LAS VEGAS (MainStreet) -- Call it experimental cuisine-transforming techniques. Or culinary physics.

Today's chefs are taking simple food and changing the cooking process -- and with it transforming texture and taste. TravelsinTaste talked to some of the most cutting-edge chefs and mixologists about these techniques and compiled a select list of where you can find them.

When added to a cocktail, liquid nitrogen can alter the texture and appearance completely, creating a sorbet consistency with truly exploding flavors. "Temperature is a very important part. Temperature also dictates texture and affects the taste profile. Working with liquid nitrogen allows you to manipulate a product in a form that no other product can produce," says Executive Chef Shaun Hergatt of SHO Shaun Hergatt in New York.

Bacardi brand master Juan Coronado is another mixologist excited by the possibilities. "The spirits industry is embracing 'bringing the lab to the bar,' whereas before it was the lab to the kitchen. Liquid nitrogen allows me to take a classic cocktail like the daiquiri and achieve the same results in a different way. While it may taste the same, the texture and appearance are different. The molecules change and the result is a beautiful, frozen spirit," Coronado says.
The clever Heat of the Moment cocktail is served at Union at Aria in Las Vegas.

Union at Aria, also in Las Vegas, serves two liquid nitrogen cocktails: the Heat of the Moment and the Berrylicious. Made with fresh lime juice, agave nectar, passion fruit puree and Patron Silver Tequila and garnished with cinnamon, sugar, nutmeg and orange peel, The Heat of the Moment showcases two Fresno chili peppers on the rim while liquid nitrogen is added to the martini after the pour -- the very image of a devilish drink with the peppers as the ears. The Berrylicious is served over dry ice in a martini glass with fresh strawberry puree, fresh lemon juice, rock candy syrup, fresh lemon sour and Belvedere Raspberry, then garnished with fresh berries on a stick.

"Bartenders are developing new out-of-the-box ideas to evoke all of one's senses. Unique garnishes have become the expression of the modern barman," enthuses Andrew Pittard, general manager of Light Group Restaurants. "The most sensational of these is liquid nitrogen, more commonly known as dry ice. This unique substance, when combined with a crafty libation, makes for a visual waterfall of fog, making a carefully crafted concoction steam to life, thus giving one an experience that stimulates the visual senses. New age ideas and expertise of classic fundamentals are creating a new sensory experience in the art of cocktails."

Not to be outdone, mixologist Mariena Mercer prepares the Fire Breathing Dragon at The Chandelier in the Cosmopolitan Las Vegas. The cocktail is made with lemon juice, Thai chili syrup, lemongrass syrup, raspberry puree, dragonberry and liquid nitrogen-soaked raspberries.

Actual desserts, as opposed to sweet-sounding cocktails, also get a bit of science applied. Hubert Keller's Fleur by Hubert Keller in Vegas serves a coffee-based dessert that is frozen tableside with liquid nitrogen and topped with Bailey's ice cream and espresso: the Affogato a la LN2. "We literally are freezing the ice cream tableside -- right in front of you. It is usually very attractive, in the sense of the smoke and everything else happening. Also, it is about the flavors and textures that you get when freezing ice cream in nitrogen," says Keller, a Top Chef Masters alumni, chef and co-owner.

Holsteins Chef Anthony Meidenbauer has a sampler dessert rightfully called The Candy Store that leads off with the "nitro meringue." As onereview on the Urbanspoon site describes it:

Long story short, it was well worth the $14 -- as much for the taste as for the fun experience and presentation. The nitro meringues are super-cooled and cause smoke to shoot out your mouth and nose as you chomp down on them ... despite the weird science, they actually taste pretty good. Other items included a push-pop trifle, butterscotch pudding, polenta cake (one of my favorites) and a drumstick filled with a strawberry and pistachio filling.

But nitrogen isn't the only transformational item in the chef and mixologist's repertoir. Compression, a sous vide technique, can also transform textures and tastes. Chopped champion Michael Vignola uses this technique at his new New York restaurant Gravy, where New Southern Cuisine combines inspiration from the traditional fares of New Orleans, Savannah and Charleston with a touch of New York sophistication. "We use it primarily to transform the textures of porous fruits and vegetables: cucumbers, green tomatoes, pineapples, honeydew and the like," Vignola explains. "A green tomato that is almost dense and kind of woody takes on a new texture, almost like a piece of meat. When you taste it, it really gets this mouth feel of ripe, but still has that bite to it. You can see it opens up the cells, but yet they still hold their shape. It's kind of like taking coal and turning it into a diamond." Vignola even uses the technique in his pickles!

Hergatt also prepares a Sous Vide Veal Tenderloin with sprouted lentils du puy, garlic chives and lamb. "I use sous vide technique so that I can cook the piece of veal to the precise temperature and doneness to 0.5 of a degree. This gives great consistency so that every piece of veal that I serve has the exactly the same quality every time," he says.

Truly transformative cuisine.

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