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Why is there a cooking show on SyFy? Because it’s a QUANTUM cooking show. It’s got science in it! Turns out that “molecular gastronomy” is actually a thing. It can even be a career path if cooking regular old human food is too boring for you. I thought all the shenanigans with liquid nitrogen and spit foam was just another way for weird-haired nerds like Richard Blais and Marcel Vigneron to show off.
Maybe Marcel’s Quantum Kitchen will be cool. Maybe SyFy will send Marcel (forever known to us gasmii as Turkey Hair) to the Large Hadron Collider, where he’ll tear open a beef wellington-sized black hole and cook that delicious cow meat with Hawking radiation. Maybe Marcel will discover cold fusion by accident while maximizing the air bubble-to-vegetable ratio of asparagus foam.
But here are the ingredients we have to work with:
And the geniuses behind Mansquito
The show’s opener tries really hard to convince us this is SCIENCE. There’s lots of liquid nitrogen smoke, Marcel wearing safety goggles, hand-written equations marching across food-porn shots of cannelloni, shit like that. The show’s logo is an egg enclosing an atomic nucleus, with some black, tarry substance pouring over it. Dark energy sauce, anyone?
Marcel introduces his telegenic catering team. There’s Devon, Marcel’s bestie from culinary school. Like all bartenders with delusions of grandeur, Devon refers to himself as a “mixologist”. Turkey Hair describes him as “The Marcel of cocktails.” There’s Robyn, a “rock band caterer”, who has limited cooking skills but abundant sex appeal for teenaged male video-gamer demographic. And there’s Jarrid. Jarrid is some sort of kitchen rebel. He’s shown breathing fire, welding, and being all rebellious with his unkempt hair. His job is to make sure “the environment matches the food”. No, I don’t know what that means, either. What I do know is that Darrin has dumb-ass tribal tattoos, hex-nut spacers in both ears, and he’s the kind of trendy greasy/dirty that a lot of TV chefs are going for now. Can any of these people actually help Turkey Hair prepare food?
As the show opens, Marcel is demonstrating molecular gastronomy to some elementary school kids. He’s doing that “form mimicking” thing, where you make one type of food look like another. He’s going to make orange slices “more interesting.” He goes to a lot of trouble scooping out the oranges, chopping up the pulp, freezing it with liquid nitrogen (it took approximately 2.5 minutes before liquid N made its first appearance), mixing the pulp with orange juice and gelatin, and pouring it back into the hollow orange peels. He eventually produces … orange slices.
Turkey Hair is multitasking here, because in addition to reinventing citrus, he’s auditioning for his first catering client, who is lurking behind the kids and watching. Her name is Carlton—she has a last name, but she’s totally the type to pull a Madonna and have a mono-moniker—and she is a very scary female. She sounds like she’s got a fading (English?) accent, but on top of it, she’s got that exaggerated enunciation thing that is affected by all the richest douchebags and douchebaguettes. Also, she looks like Kelly Bensimon’s older, more leathery sister.
Carlton wants Marcel to cater a mah-veh-lous fund raiser for her pet charity. All rich bitches have pet charities. Hers is the Wildlife Waystation. (Rich-bitch patron aside, the organization is cool. It rescues, rehabilitates, relocates, and provides sanctuary for exotic and native animals. It might even teach the animals readin’, ritin’ and ‘rithmatic.) Carlton says she has an a-maz-zing guest list. No pressure, but this has to be…. successful.
Carlton wants a sample of what Turkey Hair will serve at her event. Marcel immediately falls prey to one of the classic blunders: he skips right over “land war in Asia” and goes right to “give yourself an impossible deadline.” He bounces on his heels, darts his eyes back and forth like a crack fiend, and says he could put something together “Day after… tomorrow????” Marcel immediately goes to the Quantum Interview: saying “usually you schedule this stuff far ahead of time.” So, why did you only give yourself 48 hours, you hyperactive dillhole??
Since he’s got all the time in the world (and some major sponsor pimping to do) Marcel drives out to visit Wildlife Waystation to see some animals and get inspiration. Jarrid tags along, because he’s “really hopin’ to touch a lion.” You know both these nerds are hoping there will be a lyger there. Nerds love lygers. They meet Martine, the Waystation’s founder, who seems nice and only looks mildly cat ladyish. She lets them gawk at an array of monkeys, tropical birds, and other animals that are probably going extinct even while you’re reading this. She tells Marcel and Jarrid “you’re absolutely going to love these girls”. And she ain’t talking about her not inconsiderable bazooms. She’s talking about tigers. The Waystation has three of them. And I’ve got to tell you, those animals are flat-out gorgeous. God was on his game the day he made those cats. Marcel gets his first usable idea: recreate the cold of the Himalayas in the tiger’s frozen breath. Then the obvious idea comes to him as he’s trying to put the moves on a female baboon: have some animals at the party, so the guests can see what their money would be saving. Martine is worried the animals will run amok, but she’ll give it a go.
Next, Turkey Hair wastes some quality time with Chester, Carlton’s party planner. Ah, manufactured drama, thy name is Chester. Marcel (who is the caterer, mind you) plans the party in one breath: multiple rooms, each with a theme, South American, South East Asia. It has a safari feel to it, Chester minimally supplies. Marcel’s excited. He’s all about doing a walk through of the party venue. Walkthrough walkthrough walkthrough! Nownownownow! Chester? Not so much. No can do. Has three events in the works right now. “I don’t see it happening.” Very busy man, this Chester. Marcel sums up the potential clusterfuck for us: “So basically we’re going to have to show up the day of, and just throw everything together.” “It’s going to require a lot of trust and communication,” Chester explains. This is Marcel’s first gig as a molecular gastronomy super-powered caterer. Marcel is worried.
Turkey Hair scampers back to his kitchen/lab, grabs the team and tries to brainstorm a menu. The event will be a cocktail party with food, rather than a sit-down dinner. Devon the mixologist hears the word cocktail and pops a chubby. Marcel is thinking about a map to guide the guests through the venue… Jarrid wants an edible map. Yeah! What do they make it from? Soy paper? Cotton candy? (WTF Jarrid? That won’t work, you tattooed doofus!) Marcel wants fruit leather. Hey, they could get Carlton in there and use her face as inspiration!
Turkey Hair loved the parrots at the Waystation. Maybe an egg dish? But not really eggs, that’s too easy. How about nests made of super fancy hash browns? With eggs in them. What to make the eggs out of? What goes good with potatoes? Mozzarella balls! Robyn thinks that “sounds like a party in my mouth!” Hey-o!
Then there’s a weird edit, and now Marcel is talking about a snake’s habitat. “A Snake in the Grass” is the next food idea. Jarrid is talking about snakes shedding their skin. Who’s hungry?? And there should be a tree. Why? Damned if I know, but the tree should be made of meat. A “tree slash meat log,” muses Devon. Robyn is all agiggle. A meat log made out of pulled short rib for “bark”, fused to a “tree” of beef tenderloin. Pork/cow combo? Count me in! But now the team is all hyped up, so they’re on to dessert before “Snake in the grass” is fully planned out.
“What about TIGER’S EYES? Like, some chocolate spheres for EYES?” Jarrid doods excitedly. Marcel thinks eyes are hard to mimic. He goes back to the Himalayan cold thing. “I’m thinking really cold,” Marcel prompts. “I’m thinking snow….” “Liquid nitrogen snowballs!” Devon says on cue. Holy fuck with the liquid N already! But Marcel actually improves on the idea: instead of just a cold dessert, make a dessert that caused the guests to see their breath, as if they were in the tiger’s cold homeland. Everybody likes the “Tiger’s Breath” idea. It will be cool, if they can figure out how to do it without 30 rich people getting their tongues stuck to light posts.
Day 1 of prep: The actual food prep for “Snake in the Grass” starts with a food-porn shot of beef tenderloin. Marcel is going to cook the beef “sous vide”—package the log sections in plastic pouches with seasonings. A machine first forces air into the bags, pushing the juices and aromatics into the meat, then sucks the air out, vacuum-sealing the meat. In the sealed bag, no juice or flavors are lost during the cooking process, which occurs in a precisely temperature-controlled water bath. At least that’s what Marcel says will happen. He better not be lying to me about beef tenderloin. ‘Cause that? Would be seriously not cool.
Turkey Hair’s first idea for the snake is to grate some fancy French cheese, melt it with a blow torch, and coil the cheese around a stick. Once its cooled, he thinks he’ll have something resembling a golden python. But it doesn’t work. The cheese won’t hold together, nor will it adhere to the stick to form any kind of spiral. On the second fail, the spectating Robyn asks “Have you ever actually done this before?” Turkey Hair ignores her. “I was expecting a huge snake,” Robyn points out. “Thanks for that,” Marcel spits. That’s the thing about Turkey Hair. I think maybe he’s an okay guy as long he doesn’t feel threatened or inadequate, or as long as there’s no adversity to be faced. When there is… bam! Instant dickface.
Now, on to the “Edible Map”. They’ve decided that the map should be made of fruit leather, and fashioned into a kind parchment paper-looking fruit roll-up. Prep for this requires green apples to be peeled, pureed and mixed with honey for sweetness and pliability.
Marcel in a QView: “Robyn is familiar with catering companies and running the front of the house, but she doesn’t know her way around a kitchen. I wanted to make sure that I gave Robyn a task she was capable of executing. All Robyn really has to do is peel the apples, dice ‘em up, blend them, spread them on the cooking pan and bake ‘em in the oven.” Yup. The little prick said that out loud.
“This is a BIG TEST” Robyn hyperboles. “I know catering. I don’t know cooking. I don’t want to screw this up for everybody.” It’s apples. Calm down.
Marcel leaves Robyn to her foreshadowed apple-flavored doom to go work with Jarrid on the “Bird’s Eye Surprise”. The hash brown nest seems easy enough, but Marcel wants to mimic an egg shell by inflating mozzarella curd with aerosol spray propellent (suck it, ozone layer), and serving the balloon/eggs in the nests. First the curd has to be worked in really hot water. Wild man Marcel just plunges his hands in there. He doesn’t need protective gloves. He’s hard core! “Dude, you’re a maniac” Jarrid says, his man love clearly growing. Marcel fits a curd blob over the gas nozzle and inflates it to two, then three inches. Pop! That’s the limit of how far mozzarella will tolerate being inflated, I guess.
Jarrid apparently gets an egg sized cheese balloon on his first try. “Dood!” Later, Marcel decides to inflate the eggs with tomato jello instead of just gas. They slop the jello into a spray tank and charge it with nitrous oxide. The result is our old Top Chef pal: tomato flavored spit foam. Jarrid licks some off his grubby hand and claims to love it.
The hash brown nests won’t hold their shape, though. More practice (and more time) is needed.
In a shocking turn of events, Robyn, the rock band caterer, can’t peel or slice apples anywhere near fast enough for Marcel’s liking. He’s all passive-aggressively riding Robyn’s ass about it. Robyn, who really needs to work on her reality show death glance, QViews that “The stress is starting! I know catering! I’ve never made fruit leather before!”
Marcel QView: “Robyn is kinda on shaky ground right now. I’m not sure how it’s gonna work out, and I’m definitely concerned.” Dramatic music pounds like thr apple apocalypse is coming.
Robyn finishes peeling the apples “about a hundred years later,” Marcel points out, and he takes over baking the fruit leather maps. He’s also crying about how he’s behind, and the tasting with Carlton is tomorrow, and the party itself is two days after. Poor scheduling = Good TV.
Day 2 of Prep: Turkey Hair is freaking. Turns out the fruit leather didn’t work because Robyn took too long and the apple mix dehydrated before it went into the oven. More QViewing about the possibility of her being fired. I’m not worried. She could always go back to being a model/actress. Marcel orders her to do it over, and in half the time.
On to the pulled rib “bark” for “Snake in the Grass. Turkey Hair is going to use Activa RM. Well, it’s about time somebody medicated that little fucker. Oh, he’s referring to some kind of “meat glue” that will fuse the bark to the log. Marcel explains that the Activa stuff is a living enzyme. You have to keep it in the freezer, or it will die. If it dies, the meat won’t stick together. Live enzyme, dead enzyme, it’s all gross. Marcel and Devon treat the bark and wrap the tenderloins in it. It needs 4-6 hours to set up.
In the meantime, Marcel directs Jarrid to fire up the broiler “and make sure there’s nothing in there.” They start talking about using pork skin to fashion the snake, and they set out a big bowl of it. In the background smoke starts gushing out of the oven and the smoke detector begins shrieking. I guess Jarrid did exactly half the job he was assigned.
Marcel runs the flaming pan out onto the balcony, where we can see that whatever was in that pan is now big pile of soot. “Is it usable?” Jarrid asks. Marcel doesn’t think any of this is very auspicious. He’s got Carlton coming in this morning for a tasting, and his minions are burning down the kitchen.
Once we’re back from commercial, though, things have started to come together. The second batch of fruit leather worked (Devon and Robyn stencil on cool little dotted-line directions and animals), and a phone call to Chester confirms that four birds, a monkey, a Burmese python, and a tiger will attend the party. After the Marcel’s French cheese-snake debacle, Jarrid has produced passable snake skin made from deep-fried pig skin. But there’s a problem with “Bird’s Eye Surprise.” The tomato gelatin is melting the mozzarella “eggs” from the inside. So, all that work? Scrap it. And scary, scary Carlton is due in 8 minutes.
Still obsessed with the tomato spit foam, Marcel decides to make the egg by using a golden tomato for the yolk. The glop of the tomato foam—or espuma—will be the egg white. “Snake in the Grass” isn’t ready for the tasting, but the edible map is, and their latest incarnation of “Bird’s Eye Surprise.”
Carlton shows up, tossing her hair and flashing her drama eyes all over the place. Marcel presents the edible map. Success! Carlton likes the idea, and the map is quite tasty. The bird’s nest is now on deck.
The egg part of the bird’s nest is gross, and Turkey Hair knows it. He’s over-selling it like mad, he’s fidgety, and his eyes are bugging out. Carlton can tell something’s up. She tastes it. Annnnnnnnd….
She actually gags on it! Marcel’s watching his still-born catering career dripping down Carlton’s pointy witch chin. It’s wonderful to watch. Carlton frostily asks if Marcel thinks his dish “might be a little… unappetizing?” In a QView, Carlton describes Bird’s Eye Surprise as “visually disturbing”, and that Marcel “needs to sort this out before tomorrow, or my guest will be put off.”
And bang! It’s the day of the fundraiser. As the team carries boxes into the venue, which looks to be a McMansion, Turkey hair says he and his team were up all night working on the menu. Did they come up with a replacement that won’t make the client retch? I guess we’re supposed to wait in agonizing suspense. I refuse to go any further than “mild curiosity.” Chester bounds out of a corner, all sweaty and fake tooth-bleached smiles. He looks kinda like a heart attack in progress.
Marcel’s looking around at the barren McMansion. Chester says he’s got a lot left to do. “When you say ‘a lot’ left to do, do you mean ‘everything’ left to do?” Marcel asks, using the great tool of the douchebag: air quotes. Chester’s smile cools. They go out into the back yard, which is empty except for some beat-up tables and a big bluish-white object pushed into a corner. Marcel wants to know where the tiger is going to be. Behind you, Chester says, pointing to the object. “It’s an ice wall!” he says proudly. It looks like Chester went out and stole the ice berg from the 9th hole of Pirate Pete’s Pasadena Mini-putt.
Marcel, the princess of passive-aggressiveness, says “Maybe it’ll look better when it’s dark out.” Chester’s smile has now officially given up the ghost. Out of the blue, Marcel asks if they can make it snow in the yard. Chester is incredulous. “At the last minute? No. Just put the snow out of your mind, because it’s not going to happen.” Marcel just nods and makes an “Oh, stop being adorable and just get it done” face.
With five hours to go, the work crews are arriving with jungle foliage and fake cacti (??) and such. Chester, looking more heart attack-y than ever, QViews that he’s way behind. Marcel volunteers Robyn to help him, and she comes into her own, pretty much saving Chester’s heiny.
Night falls, party time approaches, and we get the classic reality show full moon clip. The venue has really come together: it looks like a Rainforest Café all up in there. Only not creepy. And over-priced. And overrun with shrieking, marinara-splattered brats.
In the kitchen, Turkey Hair mounts his horse, draws his sword, and delivers the required “now is the moment of our greatest triumph” speech to the team. The money folk start arriving in their limos and luxury sedans. They are met at the front door by this idiot:
Chester, I presume, has hired an renn faire actor to act as the guest’s guide while doing a bad Australian accent. I mean, really bad. He hands them the edible maps. “You’re going to need these maps to find your way back to civilization.” All the guests promptly eat the maps. So much for Devon and Robyn’s stenciling.
Carlton drops by the kitchen just make sure everybody is as on edge as possible. Marcel’s eyes are already the size of dinner plates. The guests are gathered in the South American room, placidly chewing their fruit leather maps. Devon has planned a special cocktail—a Dragon Fruit caipirinha—made from dragon fruit puree, cachaca rum, simple syrup and lime juice. Out comes the liquid N, and they freeze the mix, making an “adult slushie”. Rum-fueled slushies? Now that’s a PARTY.
Dragon fruit pic; caption
I guess Devon’s got a heavy pour. Carlton mentions that the drinks were strong, but a big hit. And drunks give more generously.
In the kitchen, Turkey Hair is dishing up bird’s nests. He claims to have firmed up the tomato espuma, so that it’s not quite so gag-inducing. And someone’s decided that they’re not just going to drop a few platters of these things on a side table and run for it; they’re going to “unveil” it to the 30 guests. The nests have been placed on little plates and hung from a tree in part of the yard. It’s a neat idea; goes with the Amazonian bird theme. But how does it taste?
Carlton warily takes a bite. Her eyes bug out. But then I realize she does that no matter what emotion she’s trying to (over)portray. She likes it! Hey, Mikey! The rest of the guests do too, but what many of them focus on is the yummy fried potato nest. Maybe the rich real people, after all.
Time for “Snake in the Grass”. While assembling the meat components in the kitchen Marcel is busy jinxing himself. “I’ve never had time to assemble it, so I’m doing this for the first time, right now.” Oh, Turkey Hair. How many cheftestants uttered that same phrase right before they were told to pack their knives and go? Things start looking a little dicey, because the giant meat log took a lot of time to assemble and garnish. Carlton’s on the team’s ass, and so is Chester. Rich people don’t wait! But finally, the multi-meat masterpiece is brought out to the Southeast Asia room.
Survey says…100% of guests who ate it on camera liked it. The rest were obviously dirty communists. Or French. Who doesn’t like beef surrounded by pork with mushroom sauce? Nobody told the guest about the Activa RM, though. They probably signed a waiver.
Now, Turkey Hair productions gives you… “Tiger’s Breath”. Wild rice and sugar, compressed into sort of a rice crispy, dipped in liquid N, and placed on cocoa powder in a serving spoon. It’s served in the Himalayan room, and Marcel got his way. It’s snowing.
Marcel frets; he hasn’t had time to test the “Tiger’s Breath” effect. And once he dips the puffed rice into the nitrogen, he’s got five to 10 seconds before the frozen breath effect stops working.
It comes off though. Happy guests are chewing away at their chocolate rice crispy treats, snorting smoke like dragons.
Marcel thinks he just might have a business here. I’ll admit he didn’t fuck this one up too badly. He had a strong theme, he did some creative things with the food, and gave Carlton’s guests something pretty memorable. I hope they coughed up a lot of money for the Wildlife Waystation. I bet three tigers go through a fuck ton of Meow Mix.
Oh goody. Next week, Marcel makes a themed dinner for two lovebirds. Other people’s romance stories give me the dry heaves. But I’ll be here recapping, if you’re here reading.
And remember, if you can’t spell it, for God’s sake, don’t eat it.