Copyright ©2006 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

ALEX CHADWICK, host.

Different science now, computer hackers are using their tech skills to cook up something new, food. A branch of haute cuisine called Molecular Gastronomy features dishes baked with lasers or served up in laboratory test tubes. This cuisine is moving from a few cutting edge restaurants to the dinner tables of many tech enthusiasts. Our regular tech contributor, Xeni Jardin sampled the fare at a food hacker feast in Silicon Valley and she's got this report.

XENI JARDIN reporting:

Twenty eight year old Marc Powell was once voted top computer hacker by San Francisco's Bay Guardian newspaper. These days he spends more time tinkering with the code inside food. He uses the principles of organic chemistry to design futuristic recipes. What, what's going on here Marc, what are you doing?

Mr. MARC POWELL: We're loading up all the supplies for basically a food hacking salon, a dorkbot.

JARDIN: Dorkbot is a monthly gathering for tech enthusiasts. Usually on topics like software or robots. But tonight Marc will be introducing the geek gourmet of molecular gastronomy.

Mr. POWELL: And we're going to try and make some liquid nitrogen frozen pumpkin seed pie horchota ice cream.

JARDIN: The idea is to create dishes based on the molecular compatibilities of foods. For instance you might not think that the flavors of unripe mango and pine belong together. Turns out they share a molecular structure. So they might be tasty, or so the theory goes. Molecular gastronomists combine white chocolate and oysters for the same reason. It all began with professional chefs at high end restaurants like el Bulli in Spain and the Fat Duck in London. But now more technologists like Marc are not only making this food themselves, other geeks are eating it.

Mr. POWELL: Are you ready for liquid nitrogen cooled food? Baked flavored cellophane and bacon and egg ice cream?

JARDIN: At Dorkbot the small room is packed with over a hundred hungry nerds. Sometimes molecular gastronomy is about matching weird ingredients, sometimes it's about high tech preparation. Marc and his assistants take the stage using liquid nitrogen and canisters of laughing gas they pump frozen air into a greenish milky concoction of pureed pumpkin seeds. Instantly it freezes into foamy bite sized candy clouds. They look like swirls of meringue.

Mr. POWELL: This is a, this is it right? Ricker you want to put this in your mouth?

(Soundbite of laughter)

JARDIN: Machines are a big part of molecular gastronomy. Restaurants in Chicago, Madrid, and London routinely use steam baths, centrifuges and microscopes. Marc Powell is proud of his 200 mile per hour warp speed blender and an industrial vacuum sealer. Tonight the hacker chef and his assistants pass around paper plates with the frozen pumpkin foam clouds and brittle see through glassy shards of smoked paprika agave carmel. The food may be complicated but the reaction is simple.

Mr. POWELL: What does it taste like?

Unidentified Female: A little sweet.

Mr. POWELL: Word, well good.

JARDIN: Most of tonight's attendees don't consider themselves foodies but at least one was. Max La Riviere-Hedrick, Food Editor for Chow Magazine acknowledges that molecular gastronomy is an acquired taste.

Mr. MAX LA RIVIERE-HEDRICK (Food Editor, Chow Magazine): This is sort of like high end fashion where it isn't really for everybody but it brings us to the edge of where food could go. You know it's pretty exciting.

JARDIN: Exciting it may be but whether it catches on in more American kitchens will end up being a matter of taste. After all, the proof isn't in the chemistry equation, it's in the liquid nitrogen cooled pudding. For NPR News, I'm Xeni Jardin.

CHADWICK: Xeni Jardin is an editor at BoingBoing.net and you can see pictures of food hackers at work and get a recipe that actually requires liquid nitrogen. Yum. Go to our website NPR.org. And NPR's DAY TO DAY continues.

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