Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Kitchen of Dr Strabismus

BELLEVUE, Wash. — Inside a nondescript warehouse on a nondescript street of this Seattle suburb is a research laboratory that looks like it came out of a James Bond movie — had Q the gadget master been a gastronome.

Here Nathan Myhrvold, a former chief technology officer at Microsoft, and his company, Intellectual Ventures, pursue an eclectic array of speculative and potentially world-changing ideas — inventing a new battery, taming hurricanes, defeating disease. And here, along with the laser designed to shoot mosquitoes out of the air (a high-speed camera counts the rate of wing-flapping to ensure that innocent insects are not vaporized), is the best-equipped restaurant kitchen anywhere that never serves any customers.

Dr. Myhrvold exuded a Willy Wonka enthusiasm as he talked of the foods that came out of his industrial food dehydrator. “Raw lobster tail, freeze dried, is amazing,” he said.

At another machine, rose petals spun inside a glass globe. “This is basically a still,” he said. “You could crank the temperature up and distill alcohol. What we’re trying to do here is get an essence of rose petals.”

The yield would be a few fragrant tablespoons of liquid.

Around the corner, he pointed to two machines side by side. “Here’s our ice cream machine, and here’s our ultrasonic welder,” he said.

Had he used the welder as a cooking appliance? “Not yet,” he said, earnestly,” but we’re going to try it out.”

After all, an autoclave designed to sterilize lab equipment has proven culinarily productive — “It’s basically the pressure cooker from hell,” Dr. Myhrvold said — as has a 100-ton hydraulic press, for beef jerky.

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