Thursday, July 12, 2007

Heisenberg on Molecular Mixology and the Riddle of "Vessel 75"

The following is an email from my friend the physicist, Werner Karl Heisenberg (photo at left). He and I communicate on a fairly regular basis via the web because other means of communication are not available to us. You see, he is dead.

Dear Bob,

I think that something close to the order of my Uncertainty Principle may have to be invoked in certain instances when someone describes what they are doing as "molecular." If someone calls something they do "molecular gastronomy" but does not offer or appear to know any information about the behavior of the molecules in the thing under preparation then we may have to allow that the method of preparation is molecular at the same time that it is not.

In the case of this video from, two mixologists from the Seattle restaurant Vessel, teach us how to make a molecular cocktail suspiciously named Vessel 75. (I had wrongly assumed that the 75 referred to the atomic number of one of the ingredients but disgarded that idea when they did not add any rhenium to the mix.) They tell us that what makes the drink molecular is that alcohol is burned during the process and it is topped with foam. There is no discussion of the physical principles involved and not a word about molecules, yet they say it is molecular. Mein Got! How can we explain this contradiction without invoking a hypothesis that proposes that something can be one thing (e.g. molecular) and not that thing simultaneously?

Finally, I have to warn you that as the molecular gastronomic spreads we are going to be confronted with apparent contradictions of logic such as this with increasing frequency.
Here is the link to the video again: Vessel 75. Let us hope that we have the time and the wisdom to work this out before Rachel Ray or Burger King gets their hands on the concept and we start begin having to explain it to children or the people who go to those big churches.

Yours Truly,


Anonymous said...

Seriously, are you really that surprised? How many people in the food and beverage industry have a college education? When I was in culinary school I was the only one.

By their definition of molecular gastronomy, basic merinque counts as as such....somebody needs a physics course or two.

I'd be more impressed with the drink if they served it with a side of dark matter. Instead of bussing the table afterwards they could just crash the empty glass together with its anti-counterpart and create a pretty flash as they obliterate each other.

I'd be looking for the nearest wormhole to toss that maple foam into.

I think they stole the name from the French 75, too - which is blasphemy...Casablanca is still my favorite movie.


Scott said...

Hey, I have a Doctorate - specifically a Law Degree - an the highest complement ever paid to me was when my Chef told me I "cooked like a Lawyer".

That said, I was channelling my Uncle Albert (Einstein) last night and he specifically said " God does not play dice mit the kitchen stuff . . ."

Sorcha said...

And if you put everything in a box to serve it, there may be a cat in there when the diner opens it.

Scott said...

Or there may not, Sorcha . . .

Anonymous said...

I actually worked, briefly, at CalTech in their restaurants. I learned that, typically, the higher the I.Q. the greater the resistance to seasoning in their food. That and having to prep my own station as well as two others caused me to fly outta there like I'd been hit in the ass with a red hot quark right outta the nuclear accelerator.

Did I mention 700 covers a day??

Und Scott - Jah, Albert told me zee udder day he caught Gordon Ramsay singing, "Du hast mish" in the shower.

(who eats judiciously, always tells the truth about what she eats, and answers any and all discovery questions in a timely fashion)

blondee47 said...

Scott did 'uncle albert say mit the kitchen stuff' or 'mit the kitchen staff'!

Anonymous said...

The following is Jamie's link behind the name:

It comes from their location in Seattle, not the French 75. Besides the French 75 is a Gin cocktail not Bourbon.

gary allen said...

Ja, Sorcha,

Anyone who would purposely create Vessel 75, and then suggest that it had anything more to do with molecules than virtually everything else we're likely to encounter in a kitchen or bar, can't tell the difference between Schrodinger's Cat and Schroder's toy piano.

Bob del Grosso said...

"Doctor Scott" makes a nice sound.

If you don't mind my asking, what do you think it means to cook like a lawyer?
I don't have an opinion on the matter so please don't be worried that I might be baiting you. I've never seen a lawyer cook so I've got no history to draw from that might help me form an opinion on the subject. The only lawyer that I know of that had any obvious connection to gastronomy was Brillat Savarin who, for obvious reasons, is a stranger to me.

Scott said...

Oh man, remember that only a lawyer can write a 100 page document and call it a "Brief".

Lawyers are trained from day one to not answer a question until they have had a chance to fully research the issue. It's what pisses us off about Bar Exams - If we did that kind thing as lawyers we'd get disbarred.

Shortly after becoming sous chef (a leap of faith on Dan's part beyond belief), he called and said (insert purveyor here) has some (insert product here), what should we do with it. I could have just rattled off a couple of ideas (we bounced ideas real good) but I spent two hours going through my cookbook collection. I came in with a list of options from a variety of cuisines. Dan said "Jesus Christ, you even cook like a lawyer!" BTW The one we picked was my initial gut feeling idea.

That being said, I have a different view of cookbooks than you. They are not a crutch, the are my friends, and there are almost 900 of them. I read them like novels, or histories. Most are from used bookstores. Many contain newspaper clippings related to the book - a wonderful piece of the past. I even paid $4.00 for a copy of Craig Claiborne's "A Feast Made for Laughter". It has an embossed seal that says it's from the library of Felipe Rojas-Lombardi, and appears to be author autographed.

But yeah, I cook that way to this day. Can I cook off the cuff? Sure. But the quest, the intellectual discovery, is still appealing to me.

Kevin said...


Tags said...

Methinks it was a misprint (mispronounced, too).

What he probably meant to say was

- Avuncular Mixology -

Drinks that your uncle is more likely than a scientist to make.

And how often has that been a more apt name for self-described "Molecular Gastronomists?"