Thursday, 1 March 2012

Recipe tester

There are books that seek to explain the culinary arts.  There are books that seek to showcase the culinary arts, but are happy to maintain a certain mystery about them, a suggestion that only the very best might aspire to achieve what they present.  There are books that make no pretense at all and tell you, through terribly accurate pictures and frighteningly terse recipes that you'll never be good enough to create the food they describe.  And there are a very small number of restricted books that explain how the culinary arts can be combined with other specialties to reach certain, let us say unusual, ends.
You've probably heard tell of the black books, those cookbooks that offer dishes and menus that will kill their recipients.  Some are predictable: Bombe Alaska that actually does explode, Chocolate Nemesis that is so lethal no-one has yet finished an entire slice of it, the Croque(odile)-monsieur that eats the eater back.  Some are more subtle and surprising: the hedgehog stuck with toothpicks on which are mounted cubes of cheese and pineapple makes for an astonishingly effective grenade, and the prawn mocktail with its bright colours and thoroughly artificial taste is a superb vector for several poisons that would otherwise impart a disgustingly bitter taste to food.  That both are highlights of seventies kitsch just helps to conceal their lethal composition.  And now, to add to that arsenal, we have modernist cuisine.
Some chefs may use liquid nitrogen to instantly freeze custard and thus produce a fantastically smooth ice-cream.  The killer-chef, the chef-assassin, uses a concealed liquid nitrogen jet to drench the gourmand as his fork slices into a chocolate shell.  A modernist chef may use xantham gum to delicately thicken and gel purees so that they masquerade as pearls or caviar, bursting with an intense flavour in the devourers mouth.  The chef-assassin uses cleverly concentrated guar gum so that massive expansion takes place in the victims stomach and both dehydrates them and ruptures their internal organs.  The diner sees a foamer produces cream whipped with inert gas that produces a silky, ultrafine texture.  The chef-assassin sees a foamer that whips cream with nerve gas and kills an entire table of people deemed inconvenient by the ruling regime.
My job is recipe tester for this highly specialist class of books.  Technically I'm allowed to expense any props and equipment used during testing.  In practice, putting in an expense claim for fourteen people who may or may not have died while I was testing Confit de canard aux explosions produces lots of expressions of plausible deniability.  I did however note that the amount of C4 required was off by a factor of ten, and was reimbursed for the demolished building.
Where I can I now use the unsuspecting public.  A short stint in a major fast food franchise allowed me to test out the Aïeeeee-oli simply by taking a bucket of mayonnaise home with me one evening and refilling it from my test recipe.  I replaced it in the store-room, insulted the manager's mother, and was fired before the first customer had been served with the new "special sauce".  The results were gratifying, and the explosion three days later led to the addition of a footnote to the recipe recommending that the reader not attempt to stockpile the Aïeeeee-oli for any length of time.
On another occasion a church bake sale proved to be the perfect place to test Melting Moments, though none of the purchasers melted as the recipe intended.  It took four goes before they got that one right.
Now however, I am at a loss as to how to test the next recipe, which requires that the dish be held at exactly the right temperature until it is served.  In a banquet situation this is simplicity, but in the real-world it simply doesn't happen very often.  So, I'm looking for a private chef position somewhere where fleeing the scene won't be too hard: no boats, no prominently located homes.  Life as a recipe tester is surprisingly difficult.

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