Food Hackers Make High-Tech Geek Cuisine

Computer hacker "Pip Macki" shows off another high-tech recipe at Dorkbot.

Computer hacker "Pip Macki" shows off another high-tech recipe at Dorkbot. Scott Beale hide caption

itoggle caption Scott Beale

Marc Powell, a guiding light of the "geek cuisine" movement in the Bay Area, shows off his 200-mph blender at a recent Dorkbot gathering. Scott Beale hide caption

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itoggle caption Scott Beale
Creating Nitro Pumpkin Seed Pie Horchata Foam over a bath of liquid nitrogen.

Creating Nitro Pumpkin Seed Pie Horchata Foam over a bath of liquid nitrogen. Rich Gibson hide caption

itoggle caption Rich Gibson

Would you trust a computer hacker to cook your dinner? What if the menu included dishes baked with lasers or served up in laboratory test tubes?

A high-tech brand of haute cuisine called "molecular gastronomy" is gaining more than a few fans from the pocket-protector set, who have taken to experimenting at home in their kitchens and coming up with some extraordinary recipes and unexpected flavor combinations.

One of the rising stars of the "food hacker" movement is 28-year-old Marc Powell, once voted top computer hacker by San Francisco's Bay Guardian newspaper. These days, he spends more time tinkering with the "code" hidden inside food, using the principles of organic chemistry to design futuristic recipes.

He recently shared some of his new recipes at Dorkbot, a monthly gathering for tech enthusiasts in the Bay Area. The usual topics are software or robots, but on one recent gathering the highlight of the night was geek gourmet.

The guiding principle is to create dishes based on the molecular compatibilities of foods. For instance, unripe mango and pine share a molecular structure, so they might be tasty if combined. That's the theory, anyway. Molecular gastronomists combine white chocolate and oysters for the same reason.

Geek gourmet began with experiments by professional chefs at high-end restaurants like el Bulli in Spain and the Fat Duck in England, where steam baths, centrifuges and microscopes share counter space with more traditional cooking tools.

Computer hackers have put their own spin on things with high-speed blenders and vacuum sealers. And don't forget the exotic chemicals — like a product dubbed "meat glue" that binds, for example, chicken and beef into one slab of protein called "chick-a-beef."

Recipe: Nitro Pumpkin Seed Pie Horchata Foam

• Blend 2 cups raw shelled pumpkin seeds (pepitos) and 4 cups water for 20 minutes or until the mixture has the consistency of the Mexican rice drink horchata. Strain and chill.

• Boil 2 cups water, 1 ceylon cinnamon stick (crushed), 1 vanilla pod, 2 allspice seeds (crushed), 1/2 thumb of grated ginger and 1/4 nutmeg seed (grated) for 20 minutes to infuse flavors. Strain water, add 2 cups sugar and bring mixture to boil again to dissolve sugar. Chill.

• Blend pepito seed "horchata" and syrup, adjusting flavoring as needed. Add 2 tsp soy lecithin or dried soy milk and disperse well.

• Load a one-quart nitrous oxide dispenser (typically an Isi whipped-cream canister with siphon) halfway with the "horchata" and syrup mix. Charge with three nitrous oxide canisters ("android turds") and chill.

• Over a liquid nitrogen bath, dispense some foam from the dispenser into a spoon. Drop the foam into the nitrogen bath and agitate with a spoon to make sure it doesn't stick to the bottom. Remove from the nitrogen bath when the foam is hard on the outside, and plate.

Books Featured In This Story

Molecular Gastronomy
Molecular Gastronomy

Exploring the Science of Flavor

by Herve This and M. B. Debevoise

Hardcover, 377 pages | purchase

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Molecular Gastronomy
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Exploring the Science of Flavor
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