MIM Shows Weekend Visitors How Tasty Science Can Be

Lead Baker Yesenia Perrino stirring the ingredients with the liquid nitrogen to form ice cream

At Musical Instrument Museum (MIM) in Phoenix, special “experience weekends” offer focused events celebrating a particular region of the world, a famous musical icon, or even a take on one of the STEM fields. (STEM, not just the main body or stalk of a plant, has another meaning: it’s an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.)

Executive Chef Chris Lenza pouring liquid nitrogen

These weekends offer guests an opportunity to watch live performances, listen to indigenous music, and learn about the featured country all while enjoying delicious tastes: Executive Chef Chris Lenza loves to forage the Arizona landscape to create an authentic culinary counterpoint at Café Allegro, enhancing the museum experience through food.

But when Chris and his team received the menu request for Discover Science at MIM — “cook with science” — he scratched his head and said, “Boil water, fry an egg…cooking is science. What on earth am I going to do with this one?” Then it came to him, the one thing a January day in Arizona is missing. Ice cream!

So the team created a special “Science of Cooking” menu, with Chris and Lead Baker Yesenia Perrino adding a live, rapid-freeze ice cream demo to the agenda. After introducing themselves and the process of rapid freezing, Chris and Yesenia showed guests how it works: Combine milk, heavy cream, sugar, and vanilla in a bowl, then add extremely cold liquid nitrogen, which allows scientists and chefs alike to freeze items on the spot. The audience was delighted by the clouds of “fog” that arose when they poured in the liquid nitrogen. Yesenia stirred frantically as the ice cream began to form. She then added strawberries, caramel, or chocolate chips, changing the add-ins with each demonstration. Chris added more liquid nitrogen, Yesenia stirred, and soon — presto, ice cream!

Yesenia and Chris serving ice cream to guests

Kids rushed to line up, and even parents were astonished that the ice cream was made before their very eyes! Not only was it delicious, but it had a beautifully smooth consistency. After the demo, Chris invited the guests into the café to learn more about the science of cooking.

Lunch included tuna ceviche, illustrating how acid can “cook” proteins like fish, while browned beef flank steak highlighted the Maillard reaction (a chemical reaction between amino acids and reducing sugars that gives browned food its distinctive flavor). Throughout the weekend, guests were excited to learn more about the science of cooking while thoroughly enjoying themselves and the food.

Submitted by Sara Sanchez, Café Supervisor