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The Science of Trick And Treat

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What kind of cooking does he do at home?

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"Normally I'm not at home. If I must cook at home, I like simple things, like grilled fish and vegetables."

But he did offer a little consolation: "It is true that some of my findings can be used at home; for example the siphons for making foams and sodas. But the real important thing is the philosophy that it is always better with a good sardine than a bad lobster."

So rather than copy the most-advanced techniques, I tried to use the El Bulli approach: to make food that challenges my perceptions; to gently tweak the way I cook, rather than to revolutionize. I abandoned the chemist-in-the-kitchen approach for something simpler, more sardinelike.

Using a combination of gelatin or agar-agar and frozen canola oil, you can make small, caviar-like droplets flavored by anything you like. I am not sure how useful or groundbreaking the technique is, but it is surely simple, and it is no doubt a different way to serve soy sauce and lemon on a piece of gently poached salmon.

And, remembering a small pre-dessert I got at Les Ambassadeurs in Paris, made with the El Bulli range of unusual textures, I made a chocolate dessert with popping candy. (I used Pop Rocks.) You don't have to be a child to appreciate the way the crunchy dessert explodes in your mouth, but it helps to remember having been one once.

Playing with a cream whipper, in my case a $45 Isi Mini Whip with a carbon dioxide charger, I could turn almost everything into foam. And when I got tired of that, I tried a technique suggested by blogger Martin Lersch on his Web site http://www.khymos.org: making sparkling grapes. When you fill the cream whipper with the fruit and then charge it with CO2, the high pressure will, over time, infuse the grapes, leaving them carbonated inside for a couple of minutes after they are released.

It is not exactly like having chef Adrià in the kitchen, but it gives you that feeling of making and tasting something that you never knew existed, a glimpse into a wonderland that exists outside the limits of normal everyday cooking. Proudly I put on my El Bulli shirt and said what Adrià had told me, as if they were my own words: "One of the most important things when cooking is having a bit of fun."

Andreas Viestad, author of "Where Flavor Was Born" and co-host of the upcoming public television series "Perfect Day," can be reached at http://www.andreasviestad.com or food@washpost.com. His Gastronomer column appears monthly.


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