The Local Molecular Supplier

While browsing Sunday’s Cocktail Bazaar at the Monteleone, Ann Tuennerman pointed out the table where the folks from the John E. Koerner Co. were displaying their goods.

Koerner has been around over 100 years, with the third and fourth generations of the Koerner family now operating the business that was started in 1906. Ann said she first worked with the Koerner company when it was basically a bakery supply firm. After Katrina, the company regrouped and expanded its offerings to include the cutting-edge equipment and ingredients used in creating the types of dishes and drinks one thinks of when you hear the term “molecular gastronomy.”

Tim Koerner explained that the techniques perfected by chefs like Ferran Adrià at Spain’s El Bulli restaurant (which is closing, I’m seeing on internets) presented flavors of classic ingredients and dishes in new formats. Ingredients—pine nuts, asparagus, fruits or beans, for example—could be transformed into foams, gels, spherical “caviar” or instantly frozen into ices that retain the ingredient’s original flavor. Koerner sells all of the obscure equipment and food chemicals any would-be Ferran Addrià could ever want.

The supplies and ingredients to make “caviar,” Tim said, agar-agar and calcium chloride, are known as spherification agents. Mixing a flavored liquid with agar and then dropping the mixture in the calcium chloride bath instantly creates a gel skin on the droplet which burst when put in the mouth, like fish eggs, thus it’s called “caviar.” Here’s a NYT story on Cointreau’s attempts to get bartenders to spherify their orange liqueur and include the resultant eggs into fancy cocktails.

One other way to molecular bliss is through making foams and ices out of concentrated flavors. Koerner sells all the equipment; the insulated bowls and buckets and so forth, needed to handle it. Tim noted that working with liquid nitrogen is preferred to dry ice as it freezes whatever foodstuffs you’re working with much faster, preventing cell walls from bursting and causing freezer burns dry ice can cause.

Purity Vodka held a brunch at the Bombay Club on Friday where they presented their own spin on molecular mixology. It was a great brunch, by the way, and a typically great Tales event, where free booze and food combine with great networking opportunities. I met up with some old friends and made some new ones as well, Jonas from San Francisco and and Emily from NYC and The Bombay Club put on a great spread with chicken and waffles, eggs Benedict, gumbo, shrimp creole, creme brulee and more. But I digress from the molecular thingy.

Making Bloody Marys the molecular way with Purity Vodka.

Making Bloody Marys the molecular way with Purity Vodka.

Rather than mix up a batch of Bloody Marys using tomato juice and other ingredients, participants were invited to place ingredients (cubed tomatoes rather than juice, pickled vegetables, other traditional garnishes and even sausage and shrimp) into a whipped cream vessel that was then charged by a canister of nitrous oxide gas. Under pressure, the alcohol and gas would extract all of the ingredients’ flavors into the vodka and after a 30-second shake, the gas is released, the cap unscrewed, and the mixture strained into a waiting glass chilled with a perfectly clear ball of ice.

That seems to be a lot of trouble to go through, but it really worked. A lot of what was presented at Tales of the Cocktail this year were ideas and products (like bitters) that would serve to give an edge to one product or bartender’s offerings over another. Purity Vodka was a good example, going all out with its promotion and showing consumers how to do something different with their product, which, by the way, is a damn fine vodka that I enjoyed cut with just a little water in the vermouth-less martini they also served. And that’s not just the brunch talking. Really good stuff.

This is where Koerner comes back in. Manufacturer iSi (pronounced “ee-see,” I learned, not “eye-ess-eye”) makes the cream-whippers, soda siphons and gas chargers (N2O and CO2) needed to make the Purity-style Bloody Marys and the Ferran Addrià foams and gels. Koerner, of course, sells iSi products. For you cutting edge chefs out there, you Blackened-Out and Appetites wish-they-could-eat-at-El Bulli-and-never-will-because-now-it’s-closed-forever-types, Koerner also carries the equipment needed to sous-vide, smoke-inject and foam your little hearts out.

You can order for delivery from their very extensive website, or if you’re in town, call to order and pick up items at their headquarters, 4820 Jefferson Hwy. Keep in mind they’re geared to commercial supply and while they do sell to the general public, it’s not a retail store and they’re only open Mon-Fri until 4pm, and closed noon-1pm for lunch.

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One Response to The Local Molecular Supplier

  1. Sphinx Ink on July 27, 2011 at 2:15 am

    I’ve enjoyed your posts about Tales of the Cocktail. I read the TP’s coverage, which was interesting, but it’s cool to get the viewpoint of an attendee rather than a reporter. Sounds like it was all very interesting, even, er, intoxicating!

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