February 28, 2013

Maine company among those riding 'modernist' cooking wave

The Associated Press

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Some of the more than 300 products sold by Modernist Pantry in quantities tailored to the home kitchen.


Modernist Pantry co-owners Christopher Anderson and Janie Wang at their home in Eliot. Anderson, a software developer by trade, launched Modernist Pantry with Wang two years ago when he couldn't find the ingredients needed for his culinary dabbling.


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"It's just taking a lot of really good basics and creating something different with them," says Paul Edward, co-founder of the online culinary retailer Chef Rubber, whose modernist offerings account for 30 percent of business. "You can take a really nice stock that you've made, and you can make a soup with it. Or you can make caviar or gelify it. You can do something really different. But at the end of the day it's just a stock and it has to be a really good one."

Barriers to entry are relatively low. Molecule-R kits cost between $60 and $120. Chef Rubber customers spend from $75 to $150 per visit, Edward says.

"It really depends on what you want to do," says Anderson, whose average customer spends $60 to $75 per visit. "The major investment is in your time, not in ingredients. But once you get into sous vide you do need a circulator, so there's an entry cost. But most of the techniques don't require that much."

Many mainstream professional chefs have appropriated methods from their modernist brethren. For instance, sous vide has been widely adopted as an excellent and nearly foolproof way to cook meat. And while many if not most of these techniques will remain too esoteric for the average home cook, certain practical elements — using the microwave to steam fish, using additives to emulsify the sauce in macaroni and cheese — may filter into home kitchens. But probably not any time soon.

"There are things like that that are modernist cuisine techniques," says Susan Edgerley, dining editor at The New York Times. "Some of those are applicable and easy and practical and some of them aren't. There's an intersection of modernist cuisine and the home cook. I just don't know how big it is."


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Additional Photos

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Flavor spheres created by Modernist Pantry co-owners Christopher Anderson and Janie Wang using their spherification equipment.


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Gelatin sheets of different grades are sold by Eliot-based Modernist Pantry.


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Colorful product labels frame shipper John McWilliams of Kittery at the Modernist Pantry warehouse in Eliot.


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