Laboratory Cooking

Genspace Molecular Gastronomy Class

My relationship with Genspace first began three years ago when I accompanied my fifteen year old daughter from New Jersey to downtown Brooklyn to interview for an internship with the United States’ first community biotech lab, Genspace. The lab is located in an old seven story building on Nevins Street that houses artists, architects, a tea company and many start-ups that are part of Brooklyn’s Tech Triangle. Over the years my daughter has put in hours of research in ongoing projects, such as making a chair from bacteria, and has fallen in love with Brooklyn, the lab and the building. Genspace has been such a positive force that I suggested that I go with her to one of the many lectures or courses that are offered to the public. Last week, we decided to take the  Molecular Gastronomy Class which would require less specific biology experience and the least commitment.

The quarters are small and we piled ourselves in front of the projected images on the wall while our instructor, Ann Yonetani, PhD. explained that molecular gastronomy is an art that alters food’s appearance, taste and texture using scientific technologies. Dr. Yonetani explained that as science is getting more involved with the principles of food preparation, the discoveries are myth busting generations of the folk-lore of cooking: such as how to most efficiently sear meat to minimize moisture loss (best done at the end after flipping every 30-50 seconds to keep a steady internal heat -not by an initial searing).

During this three-hour class, we would be making three basic structures that are standard in the genre known as molecular gastronomy: edible spheres, soil and foam . We would break up into groups of five to experience for hands on experimentation.  I am not a scientist by training so I relied heavily on my daughter to translate for me the processes that were to occur. I am also not very good at following recipes and hate to measure. So I was happy to have her do our part in the group while I could take my pictures.

While the group prepped by washing our hands, my daughter noted that the safety measures for a food project were not at the level that most of the lab’s community would use if they were working with bacteria. This was in essence a cooking class. I will try to describe the sphere project in the pictures that I took.

This is the  set up for the spheres project. Spheres are liquids that are contained by a gel- in this case, the gel will be  formed from the contact of Sodium Alginate with a Calcium Chloride solution.

Sodium Alginate
Calcium Chloride

We combined mango juice  with an equal part of the  Sodium Alginate solution. The combined mango/alginate solution needed to be tested for its Ph -it should be above 3.5 (we did not have to modify with sodium citrate).

Ph Strip

The Mango/ Alginate solution would be drawn by a pipette and ‘popped’ into the Calcium Chloride Solution. Upon contact with  the solution, spheres form . The longer they are in the Calcium Chloride solution, the harder they get. We then we bathed them in a water solution to remove the flavor of the Calcium Chloride.

We ate all of our Mango spheres  so we made pineapple ones.

These are beet juice spheres from another group

One of my classmates had once eaten a salad topped with  balsamic vinaigrette spheres. I am already planning the way that I can utilize spheres in my home cooked meals….maybe hot sauce spheres or  lime juice and simple syrup spheres  dropped  into a glass of Tequila. I just bought a kit on Amazon and hope to get started soon.

Also published on Open Salon under Snarkychaser