When you think of watching the SyFy Channel, the last thing that comes to mind is food, unless that food is a six-course meal consisting of Pop Tarts, Twinkies, and whichever ramen happens to be on sale. That was until last week, when the SyFy Channel hit us with chef Marcel Vigneron’s new show, Marcel’s Quantum Kitchen; the second episode airs tonight at 10 p.m. (Eastern).
The show is well timed. High-concept, science-infused cooking is about as hot as it’s ever been, owing to Ferran Adrià’s cult status and Nathan Myhrvold’s much-discussed 2,400-page, six volume Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking (Cooking Lab), which is threatening to bump the term molecular gastronomy from the kitchen lexicon.
Vigneron, who toiled on Top Chef and has worked in the kitchen of some of the world’s serious culinary maestros, including Joël Robuchon, Michael Mina, and José Andrés, is certainly qualified to take cooking into other dimensions. His catering company specializes in a form of molecular gastronomy (though he’s somewhat down on the term himself), and at the very least his kooky creations make for great TV.
Vigneron took a break from torching stuff to lay out his path to Food Republic.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you started Quantum Kitchen?
My first exposure to the kitchen and cooking was at the age of four; it was all thanks to my mother. I was exposed to cooking at an early age, and I think it was the first thing that impacted me and made me the chef I am today.
Then when I was in high school, I had a lot of restaurant jobs—I was a dishwasher, a prep cook—but I really didn’t know what I wanted to do, so after I finished school, I backpacked across Europe for four months. When I was there, I did a lot of thinking and I realized that I was already doing what I wanted to do: I wanted to keep cooking.
What was it that changed in you?
It was a lot of things, but being exposed to different cultures and their foods was a big part. I went all over Europe to Spain, France, Greece, Italy, but what really interested me was how gastronomy was a major part of the culture and how different the food cultures were in each country. When I got back to the States, I wanted to go to culinary school, so I went to CIA and received my AA in culinary arts and BA in hospitality. From there I started to work with some of the top chefs in the country. I worked for Joël Robuchon at the MGM Grand, Michael Mina in San Francisco, and I worked in LA with José Andrés at Bazaar.
How do you describe molecular gastronomy?
First and foremost I am a cook, but molecular gastronomy is a term that has been adopted by the public to explain a collaboration of chefs and science, and a term they use for chefs utilizing all this new equipment and new techniques.
Tell us about Marcel’s Quantum Kitchen? Where did the idea come from?
It’s a documentary-style show based off my catering company and the way that we use modern gastronomy to create unique and interesting food.
What are some of the highlights we should look for?
In the series finale, we had to cater a party for Chrysler celebrating the design students that have mentorships with the company. I had to create this party that correlated the auto industry with food. Cars and food—it was so interesting to work on that one. It was one of the most difficult challenges we faced all season, and it turns out to be one of the most seamless events we catered all season. You’ll have to watch to find out!
Okay, explain how you have a cooking show on a science fiction channel.
On the show we explain the science and phenomena behind modern avant-garde techniques. We get to play with all these cool gadgets and the gizmos that are in the postmodern pantry. We think we can appeal to the SyFy viewers because a lot of the things we’re creating have a sci-fi element to them. We want people to think, How can you even do that with food? We really play up this science-fiction element in the creation of dishes and really use all this new equipment and these modern ingredients. Food is just the medium that we are showing.
Sunday morning, what are your favorite things to cook?
A toasted English muffin and a sunny side up egg. I am not above the simple.
You live in Los Angeles: Can you tell us your favorite places to eat?
I like Animal. It’s super rustic and I think they do a really good job. I love their fries with oxtail gravy. I like the The Tasting Kitchen in Venice, and Chaya in Beverly Hills. The grilled cheeses at The Foundry are fantastic; Eric Greenspan does a great job there. I like Bouchon a lot, and of course, Bazaar.