• Image about Nathan Myhrvold
Fredrik Broden

That's part of the recipe for geek gourmet, a strange brew of science and food.


An artist uses a syringe to inject a pomegranate seed into the mouths of gallerygoers. An eccentric billionaire cooks short ribs in a science-lab water bath for 40 hours. A countercultural technogeek in San Francisco stages an event during which flavored foam is spread over a bath of liquid nitrogen.

Welcome to the strange world of geek gourmet.

It's happening all around the world, inspired by a handful of genius chefs. Restaurants such as Heston Blumenthal's the Fat Duck outside of London; Ferran Adrià's El Bulli in Rosas, Spain; and Wylie Dufresne's WD-50 in New York are routinely ranked as among the best in the world, and three-star chefs flock there to see what kind of wizardry will be cooked up next. Adrià and Blumenthal practice a unique, cutting-edge

kind of cuisine called molecular gastronomy. Essentially, they have reinvented the cooking process, setting aside thousands of years of tradition and working from the ground up to create dishes based on the molecular compatibilities of different ingredients by using all the techniques of modern science to create flavors and textures never before experienced.

Molecular gastronomy, for most of its short history, has been the exclusive domain of chefs and scientists, food experts with immense resources and the skills to put them into play. But nothing stays out of the mainstream for long, and molecular gastronomy ­- or geek gourmet, as it's sometimes called - has been picked up on by amateurs. The best place to look for these food hackers is in the technological counterculture, right along with the people who joyfully rewrite Microsoft code or reedit Star Wars movies to make them better. One of the leading food hackers is Marc Powell of San Francisco, a member of the Bay Area's hacker/artist/activist community. Powell is a resident of Unicorn Precinct XIII, a self-described "home to artists, musicians, hackers, anarchists, spiritualists, freaks, cooks, and family." The 29-year-old maintains a blog (www.foodhacking.com) that chronicles his ongoing experiments. One recent post describes Powell's demonstration of making a frigid almond-brandy sweet foam, cooled with liquid nitrogen, at a Dorkbot event - a kind of hootenanny for technogeeks. Of course, Powell also has access to a 200-mph blender, five computers, and a naturally synthesized substance called meat glue when he's concocting his delicacies.

For Powell, there's no major difference between the kind of cooking he's doing now and the computer hacking he has done in the past. "Chefs are a lot like hardware hackers," he writes. "Both geek out, absorbing the specs [of the vegetables or the technology] for the purpose of creating something that nobody else has" - an innovative food or a new machine.