With his steampunk goggles and tattoo sleeves, Chef Richie Farina was bound to attract a crowd Wednesday around his lunchtime tasting table at Memorial University Medical Center.
But just in case, the Michelin-starred chef and former Top Chef contestant also poured a little liquid nitrogen into the mix. The ice cream mix, that is.
“It’s not only a good show, but it freezes the water quicker,” said the molecular chef, as he splashed the minus-320 degrees liquid into his mixing bowl of salted caramel ice cream. A dramatic fog rose up around him. The ice cream comes out creamier and denser with this method, a result of the fat and water freezing in tiny particles, he said.
His full menu at the hospital included panko-crusted pork loin marinated in mustard dressing and roasted turkey breast marinated in Italian dressing. Roasted potato wedges and citrus-scented Brussel sprouts rounded out the sides.
Farina is part of food technology company Hampton Creek’s effort to introduce more plant-based ingredients into ordinary foods. The company has partnered with Compass Group, which services hospital cafeterias around the country, including Memorial’s, with its Morrison Health Care subsidiary.
Hampton Creek looks for ingredients that are easier on the Earth — say, because they require less water — but also give foods their expected taste and texture while still being affordable.
Memorial’s guests are already eating some of the products, including mayonnaise made with pea protein instead of eggs and chocolate chip cookies in which sorghum replaces butter and eggs, said Jeffrey Quasha, executive chef for Morrison Healthcare.
Wednesday’s chef’s table was a way to highlight these efforts. It seemed to work.
The roasted turkey reeled in surgical resident John Allen.
“It took a lot to leave the taco salad line,” he said.
He walked off looking satisfied with his generous portions.
“My mom will be so proud of me, eating Brussel sprouts,” he said.
Ob-gyn resident Desiree Ashong grabbed a meal, too.
“I’m lucky if I get to eat lunch,” she said, “So it’s a special treat.”