A kitchen equipped for “molecular gastronomy”-gourmet cuisine as cooked by Mr. Wizard, basically-is all about the tech. Devices that wouldn´t be out of place in a chemistry lab fill the kitchens of some of the world´s most adventurous chefs, enabling far-out dishes like whipped-cream pancakes, lobster sorbet (shells and all) and meat-flavored mushrooms. Wiley Dufresne, head chef at one of molecular gastronomy´s Meccas, WD-50 in New York City, is so protective of his machines that he wouldn´t allow them out of his kitchen to be photographed for this piece, insisting that we get our own. And so we did.
For a look at the most extreme kitchen gadgets in use today-as well as some more-accessible gizmos for the home chef-launch our gallery here.
See Ted Allen´s profile of Dave Arnold, the DIY guru who inspired many of these machines (and hacked together a few of his own), for more molecular-gastronomy tech.
For the Pros: The Pacojet
A super-slicer turnsanything to sorbet How it works: Freeze ingredients in the Pacojet´s beaker and the machine´s titanium-coated, 4.2-inch blade turns at 2,000 rpm, slicing what´s inside into layers less than two microns thick. Air trapped between the ice crystals boosts the dish´s volume by 20 percent and gives it a sorbet-like texture. On the menu: Grape-and-aquavit sorbet; frozen lobster bisque made from whole lobsters, shells and all–A.W. Pacojet $3,450; pacojet.com
For the Pros: The Evaporator
Catches flavor in a bottle How it works: Available at your neighborhood lab-supply shop or on eBay, a rotary evaporator is a small distillery: It extracts intensely flavored syrup from almost any food. Just put your ingredients-say, strawberries and black pepper-in a glass evaporation flask, which heats them by rotating in a bath of hot water. A vacuum pump reduces the air pressure in the flask, which drops the boiling point of the water inside to as low as 112F. As moisture seeps out of the strawberries and reaches a boil, vapor rises into a condenser. There it cools, collects as a clear liquid, and drips into another flask. The distillate adds flavor to dishes without changing the color or texture. On the menu: Strawberry-pepper sauce, gin and tonic with clear lime syrup-Anne Wootton Heidolph VV Micro Evaporator $3,000; brinkmann.com
For the Home: Meat, Your Maker
This vacuum tumbler cuts marinating time by hours, first extracting air to expand the meat´s fibers and then spinning it so that every area is exposed to your sauce of choice. Probably doesn´t beat a good long soak, but perfect for when barbecue inspiration suddenly strikes.–Abby Seiff
Reveo $150; freethemeat.com
For the Pros: The Sealer and Circulator
Cooks in a bag to lock in juiciness How it works: Seal your raw steak with a pat of butter and a sprig of parsley, and drop it in a bath of hot water for a juicy cut done perfectly throughout. The vacuum-packing traps moisture, while the thermal circulator maintains the water´s temperature to within a tenth of a degree and keeps it moving to prevent hot and cold spots. The low-temp cooking also keeps the meat´s cell membranes from bursting and letting out precious moisture and flavor. On the menu: Skirt steak as tender as filet mignon, cooked ocean trout with a raw texture-A.W. PolyScience 7306C Thermal Circulator $925; cuisinetechnology.com
Minipack-Torre MV-31 Vacuum Sealer $2,000; minipack-torre.it
For the Home: Invasion of the Pod Beverages
Instant coffee and tea are nothing new, but this machine makes 30 types of real-brewed hot and cold drinks using single-serving packs. A built-in filter purifies water, while a double-brew system creates frothy drinks like cappuccinos.–A.S.
Flavia Fusion From $130; myflavia.com
For the Pros: Super Paper
Goes where tinfoil can´t How it works: This translucent paper can withstand temperatures up to 445
For the Pros: The Smoking Gun
Hardwood flavor in your hand How it works: Sprinkle hardwood sawdust into a pipe on the top of this device, light it up, and poof!-instant smoke you can infuse into your roast, pot of vegetables or vacuum bag for smokehouse flavor without the hazy kitchen. On the menu: Smoked salmon, peachwood-smoked mushrooms–A.W. PolyScience Smoking Gun $50; cuisinetechnology.com
For the Home: Scales of Justice
With hundreds of foods programmed into it, this scale reveals nutritional content instantly. By calculating exact values for 12 nutrients including calories, protein and saturated fats, it can immediately help you gauge whether that stale half-doughnut is worth it.–A.S.
EatSmart Nutrition Scale $75; eatsmartproducts.com
For the Pros: The Anti-griddle
Applies an instant deep freeze How it works: The Anti-Griddle maintains a constant temperature of â€30F by pumping a refrigerant through a compressor to remove heat from the smooth steel surface. The result: Liquids, creams and gels get a frozen crust in 30 to 90 seconds, while staying creamy inside. On the menu: Crme-anglaise lollipops, whipped-cream pancakes–A.W. PolyScience Anti-Griddle $1,060; cuisinetechnology.com
For the Pros: The Whipper
Adds a touch of air to every bite How it works: Fill the Thermo Whip with a hot or cold liquid, and pull the trigger to pump in flavorless nitrous oxide, transforming it into a light, airy foam. Siphons, on the other hand, create carbonated liquids such as soda by injecting bubbles of carbon dioxide. On the menu: Coffee-chocolate foam, cranberry whip, carbonated grapes–A.W. iSi Thermo Whip Cream Whipper $150
Soda Siphon SLL $60; isi-store.com
For the Home: Toast, Toast Baby
Never again let your bread remain interred an instant too long. The LCD screen on front of this toaster counts down the seconds, while defrost and reheat settings ensure an ideal browning.–A.S.
Krups TT6190 $60; krups.com
For the Home: This Is Smaller Tap
Just because a keg is diminutive doesn’t mean it shouldn’t have a proper tap. This one uses CO2 cartridges and a refrigeration system to ensure a frosty draught from each standard five-liter keg you tap.–A.S.
Mini Beer Keg $230; avantiproducts.com
For the Pros: The Gastrovac
Makes food soak up flavor like a sponge How it works: Think of the Gastrovac as a crock pot, vacuum pump and heating plate in one. Suspend your food-pear slices, for example-in a basket above a flavorful liquid, such as wine broth. Seal the machine, and hit a button to turn the cooking chamber into a vacuum. The low-pressure environment pulls all the air out of the food, compressing it like a squished sponge. Near the end of their cooking, drop the pears into the broth and restore the pressure. The liquid rushes into the cells, infusing the fruit with an intense wine flavor. And no oxygen means no oxidation-so instead of turning brown, fruit comes out as brightly colored as it was when first sliced. On the menu: Mint-infused apples, coconut pineapple, meat-flavored mushrooms–A.W. International Cooking Concepts Gastrovac $3,800; le-sanctuaire.com
For the Pros: The New Spice Rack
Chemicals the experimental home chef shouldn´t be without Methylcellulose: Mixed with hot water, methylcellulose molecules congeal into a thick syrup or gel. As it cools, the substance becomes liquid again. On the menu: Reverse chocolate ice cream that´s hot and solid on your plate and then dissolves into liquid in your mouth National Starch N-Zorbit Tapioca Maltodextrin Turn any fat or oil into a powder that releases its flavor only when it hits the moist interior of your mouth. On the menu: Olive-oil powder Sodium Alginate and Calcium Lactate: An extract of kelp seaweed, sodium alginate forms a gel when exposed to calcium lactate. Add algi- nate to a cantaloupe puree and drop a spoonful of it into water mixed with calcium lactate to create a sphere with a gel-like exterior. On the menu: Tiny drops of fruit caviar Soy Lecithin: An emulsifier, soy lecithin keeps together molecules that otherwise wouldn´t stick, such as oil and water. On the menu: Squash-foam soup; carrot-juice â€air,â€ a super-light foam Agar: Used in Japan since the 15th century, agar is an extract of red algae that traps warm-water molecules to create a substance that can be chilled and cut into thin gelatinous sticks. On the menu: Translucent sheets of Campari and beet, rosewater fruit jelly Xanthan Gum: Xanthan, made from fermented cornstarch, is one of the most powerful thickeners available. Common in commercial salad dressings, it can keep oil and water together for weeks. On the menu: Caramel citrus vinaigrette Activa RM (Transglutaminase): Often called meat glue, Activa makes proteins-meat-stick together by linking two amino acids, glutamine and lysine. On the menu: Shrimp noodles, steak filets trimmed completely of fat and then reglued together–A.W. Buy these additives at le-sanctuaire.com.
For the Home: Fry Doctor
Deep fryers are hardly citadels of health, but this one comes close. Using a rotating heat-pulse system, it can fry up a couple pounds of potatoes on a single tablespoon of oil, 3 percent of what ordinary fryers require. Toss in strips of meats or vegetables for more (relatively) healthy fried snacks.–A.S.
ActiFry Approx. $300; available in Europe; tefal.com
For the Home: Not an Addict
If you down coffee like it´s water, an ordinary maker might not cut it. This refrigerator has a professional-grade espresso machine built into the door-a built-in filter ensures that your latte is made with only the best water. Meanwhile, sensors detect the ideal conditions for your food, and a cold-air circulation system allows the machine to return to its selected temperature (after the door’s been open) five times as fast as ordinary models.–A.S.
20RI D4 Espresso Price not set; available January; whirlpool.co.uk
For the Home: (Not) Burning Down the House
Induction cooking works by creating a magnetic field between stovetop and pan through which heat is conducted. Less heat is dissipated, cooking occurs more efficiently, and your kitchen is unlikely to turn into, well, an oven. This stove has the highest wattage of any induction range, as well as extremely precise temperature controls.–A.S.
GE Profile Induction Cooktop From $1,800; ge.com
For the Home: Peel Away
Avoid nicks and achy wrists. This peeler, contoured to the shape of your hand, slips over a finger and rests in the palm for smooth skinning.–A.S.
PalmPeeler $5; chefn.com
For the Home: Kettle Chameleon
See if your water is ready at a glance with this color-changing electric kettle. Shifting from blue to red as the water inside heats up, it also maintains its temperature so you don’t have to start anew with each cup.–A.S.
Response Kettle Price not set; kenwoodworld.com
For the Home: Trash Talker
Place your foot in the sensor zone of this trash bin, and the lid automatically swings open. A lid-hold button keeps the top up for big loads.–A.S.
Rectangular Sensor Can $200; simplehuman.com
For the Home: Get a Grip
In addition to being super heat- and cold-resistant (from -134â€500), these oven mitts are swathed in ultra-grippy material, allowing you to grab handle-less pots or pans with ease. Water- and stain-repellent, they’re also dishwasher-safe.–A.S.
Kitchen Grips From $15; kitchengrips.com
For the Home: Wave Rider
Cycling high- and low-frequency infrared waves, this oven cooks food about twice as fast as a conventional oven without sacrificing flavor or texture. Unlike microwaves, which cook by heating water molecules, infrared waves target all parts, leaving you with crispy outsides and juicy meat.–A.S.
InfraWave Speed Cooking Countertop Oven $150; blackanddeckerappliances.com
For the Home: Grillternative
Cold weather doesn´t kill the desire for a charred burger. This indoor grill has a clamshell design: Clamp the top down for toasty sandwiches, or flip it open 180 degrees for a sizable surface on which to tackle meat and veggies. Retired heavyweight boxers, take note.–A.S.
Breville 800GRXL Indoor Grill $200 brevilleusa.com
For the Home: Microbes Be Gone
Having trouble finding sushi-grade chicken in your town? Alternately exposing raw meat to a vacuum and a natural solution, this machine claims to kill up to 99.5 percent of common yet dangerous impurities such as E.coli, listeria and salmonella. As a bonus, while stripping your meat of choice of microbes, the machine simultaneously tenderizes and marinates it.–A.S.
CulinaryPrep $400; culinaryprep.com