Children's Storefront and Maxime Bilet: Learning about Modernist Cooking

Last week, Marcus Samuelsson hosted Chef Maxime Bilet, co-author of Modernist Cuisine, at Ginny’s Supper Club, along with 20 students from Children’s Storefront in Harlem. A non-profit, tuition-free school committed to providing students from preschool to eighth grade a diverse and empowering education, Children's Storefront brought a mix of seventh and eighth grade students to learn about the restaurant industry from Marcus, and easy, modern cooking techniques from Maxime. Marcus gave the students a behind the scenes look of Red Rooster, and even a short primer on restaurant etiquette. For the rest of the afternoon, Maxime put on a demo marrying science and food.

Showcasing his creative brand of delicious science, Maxime drew connections between chemistry and the process of creating food. Though he studied literature in school, Maxime has been a chef for seven years. Before co-authoring what has become the book for modern cooking for at home cooks, he always thought of creativity and science as mutually exclusive. Now immersed in the world of food, Maxime took time to walk the students through several demonstrations, all the while sampling the foods themselves, prepared by Chef Max and the Red Rooster’s kitchen.

Keeping things light, Maxime enlisted a few of the kids as his sous chefs. On the science-driven menu were carbonated grapes, “modern” mac and cheese, apple pie ice cream (made with liquid nitrogen) and “Pop Rocks” chocolate. Mixed grapes and apple cider were infused with carbon dioxide in whipping siphons, resulting in fizzy grapes and carbonated cider, which was “better than soda.” As Maxime explained the science behind emulsion, he helped his sous chefs melt cheese down with sodium citrate, or sour salt, to create a creamy cheese sauce without the oiliness inherent in mac and cheese.

Things took a turn for the exciting when Maxime pulled out a Dewar of liquid nitrogen. Donning safety goggles and imploring the students to keep clear, Maxime poured some liquid nitrogen into a bowl as its mists filled the room. Taking pieces of his “vegetable still-life”--beets, a bit of romanesco cauliflower--Maxime submerged them into the bowl while explaining the extreme dangers of a professional kitchen: frying oil and liquid nitrogen, at least in the more lab-like kitchens. After a minute or two, he took out the frozen veggies and smashed them to the ground.

Putting the liquid nitrogen to more productive use, Maxime whipped up apple pie ice cream with cider, cream, vanilla and cinnamon in a standing mixer, all while pouring mist and cold liquid from the Dewar. Within a few rotations of the mixer’s paddle attachment, ice cream was made. Suffice to say, it was it delicious.

Before capping off the event with questions from the gathered students, “Pop Rocks” chocolate came out of Red Rooster’s kitchens. Though produced by science and baking techniques, the playful chocolate bars seemed formed of magic. With a mouthful of the popping, noisy chocolate and a book of the day's recipes underarm, the eager students seemed ready to take home some of the new techniques they were introduced to. As he posed between Marcus and Maxime for a photo, one of Maxime's sous chefs, Gregorio, could be heard saying, "I want to be a chef! No, a scientist! No, a physicist!"

Photos by Joel Kahn and Joseph Hernandez