or raw.
It is literally worth owning a pressure cooker just so you can make the Caramelized Carrot Soup from Modernist Cuisine at Home. I’ve tried other brands, but my favorite is Kuhn Rikon. It is much quieter than pressure cookers with a “bobbling weight”, and has an easy to read pressure gauge. It even works on induction cooktops! You’ll find incredible time savings and more flavorful results from the dozens of pressure cooker techniques that Modernists cooks love.
I’m not much of a horsepower guy, unless we’re talking about blenders. The Vitamix is sets the industry standard with over 2 horsepower (peak) and blade speeds up to 240 miles per hour. That intense power yields finer purees, smoother soups, and stronger emulsions… not to mention fabulous margaritas.
Of course, I have to give a shoutout to two fabulous sous vide bundles that our partners at PolyScience and SousVide Supreme have put together for the holidays.
The Sous Vide Professional™ CREATIVE Series is my personal immersion circulator of choice. Featuring the same precision as its big brother, the CHEF Series, this circulator runs even quieter, making it perfect for home kitchens. And, of course, it makes the perfect gift bundle alongside Modernist Cuisine at Home.
This bundle from SousVide Supreme is everything you need to get started cooking sous vide at home. The SousVide Supreme water bath features a self-contained heating element and a small countertop footprint. The bundle also includes an edge-style vacuum sealer – perfect for sealing meats and vegetables for those long cooking times that produce such exceptional results.
[Disclosure: I and the Director of Applied Research for Modernist Cuisine. I have business relationships with some of the manufacturers suggested in this list. However, all of the recommendations listed here are based on my personal preferences alone and do not reflect an endorsement by Modernist Cuisine, LLC. I have not received, nor will I receive any money, products or preferential treatment for the recommendations on this list.]
Modernist Cuisine introduced the idea of a “constructed cream” – a cream-like sauce that has never passed through a teat [if you’re into vivid imagery]. Dairy creams, including milk, are actually emulsions. Milk, for example, is composed of tiny droplets of fat suspended in water and stabilized by a protein called casein. So, if milk and cream are emulsions of fat and water, why not emulsify together any arbitrary fat and water to produce a sauce with the thickness and mouthfeel of cream? Boom: constructed creams are born.
That one insight has incredible repercussions, and the Modernist Cuisine at Home recipe for Home Jus Gras is a great example. In a traditional gravy, you start with very flavorful roasting juices or pan drippings. The problem is that pan drippings are quite thin, so we typically thicken them by adding flour or cornstarch. This approach has “compromise” written all over it: starches are flavor inhibitors. The Modernist Cuisine approach is to combine those roasting juices with flavorful liquid fat instead, and to swap flour and cornstarch for xanthan gum, which can be used in extremely small quantities and doesn’t dull the flavor of the finished sauce.
The full recipe – which is amazing! – is in Modernist Cuisine at Home. However, if you’re short on time, we’ve developed an even simpler version using store-bough fat and stock. This Simplified Jus Gras recipe is in the Modernist Cuisine recipe library. I hope that this recipe is also a jumping-off point for you to experiment with your own flavors. Last year, I used this technique with rendered fat from a pre-Christmas goose and some spiced apple cider to produce a grain-free gravy that jived with my wife’s dietary restrictions. But, there’s no reason you couldn’t use bacon grease and whiskey, if you were so-inclined.
For the rest of the MDRN KTCHN series, check out CHOW.com.
I’ve always been fascinated by puffed foods. Maybe it’s because our brains are hardwired to enjoy crunchy snacks… maybe it’s because Snap, Crackle and Pop were sending subliminal messages when I was a kid. In this video, I explain the science of puffing and show you a simple one you can make at home: puffed rice crisps.
I love pumpkin carving – it’s my favorite part of Halloween. This year, I decided to do something a little different with my jack-o-lanterns: animate them! I was inspired by the guys at DigitalDudz, who came up with the very clever idea of brining Halloween t-shirts to live by taping your smartphone or tablet inside the shirt and playing a video that aligns to the image on the front of the shirt. If it works for a t-shirt, why not a pumpkin?
The process is quite simple.
- Start by picking a video that you want to incorporate into your pumpkin design. There are lots of videos on YouTube that will work, but I really liked the HallowEyes video pack ($6 CAD) from Hallowindow.com.
- Next, pick the device that you’ll use to play the video. Any digital device will work: an iPad or iPhone, any other smartphone, a Kindle Fire, a digital picture frame that supports video playback… even a small monitor or pico projector connected to a laptop. For extra versatility, consider using more than one device (ex. a smartphone for each eye).
- Load the video onto your device. Then, lay a piece of paper over your device’s screen and trace the outline of the important part of the video. In my case, I traced the outline of each eyeball.
- Pick the side of your pumpkin that you wish to carve. Transfer the outline from the paper to the pumpkin by poking a series of small holes into the pumpkin around the lines on the paper. Be sure to pick an area on your pumpkin where the device will fit nicely, remembering that most devices have a bezel that adds extra width.
- Cut a hole in the opposite side of the pumpkin, ensuring the hole is large enough to fit your device. Scrape out the guts.
- Put your video device in a clear plastic bag to protect it from the guts of the pumpkin. Most touchscreens will still allow you to control them through a thin plastic bag.
- Make a small alignment hole where you want the video to appear. In my case, I made a 1/2” hole in the center of each eyeball. Insert your device with the video playing and check the alignment against those holes. Then, working with a small amount of material at a time, scrape out the inside flesh of the pumpkin until your device fits against the inside wall. Be careful not to scrape too far or you could puncture the inner wall of the pumpkin.
- Remove your device from the pumpkin. Working from the outside face, gradually expand the alignment holes until they reveal the correct part of your screen.
- Finally, insert your video device one last time and hold it in place using toothpicks inserted into the inside flesh of the pumpkin. Play the video (on repeat, if your device supports it).
If you liked this project, check out my primer on carving pumpkins with a laser,
Before Modernist Cuisine, and certainly before Modernist Cuisine at Home, I thought pressure cookers were antiquated, holdover kitchen appliances, like manual egg beaters or the electric hot dog cooker. But, after my first taste of caramelized carrot soup, I was an instant believer. In this video for MDRN KTCHN, I explain how pressure cookers do their magic, and why you no longer need to be afraid of one exploding in your face.
Just need the basics of sous vide? This video, the second in the MDRN KTCHN series, breaks down the basics. My go-to sous vide machine these days is the PolyScience Sous Vide Professional CREATIVE series, but if you’d prefer to save a little money and don’t mind the elbow grease, join the 1,000+ folks who have built their own sous vide machines from my $75 DIY instructions.