Food Informants: A Week In The Life Of Dave Arnold, Director Of Culinary Technology At The International Culinary Center

A Week In The Life Of Culinary Science Guru Dave Arnold

Food Informants is a week-in-the-life series profiling fascinating people in the food world. We hope it will give you a first-hand look at the many different corners of the food industry. Know someone who would make a great Food Informant? Tell us why.

Dave Arnold is the Director of Culinary Technology at The International Culinary Center. He began tinkering with restaurant equipment after earning his MFA from Columbia University’s School of the Arts. For an art project that required a 360-degree view of the inside of an oven, he re-fabricated a traditional range with glass walls. After meeting Chef Wylie Dufresne of wd-50, Dave became even more passionate about culinary sciences and focused his inventive skills on professional and home cooking. In 2005 The French Culinary Institute tapped him to head its new Culinary Technology Department. As director, Dave is dedicated to helping chefs achieve their most ambitious goals using new technologies, techniques, and ingredients.

He has been featured in multiple publications, including the New York Times, Time, Food & Wine, New York, and Popular Science. Esquire named him one of the Best and Brightest in 2008, and he has appeared on "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon" and the "Martha Stewart Show." He is a contributing editor for Food Arts magazine, authors the Cooking Issues blog, and is host of the Cooking Issues podcast. He joined The International Culinary Center in 2005.

Read on to learn how Dave balances his family life with working at his bar, opening up a museum and much, much more.

Monday, May 7
6:55-8:15am: Dropped my 10 year old, Booker, on the school-bus then ripped off 2 double espressos for me and a latte for my wife, Jennifer Carpenter, on my La San Marco 85 M espresso machine. That's our normal morning routine. Normally, my wife would be drinking iced lattes by now but the weather has been wacky. I like making iced-lattes, even though I hate drinking them, because the way I make them I get to shake them like a cocktail. Afterwards took my 7 year old, Dax, to his school down the block.


9:00am: Did research for a new piece of carbonation equipment I'm building. I spend an inordinate amount of time on research --most of which comes to naught. I do about 3 hours of research and/or testing on any given day.

11:30am: Stole some left over "Force Fruit Fun" (aka fruit leather) from my kids. My sons, Booker and Dax, are obsessed with the Star Wars Cookbook. Force Fruit Fun is one of their favorites. For Booker: blend strawberries, lemon juice, and sugar. Spread thin and dehydrate. Booker allowed no alterations to the recipe -- even though I'm a pro. Dax was more lenient, and let me improvise a blueberry/banana mix. In the fridge I found and ate a block of Castelmagno cheese. Castelmagno is too damn fancy to eat this way.


Noon: Realized I have jury duty on June 4th. I'm in Japan June 4th. Tried to postpone but can't over the phone.

1:00pm: Went to my bar, Booker and Dax (named after my kids), to hang out with a group of bartenders called "Brains Collective." They take dumb cocktails -- like the flaming Dr. Pepper, and try to make them respectable. A flaming Dr. Pepper is mixture of amaretto and 151 rum lit on fire in a shot-glass and dropped into a pint of beer. Questionable, but the flavor does resemble Dr. Pepper.

7:55pm: Rushed home to get dinner on the table. I try to get dinner on the table by 8:15. I had nothing in the fridge I could cook in less than 20 minutes, so I reheated the last batch of frozen chilaquiles I had in my freezer. To make gringo-style chilaquiles, the next time you have a party with chips, salsa, and queso, consider making a lasagna-like mélange out of the leftovers and baking them. Much more delicious than it sounds -especially when reheated and pan-fried.


12:45am: Quit reading technical journals on food processing and hit the sack.

Tuesday, May 8

8:00am: Learned to make a pretty cool origami bowl and started looking at the email questions for my weekly radio show.

10:50am: Checked in on the construction progress of my new office/workshop in the Lower East Side. Hey, it's small, but at least it's pricey!

12:05pm: Did Cooking Issues Radio with Nastassia Lopez, the person who keeps all my projects running. Our weekly radio show is heard by dozens of people all over the world on the Heritage Radio Network. I take live callers every Tuesday from roughly 12 to roughly 12:45, but most of my questions come as emails before the show. Like most things in my life, I tend to start late and run long. Most of the questions are technical cooking questions, but I'll answer most anything. This week I tackled DIY immersion circulators, exploding popcorn, orange mousse, meat slicers, various cocktail problems, and whether Dax is old enough to see Jurassic Park (I think he is).

1:00pm: Cooking Issues is recorded in back of Roberta's Restaurant in Bushwick, Brooklyn, so every week, Nastassia and I have lunch there. Usually, we get a pizza and a salad. This week, two chicken salad sandwiches.

2:00pm: Went to Milk Bar's commissary in Williamsburg Brooklyn, where all my equipment is stored. Tried to figure out how we are going to get it into our new space.

3:30pm: Back at bar to get ready for service and work on new Twitter-only menu specials. The Twitter specials are first-come, first serve, and allow us to produce drinks with special products -- like baby Thai coconuts --without worrying about running out.


7:30pm: Realized I wouldn't be home in time to cook so Jen ordered food from Nyona, a local Malaysian restaurant that my otherwise very picky kids seem to enjoy. They take about 45 minutes to deliver so the food should get home when I do.

8:15pm: Dinner with kids. Dax had Matzo for dessert. It's Streits, made right here on the Lower East Side.


11:00pm: Back at bar to meet up with Harold McGee, the world's foremost authority on the application of science to the problem of deliciousness. He brought Chris Young, badass chef and co-author of Modernist Cuisine, the greatest cookbook undertaking of all time. We were talking about cryo-searing and Chinese symbiotic mold/ yeast mixtures when Sean Brock rolled in. Sean Brock is the master blaster of low-country food. He carries with him a list of all the cabbage varieties grown in South Carolina over the past 400 years -- and he knows how to cook them. That list is much longer than you'd think.


3:15am: Closed out the bar and headed home.

Wednesday, May 9

12:30pm: Headed to court in person to postpone my jury service. Listened to some awesome 70's Polish funk tracks on the way. Gotta get them on Chang's playlist at the bar. Bought 8 kilos of Nocellara olives for my bartender friend Tony Conigliaro, of 69 Colebrook Row in London. It was Manhattan Cocktail Classic week (MCC), and bartenders from all over the world had come to New York. Tony needed the olives, and my centrifuge, for a dirty martini he was making. I think Tony was testing me by specifying Nocellara olives, because they aren't commonly available. Luckily, I knew the one place in New York City that would have them --DiPalo's cheese shop on Mott and Grand, a local treasure. Tony put all 8 kilos of olives in my centrifuge, spun them at 4000 times the force of gravity, and let them press out of themselves the tiniest amount of delicious, clear olive juice -- an insane technique. 8 kilos yielded about a pint of juice and the leftover olives looked like raisins. He says he used the leftovers for tapenade. Either he sells very few martinis or a lot of tapenade. Crazy Brits.

6:00pm: Hosting McGee again at my bar. This time he is joined by Audrey Saunders and Robert Hess. Cocktail superstars. As we tasted through the menu I asked Audrey to be critical -- and she was. I took it well. Anything to make the drinks better.

8:45pm: Went to a family and friends night launching WD-50's new tasting menu. Wylie Dufresne (The chef-owner of WD-50 and my brother-in-law) decided to scrap all the dishes on his menu -- many of them perennial favorites for years, in favor of an entirely new set of ideas. He is also switching to an all-tasting-menu all-the-time philosophy of dining. Fairly bold move. When chefs open a new restaurant, it is customary to invite friends and family to test the menu before paying customers show up -- it allows for good practice and feedback in a supportive atmosphere. It is more unusual to have a F&F for a menu re-launch, but I welcomed it. The dinner was delicious. My favorite was the beef broth in his pho-gras, a Vietnamese broth, foie gras dish. It might have been the best beef broth I've ever had. If they would put it in a can and sell it I would drink it by the bucketful. Luckily, for those of you that have never been to WD-50, the food remains staunchly a part of Wylie's vision. Sorry no pictures -- Wylie doesn't like snapping while you're eating. In revamping his menu he thankfully didn't switch gears to making hearty Italian fare or the world's highest-end Arby's food. As usual, Wylie poured me so much wine that I wasn't much use for anything else.

Thursday, May 10

Until 3:00pm: Developed cocktails, worked on new carbonation equipment, planned a demo we were having at the bar on Monday for the MCC, and in general ran around like a nincompoop.

3:30pm: Visited the new offices of the Museum of Food and Drink (MOFAD). Years ago, I got the idea for a museum devoted to food and drink. I had worked on the project off and on, but put it on the back burner when I started working at the French Culinary Institute (now the International Culinary Center) as the Director of Culinary Technology in 2005. he passing of my friend and mentor Michael Batterberry in 2010 lit a fire under my behind to start the project again. Michael was one of the heroes of the food world who was largely unknown to the general public, but hugely important. Nastassia and I got to work, with help from Patrick Martins, the owner of Heritage Meats and the founder of Slow Foods USA. Two years later, we have a couple of fundraisers under our belt, a new office, a lot of momentum, and a new Director, Peter Kim, who, to his father's chagrin, quit his lucrative lawyering job to work on the museum full time. Next week we have another fundraiser scheduled at the International Culinary Center, with five of our favorite bartenders, beer-cooked brats from Pat LaFrieda, and live music from Jonathan Batiste and the Stay Human Band. We had much planning to do.

5:45pm: Went to a 27-course tasting menu at Roberta's restaurant being put out by chef Carlo Mirarchi. Delicious, and the only way you can get a reservation at this hipster hangout. Carlo's tasting menu was unlike his normal menu. I enjoyed seeing him work the small-food, big-plate, composed-food angle.


11:00pm: At Andy Ricker's new Brooklyn restaurant Pok Pok NY. Andy has sourced a rare Thai herb for me, Bai Makok. It is sour, bitter, vegetal and delicious. He has it grown for him in Florida. Andy is awesome and so is his restaurant.

12:30am: Back at Booker and Dax, trying to find a way to use Bai Makok in a cocktail. I tried nitro-muddling, a technique we use with Thai basil where we freeze hers with liquid nitrogen and powder them with a muddler to get rapid, fresh herb infusions into liquor. Bai Makok didn't respond well -- none of the acidity came through. 10 tests later I called it quits and went home.

Friday, May 11

Until 2:00pm: Worked on an upcoming trip Nastassia and I are taking to Japan. We are going to work for 4 days at the New York Bar in Tokyo's Park Hyatt hotel. This is the bar Bill Murray goes to in Lost In Translation. I was warned by a friend of mine who has worked at the Park Hyatt that the hotel staff no longer enjoys references to the movie. I was specifically warned against repeatedly muttering "Suntory Time." I was glad for the warning, because that was a real risk.

2:30pm: Went to the International Culinary Center to go over the details of next week's MOFAD event and say howdy to the crew at the school. Ended up having a meeting with Dorothy Cann Hamilton, the school's founder, about some new tech-related food events and classes we are interested in doing.

5:45pm: Back at work with Tristan, our bar manager and the point person for everything at Booker and Dax Bar, putting the finishing touches on our first Twitter special -- Bitter Beef Berry: raspberries blended with Beefeater Gin, spun clear in the centrifuge and mixed with Luxardo bitters. Good stuff.


7:30pm: For some unknown reason, my wife and I have agreed to purchase Papa John's pizza for the kids. They have been begging for it all week. I don't understand. No offense to Papa John, but my apartment has a pizza oven that can get up to 850F, I use the best toppings, I make good sauce and dough (I use a 24 hour, low initial leavening, fairly high hydration recipe that is in line with top quality pizza joints). They prefer the commercial alternative. Ugh.

Saturday, May 12

9:00am: Made buttermilk pancakes for the family. Booker didn't want pancakes. He requested "Twin Sun Toast," the Star Wars Cookbook equivalent to "toad-in-a-hole." Toad-in-a-hole is a fried egg in the middle of a piece of pan-fried toast. Twin sun toast has two eggs instead of one to mimic the two suns on Luke Skywalker's home plantet, Tatooine. I obliged.

11:00am: Took the kids to soccer practice, then to Nyonya, again.

3:00pm: Participated in a lime juicing contest for a charity in conjunction with the Manhattan Cocktail Classic. The contest was put on by my friend Ryan Fitzgerald from Bar Baretta in San Francisco. For years we have been arguing over who is the faster juicer. In the preliminary round, I thoroughly trounced all competition, producing 400ml of lime juice in one minute using a hand juicer -- more than anyone else in the group and the highest ml per minute juicing of the whole day. In round two I produced a less impressive 340ml in one minute. My arch-rival Ryan met me in the semi-finals and crushed me. It was a 1.5 minute round and I was not able to maintin my juice output for the last half minute. He had a good round, I had a bad round -- he is now my acknowledged juice master. My son Dax, who was rooting me on, vowed that when he grows up he will beat Ryan to avenge my loss.


7:30pm: Dinner at home. Simple Mexican.

Sunday, May 13

9:30am: The family headed to Russ & Daughters to pick up breakfast. They have the best hand-sliced smoked salmon I've ever had. We opted for oak-smoked. They also sell our favorite cream cheese. It is at least three cuts above the supermarket stuff. We packed up our food and headed to the Bronx Zoo.

Rest of Day: Hanging out at the Bronx Zoo. Dax loves the Zoo. Booker tolerates it.


7:00pm: Family dinner. Every Sunday for 14 years we've invited whatever family is in NYC for dinner. This Sunday I used my Korean stone bowls -Tol Sots. They are the same stone bowls used for Bi-Bim-Bop. I love the hell out of those bowls. Put them on the stove and heat them up to 615F, then add some oil, some cooked rice, some sauce, and whatever you have in your fridge. Top with an egg and blammo -delicious. I have done it Korean style, Mexican style (great), Southern syle (great), refrigerator bingo style (often great), or this week, my favorite new fusion, Thaitalian.


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