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Video: Dave Arnold Mixes Cocktails With Science at Booker & Dax

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[Video: Jessica Leibowitz (mycameraeatsfood.com)]

Last week we showed you a bit of what's going on behind the bar at Booker & Dax, Dave Arnold's new technology-driven bar in the back of Momofuku Ssäm Bar. This time we're back to show you a few more of the techniques and equipment they utilize there.

When I hear that a bar or restaurant is using things like liquid nitrogen and centrifuges, my immediate reaction is to roll my eyes and think "gimmick." But to think that of Booker & Dax would be judging too soon. Despite their use of high-tech equipment, they remain a bar completely grounded in quality ingredients, balanced flavors, and a healthy respect for the classics. As Dave says, he's not into the "shotgun" style of bartending—that is, mixing a dozen different ingredients together—you're far more likely to find two to four ingredients cocktails at Booker & Dax. For him, technology is much more about purifying flavors and speeding up work flow than fancy special effects (of course, you get a bit of that too).

How does technology affect workflow? Here's a bit of background on what you'll see in the video:

  • Liquid Nitrogen is nitrogen gas compressed and chilled down to -196°C, the point at which it turns into a liquid. At B&D, the primary use of LN (as it's colloquially known) is to chill stemware. Once an order comes in, a small amount of LN is poured into a glass and swirled around. Because of the Leidenfrost Effect—the phenomenon that occurs when a liquid rapidly transforms into a gas, elevating the liquid above the surface it's sitting on and creating a near frictionless interface—a single swirl will send the LN spinning around the glass nearly indefinitely. By the time the drink is mixed, the interior of the glass is perfectly chilled, while the stem remains comfortable to the touch. Not only does this make for better chilling, it also alleviates the need for the bar to keep a refrigerator free just for chilling down barware. LN is also used to displace the oxygen in bottled drinks, such as their Manhattan, improving their shelf life and flavor retention.
  • A Centrifuge spins liquids at high speeds. The contents experience forces about 4,000 times the force of gravity, causing particulate matter in them to collect at the bottom. The clear liquid that remains on top is used to make cocktails. This not only alters flavor, but also creates particle-free mixers for cleaner, smoother drinks. For bubbly drinks—which they carbonate in-house with compressed carbon dioxide—removing the particulate matter from mixers also makes for longer-lasting bubbles. Without microscopic particles to cling to, bubbles form much more slowly.
  • The Rotary Evaporator (or rotovap for short) is used for distilling flavored liquids at low temperatures. Rather than a traditional distilling process in which a liquid is heated until it evaporates, the vapors are cooled until they condense, and the tiny droplets are harvested, a rotovap requires no heat. Instead, it relies on a powerful vacuum to reduce varpor pressure above a liquid. The liquid vaporizes more easily, and then is condensed with the use of liquid nitrogen. The resulting distillate is crystal clear and more intensely flavored than any tincture you've ever had.

Take a peek at the video below as Dave makes a Lady of the Night—a clear, stirred, sriracha-laced version of the Bloody Maria.

P.S. apologies for the sound quality—our audio file was corrupted.

[Videography & Editing: Jessica Leibowitz, Second Shooter: Andrew Rea]

About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Managing Editor of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.

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