Monthly Archives: May 2012

Rotary evaporator. More than just for cocktails.

Just another equipment post. It seems to me that there is currently a lot of buzz about the rotovap, and for good reason. It does some amazing things, but some terrible things as well. I’ll make sure to touch on as much of both as I can.

First thing, what is it? Essentially its a machine that distills under a vacuum. The vacuum lowers the boiling/evaporation temperature of the liquid, therefore allowing you distill liquids at temperatures as low as 35 degrees Celsius. The rotating flask is there to increase surface area, therefore increasing the rate of evaporation. Pretty easy to understand isn’t it?

First, the coolness factor of the rotovap. You are able to collect 2 liquids from it. One is the percipitate which is the clear liquid, and there’s the concentrate which is in the rotating flask. The percipitate has the aromatics of the original liquid. Aromatics are usually volatile and will usually be carried with the evaporation. From what I’ve experienced, acidity carries over as well. But keep in mind, the percipitate usually does not carry over flavour! Though, some aromatics (like chocolate) does have some taste, like a mild bitterness, but usually no flavour. Distilled apple juice will smell like apple juice but have no taste. And also, since the percipitate only has the aromatic component, the smell seems more intense since there are no other components mixing with it. The concentrate, is simply that, a concentrate of the original liquid; this would be similar to a reduction that’s been boiling for a period of time. The MAIN DIFFERENCE is that in the rotovap, the process is under a much lower temperature, so the flavour will be different; things didn’t get “cooked”. So imagine that flavours that disappear due to the high heat will be preserved.

Here is a photo of the percipitate.

Now for the other part. Sometimes, you think you’re going to get this amazing smelling liquid, but you just end up with water. Sometimes, the water just tastes downright offensive. Certain aromatics that were masked in the original liquid now become apparent in the percipitate. Perhaps those aromatics need to be balanced with the other components in the original liquid to taste good. I suppose the lesson here is that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! Though, I can’t help but test that statement once in a while. Well, a lot actually.

With that said, it’s a really interesting piece of equipment. I think bartenders/mixologists would be the ones who will primarily benefit from this. Separating the alcohol from vodkas, bourbons, whiskies, etc can certainly widen the amount of drinks you can make. The concentrate can be mixed with various sugars to be a mind blowing syrup. The high alcohol percipitate can be infused with anything you want, and alcohol absorbs flavour much better than water. As for chefs, the fun here is that you can make something that looks like water, smell like something completely amazing. Also, keep in mind that you can add white sugar, acid powders, and other ingredients that can keep the clarity. Call it a mind game type experience (ie clear chocolate milk).

I hope this post was informative. Oh, one more piece of information, if you want one, start saving up. Total is about $9,000 for all the components. If you want to play around with it, come by the Food Lab.

Things I’ve made with it:

1. Edible tobacco vanilla perfume

2. “Grappa” from crappy white wine. The “grappa” was actually quite delicious

3. Nice bases for syrups made from the concentrates of whiskies, bourbons, etc.

4. Clear chocolate milk (inspired from Alinea)

5. Components for a clear caesar. Or in the US, its bloody mary.

6. Also helps to dry up a wet iPhone.


Alinea, a profound dining experience

Though this website is not meant to chronicle restaurant experiences, an exception has to be made for Alinea. This restaurant is perhaps the most amazing dining experience I have come across. It’s not just the food or the service, but how everything is put together. Also, taking into account that this was my 3rd time at Alinea, I thought I already knew what to expect. Needless to say, I was wrong. Despite my previous experiences in this restaurant, I was yet again taken completely by surprise at how mind blowingly delicious the food is.

I have dined at restaurants higher up in the San Pellegrino top 100, yet to me, Alinea exceeds them. Like I said, it’s not just the food, but everything put together. From the serviceware (or lack thereof in some dishes), to the way the food is simply brought to you. They put a new definition of preparing food tableside. The level of creativity in that restaurant is simply astonishing, and the execution of it was perfect. In fact, when some dishes arrived on the table, my friend and myself simply couldn’t help but say “what the fuck is going on here”, in a happily surprised tone of course. The dishes were brilliant.

Really, the food was so profound, that as a cook it made me question my life. That is no exaggeration, and I have met people who have experienced the same feelings after dining at Alinea. It sets the benchmark while obliterating any standards you previously had. It changes your ideas of what can be done to food. Quite simply, it was profound.

Here are some photos showing just what I am talking about. I will only show some though.

1. oyster leaf, mussel, razor clam and crab served on seaweed and drift wood.

2. 3 cuts of lamb, each cookeddifferently, with SIXTY garnishes!

3. 5 kinds of ginger, each with different components.

4. dessert plated on the table. First time that someone has peas as a desert component.


A heavenly pair – bacon and eggs with hints of Japanese flavours.

I’ve been having a 63 degree  eggs for the past few weeks now. There’s just something about that velvety, rich yolk that I can’t resist. Part of it reminds me of childhood and just how much of these 2 ingredients I devoured.

Few weeks back I took a trip to Tokyo to work with a chef writing a cookbook for molecular gastronomy. I will always remember that perfect egg I had in Japan. The yolk was so rich it was a deep orange colour. It really blew me away. And I think because of that experience, I will always try to incorporate some Japanese influence on an egg dish…as well as bacon!

Here is a 63 Celsius egg, sweet ponzu soy, miso and wakame puree, ikkura, bacon “crumble”.

The crumble was a trial. Alex Talbot from Ideas in Food mentioned to me that when people incorporate tapioca maltodextrin with fat, they don’t add anything else; just fat. He suggested adding fried bread crumbs. So I did. Once the fat was rendered, I fried some panko in the fat before cooling it and mixing with N-Zorbit. This was good!!! The crumbs add a very nice delicate crisp and definitely adds more textural depth to this component. It also masks the slight stickiness you get from tapioca maltodextrin. Thanks Alex!

This dish still needs a lot of work though. There’s a bit of a competition between the bacon and the ikkura and as a result, confuses it’s identity. This dish will be revisited soon.


Edible Perfume via Rotary Evaporator

I’ve always been intrigued with perfumes. Some of them smell offensive, some of them can turn your head, searching for the person wearing that smell. It catches your attention. Lately, I’ve been obsessed with vanilla based scents. Two of which that I really love are Musc Ravageur and Tobacco Vanille (TV), the latter smelling so good I want to eat it. And so began the idea.

Although, the methods for this are actually based on a previous project, which was making a really high proof alcohol, and infusing it with flavours. Alcohol is a much better flavour carrier than water, so as a result, aromas and flavours are more intense. Essentially, this “edible perfume” is really just a high proof alcohol with a high concentration of flavour compounds placed in an atomizer. Hopefully, the flavours are intense enough that you feel like its perfume.

These are the ingredients I chose to work with. Bourbon, an old cigar (barely any flavour left. Next attempt will be with a fresh one), vanilla beans, chocolate, clove and cinnamon. These are the same ingredients people claim to smell in Tobacco Vanille.

First, distill the Bourbon to collect the alcohol. Once the alcohol was collected, place it in a vacuum bag and infuse with the ingredients. This was in a water bath at 50 Celsius for 2 hours. Then placed in an ice bath.

I had a sip of it right away, and it was delicious, but it wasn’t quite what I was looking for. The aroma is not quite strong enough to be reminiscent of a perfume. So I decided to blast it through the sonic prep; some improvement with the aroma but still not what I want. Perhaps this project will be one of those things that just require time.

The mixture is currently in a mason jar. I’ll be letting it age for about a week and see what happens.

Alternatively, I could do this again and just place all the ingredients in the rotary evaporator. Perhaps the distilled alcohol will already carry all the aromatics.

On a side note, the bourbon that was left over turned quite murky! Yet another surprise from the rotary evaporator. In all honesty, the ability of the rotary evaporator eludes me. Sometimes I think I’d get something very aromatic, but I get nothing but water. Then sometimes, it just blows me away how much aroma was transferred over.

Here’s a photo of what was left.

Add some caramelized sugar, and it makes for some amazing syrup.