Several years ago the idea to use physics or chemistry-based techniques to transform ingredients into food was secluded to haute cuisine or cutting-edge experimental restaurants like the now closed elBulli in Spain.
Now, molecular gastronomy is taking place in mainstream restaurants and Element 112, at 5735 Main St., is just one of many restaurants and eateries in the nation that is freezing America's traditional cold treat with liquid nitrogen.
On Wednesday, I visited the restaurant to see the process they use to make ice cream.
"Are you ready?" Chris Nixon asked me, the head chef and operating owner of the restaurant, asked.
Sous Chef James Combs stood behind a stainless steel counter where a stainless steel KitchenAid mixer and a bowl or two were set up with ingredients inside. Mr. Nixon held a stainless steel canister waiting for me to say go.
I braced myself for what was about to happen. I held my camera waiting to witness food science live. Mr. Combs poured a mixture of cream, sugar, milk, egg yolk, and Tahitian vanilla bean into the mixer. And next went in the liquid nitrogen.
The mixture stirred, and smoke poured out and over the counter. After about a minute the smoke cleared and a creamy smooth ice cream was there for the tasting.
Mr. Nixon scooped it up with a spoon and tasted it.
"Super smooth," he said.
Element 112 makes ice cream on-the spot using the liquefied element that has a temperature as low as -325 degrees. Some restaurants use liquid nitrogen to make mixed drinks and other concoctions as a show-stopper. Element 112 makes the conventional treat using a science based technique to improve the texture. The liquid nitrogen immediately freezes the ingredients without forming crystals.
"No ice crystals form in the ice cream. So the texture is extremely smooth," Mr. Nixon said.
The restaurant makes about 3 to four batches a day, depending on how many customers order desserts that are accompanied by ice cream.
"About 98 percent of our customers order dessert," Mr. Nixon said. So Mr. Combs, who makes the sweet treat every day will be very busy this summer.
Another bonus using liquid nitrogen, which costs the restaurant $4 per liter that produces 1.5 quarts of ice cream, is a fresh and unadulterated mix. Stabilizers and emulsifiers that are usually added to industrial-made ice creams to help it hold its form for a long period of time are not required.
The liquid nitrogen burns up quickly in room temperature. Inside the stainless steel container almost half the liquid boiled off within a couple of minutes.
The restaurant creates a pure flavorful ice cream. I fell in love with their ice cream when I first arrived to the area. I attended the American Red Cross Oscar Benefit Night held at Owens Community College in February. Element 112 was serving pistacchio ice cream made with dry ice. It was silky sweet perfection.
Mr. Nixon said the restaurant does not sell its ice cream by the scoop, sorry, although he is not ruling it out. It is served with some of the restaurants desserts including bread pudding and carrot cake.