Any time I am assigned a story that starts with food I know it will be fun. The segment on modernist cuisine (chefs hate the name molecular gastronomy—it just doesn’t sound delicious, they say) was definitely part science, part Food Network. We dubbed this spot foodology, for fun.
We started shooting at The Bazaar Restaurant by Jose Andres in Los Angeles. When it opened The Bazaar was the white-hot place to be—swarming with models, actors, celebs. I went there in the first few weeks it opened and I confess I only remember the crush and buzz of the crowd; the food, not so much. I made a note to go back when the hoopla went away.
This time we went to The Bazaar and got a firsthand look at Chef Joshua Whigham’s kitchen, a sparkling stainless steel expanse that is run like a well olive-oiled machine. Precision is everything. Every chef has a pair of tweezers tucked somewhere—better to optimally position a micro green, a bonito flake, an intricately cut leaf.
Thanks to my grandmother’s tutelage, I am most definitely a cook and can handle diners in the double digits with ease. When I need to relax I read cookbooks or watch the Food Network. But one thing I realized after spending time with Chef Joshua was that many cooks, myself included, miss the nuance of individual ingredients in the haste to prep and serve the whole meal.
“You should want to learn about each ingredient and understand its properties and what happens when you cook this or fry that,” Chef Whigham said. “That’s the excitement behind discovering the story of whatever you’re cooking.”
Aside from being beautifully plated, dishes at the Bazaar are often reconstructed. Their most popular dish is a Philly Cheese Steak. But don’t expect a bun oozing meat and cheese. The Bazaar version is an unbelievably light roll that is completely hollow inside and filled with a fiscalini cheddar espuma. (Translation: aged cheddar charged with nitrous oxide—instead of using fat to make the cheese lighter, they use gas. And no, it doesn’t make you laugh, but if you have a few of the bubbling drinks made with liquid nitrogen that will probably do the trick!) The roll is then topped with thinly sliced beef blow torched with onion jam. The end result is not a meal you should eat if you are starving. It’s a few bites you want to savor to really taste each ingredient.
“People come into the restaurant, and they’re like, what is this?” Chef Whigham said. “But when they eat it you can see them thinking. And that’s the whole point of it, to have people thinking and not just go on autopilot cutting into your meat.”
Our next stop was New York where we met our dynamic duo of Chef Dave Arnold and NYU chemistry professor Kent Kirshenbaum. They basically showed us how to cook not with kitchen utensils, but with laboratory equipment and devices. (Think watermelon juice centrifuged and put in a rotary evaporator to finely reduce and extract flavor.)
However, the real star of the show in Dave Arnold’s restaurant lab was the black Lab that wagged his tail at everyone. Dave’s dog, Major, joined our shoot and was endlessly curious about cast and crew. He nosed around in the crews’ light boxes, chewed cables, ate a plastic bag, and stopped production a few times by shaking his collar and tags. But he was so darn cute we just laughed and pet him some more. Eventually he crashed underneath the camera tripod and went to sleep. Our intrepid photographer Maurice politely let his own leg fall asleep so as not to disturb him.