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Marcel Vigneron on 'Marcel's Quantum Kitchen' and Being on the 'Top Chef' Finale

by Joel Keller, posted Mar 21st 2011 4:30PM
'Marcel's Quantum Kitchen'Marcel Vigneron is a busy guy these days. When I spoke to him last week, the controversial 'Top Chef' contestant was in the middle of his promotional push for his new Syfy series 'Marcel's Quantum Kitchen,' and he was in a limo from his New York hotel to another appearance. But even in his rush, he can appreciate some irony.

"It's kinda funny. I'm driving by two tanks of liquid nitrogen in the middle of midtown [Manhattan] right now," he interrupted one of his answers to tell me, "and they're actually billowing out smoke." The extraordinarily cold liquid is one of Vigneron's favorite cooking tools, as he specializes in a cuisine commonly known as molecular gastronomy, a method where chefs like Vigneron use science to transform foods into other forms. The goal is to give diners a unique sensory experience, where their taste buds belie what they're seeing with their eyes.

'Marcel's Quantum Kitchen', which premieres Tuesday at 10PM ET, shows Vigneron and his catering team creating customized menus for high-end parties, and all the challenges and conflicts that happen as the event draws closer.

Vigneron spoke to me about the show, who his influences have been, and why he can't handicap who's left on 'Top Chef All Stars.'

Joel Keller: Did you ever have a scientific bent in your younger years that would have led you to explore molecular gastronomy?
Marcel Vigneron: I never really excelled in chemistry in high school, and it really wasn't until I started cooking and I found an application and a reason to study the science that I really started to understand it and be able to utilize it.

When you started learning these methods, what was the most surprising thing you learned?
[Pauses to think of something] Um, let me see ... Everything's pretty fascinating. I'm trying to think if there was one thing in particular that I was blown away by when I researched the science of food ... Well, I actually just noticed an interesting thing the other day. I was making a purple cauliflower puree and I tasted it and it was really, really creamy, and it just needed acid. So I started sprinkling lemon juice over the top, and it started turning hot pink everywhere the acid hit the purple cauliflower.

I guess the anatomy of the egg I found extremely fascinating, that there are different types of protein, different types of albumin inside an egg, and the fact that they all coagulate at different temperatures, oftentimes within a degree of each other. I found that pretty fascinating, because one degree higher or lower when cooking an egg can result in a completely different outcome.

What cues did you take from the chefs who have popularized this kind of culinary experience -- guys like Wylie Dufresne, José Andrés and Grant Anchatz?
As a young chef, I've been inspired and mentored by several different chefs. For example, in my culinary career, in 2000 I was working for Michael Mina, and I went on to get my associate's and bachelor's degrees in culinary arts and hospitality management. Then I want on to work for Joël Robuchon for about two years; Joël Robuchon is more of a traditionalist, he doesn't utilize too many of the newer techniques, per se. And then I went on to work for José Andrés at the Bazaar in Los Angeles. And every chef that I've worked for has had a huge impacting factor on my career, they're basically my mentor.

Was Andrés the one you learned these techniques from?
[Laughs] No, not at all. Actually, when I was in culinary school, I was checking out different books, and I saw the El Bulli book for the first time and it totally fascinated me. From there I did a lot of research and development, and I got online and I got on the phone, and I actually called El Bulli [a famous molecular gastronomy restaurant in Spain], and they sent me a sample pack of chemicals, and I was making spherifications in my garage. It's amazing what you can actually find online. I called up Ajinomoto in Japan and had them send me a sample pack of meat glue, and the next think I knew I was making chicken-fried perch, and gluing perch to chicken skin.

I've never worked for Wylie, I've never worked for Grant, and I had already been fascinated by these cooking techniques that were being developed in Spain. There was a lot of personal research of development, and it was at the Bazar that I continued this progression and development and continued to learn about these techniques.

So which came first: the idea for the catering company or the show?
Well, it's funny ... they kind of both happened organically. I was doing a lot of private parties and private catering and I was also meeting with networks to do a cooking show. And we really didn't know what the cooking show was going to be about. And when I met with Syfy, they asked "what are you doing right now?" and I said I was catering a lot of private parties for various high-profile clients, and that can kind of like be the basis for the show. So I guess the catering company came before the show.

Are you hoping that people get a little education out of the show, even if people can't replicate the results at home?
I'm hoping with the show, that we have the opportunity to open people's minds and change their paradigms of what food is and what food can be. We mix up a little bit of science, a little bit of creativity and some know-how.

Are you also hoping that the show might change people's perception of you? Do you care about that?
Yes, I totally care about that. I'm hoping that it does. One of the cool things about 'Marcel's Quantum Kitchen' is that you'll get the opportunity to see a completely different side of me that you're never really going to see on 'Top Chef.' so I'm definitely excited about that and look forward to it.

In one of the episodes I saw, I was struck by the fact that you wanted the menu for an engagement party to reflect the couple's story. Is this one of the things you want people to know about you that hasn't been seen elsewhere?
Yeah. Well, 'Top Chef' is a completely different style of show, it's a competition-style show that tries to focus in on all different types of drama. You can't really showcase your style of cuisine in six minutes, or whatever the particular challenge is. And with those challenges, you have to embrace the challenges and really try to theme your dishes off that particular challenge.

I think that's something I really enjoy doing, and actually try to do for every single party. And it's a major part of the show, in that every dish that I create is specifically designed for that particular event or for that particular client. For every party that we do I usually take a couple of days to meet with the client or meet with the party planner and really try to get inside that person's head, and try to find out what they're all about, so when I go back and start developing ideas for the menu with my team, these issues will directly reflect our clients. It makes for a more intimate experience for everyone involved. That's kind of what I'm about and what the show's about; I just want to create the most memorable experiences for my guests.

Let's talk 'Top Chef' for a minute. We heard from you after your elimination, so we'll talk about the final three coming up. Out of those three --
Who is it? [Richard] Blais, [Mike] Isabella ... I haven't been watching ... Blais, Isabella and Antonia [Lofaso] ... OK, cool.

You don't know about anything that happened in the Bahamas final, do you?
No, I was there.

So, do you know who won? Because I was going to ask you to handicap the finalists for me.
I do. But I can go back in time and tell you who I was hoping would win. I was totally rooting for Richard.

Can you tell us about what you're doing down there? Are you a sous chef in the finale?
It's a sticky question; I don't watch a lot of television, so I don't know what they've already aired, so I can only talk about what's already been shown. So I have to plead the fifth there. Sorry about that. [Laughs]

What's your takeaway from 'Top Chef' the second time around?
I thought it was a really interesting experience and I really enjoyed a lot of the different cooking challenges, and I really had a lot of fun with it. And it was really great to be in New York in the month of September.

'Marcel's Quantum Kitchen' airs Tuesdays at 10PM ET on Syfy, starting March 22.

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Marcel Vigneron



April 07 2011 at 9:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I can't believe he got his own show, what a douche, I won't be watching.

March 26 2011 at 11:50 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Since "sy fy" has no definition, I guess anything can have something to do with it. Of course, cooking has nothing to do with sci-fi. But then again, neither does Sy Fy anymore.

March 22 2011 at 4:13 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Too bad Marcel kinda sucks. The topic sounds interesting, but I hate that guy.

March 22 2011 at 9:23 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Not a damn thing, hell they just gave Tommy Lee a Syfy show

March 21 2011 at 7:34 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

what does cooking have to do with sy fy

March 21 2011 at 4:50 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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