The scores of recreational classes offered by Manhattan’s Institute of Culinary Education (ICE) are pretty straightforward: the foundations of barbecue, making dinner in under 45 minutes, mastering knife skills, etc. But when you sign up for something with as lofty a name as Experiential Cuisine, you shouldn’t be surprised when things get … weird. The class is the brainchild of Will Goldfarb, one of New York’s foremost practitioners of molecular gastronomy and perhaps best known as the chef behind Room 4 Dessert, a pioneering outpost in SoHo that’s now defunct. An alum of El Bulli, the Spanish temple of culinary innovation often cited as the world’s best restaurant, Goldfarb is well versed in kitchen gadgets, chemicals, and cutting-edge techniques.
Ten minutes after arriving to class, I had my mixer hard at work fluffing a “lime cloud” while I myself whipped up a honey gelato (ingredients: milk, honey, Tuttopan gelato base). These were just two elements for a dessert called Virtuality, which also included “watermelon compact,” pine-nut praline, Chartreuse meringue, and—my own flourish—a collection of savory microlettuces.
But the class was less about following recipes and more about exploring. In other words: having fun. What we were presented with, more or less, was a bunch of chemicals, a few tech-friendly doodads, some raw ingredients, Goldfarb’s expertise, and some time. What we did with that combination was entirely up to us.
The only problem with the class is that it doesn’t correspond to a regular schedule. It’s offered at the whim of Goldfarb (and has now moved to the Dessert Studio at Manhattan’s ABC Carpet & Home), which is to say, rarely and sporadically. And once you’ve learned the secrets of mango caviar, what do you do if your local grocery store is out of agar-agar and calcium chloride? Visit willpowder.net to pick up all kinds of wacky ingredients and build your own culinary chemistry set. (888-354-2433; iceculinary.com; $435 for three sessions)
What I Learned
When working with these magic powders, use a jeweler’s scale to weigh the exact measurements required.
Beneath all the particle physics, the underpinnings of molecular gastronomy are essentially classical.
Before You Go
Brush up on your kitchen lingo. All comers are welcome, but those who already know how to mise things out and chinois a custard base will be ahead of the game.
Where to Stay
The Hotel on Rivington (212-475-2600; hotelonrivington.com; from $335). On the hip and edgy Lower East Side, the hotel is five subway stops from class but around the corner from WD-50 (50 Clinton Street; 212-477-2900), where you can go to see the ideas you learned in class applied to real restaurant dishes.