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<I>Marcel’s Quantum Kitchen</I>: When In Doubt, Add Liquid Nitrogen

If you are any kind of Top Chef fan, you'll remember Marcel Vigneron as the largely annoying, pompous jerk who was so irksome to his fellow chefs, that at one point they held him down and tried to shave his head. Not exactly cool or condoned behavior, but there's something about Marcel that rubs people the wrong way. That said, aside from the still cocky attitude on Top Chef: All-Stars, Marcel seems to have calmed down a bit since his first reality outing, and here on his own cooking show he appears even more aware of how he's perceived. He's still got kind of a crazy, know-it-all control freak vibe, but on a show that focuses on his catering and explaining molecular gastronomy to the masses, it actually works to his advantage.

The premise of this new SyFy series is simple: Marcel's starting a catering business and he's working with clients to create unique experiences based on using all his scientifically enhanced foods. Given that molecular gastronomy restaurants aren't exactly the hot thing they were a few years ago, catering seems to be the way to go, because people at cocktail parties will be wowed by the tricks that Marcel has up his sleeve.

The show has elements of Dinner: Impossible, with Marcel given just a few days to create some out-there foods that will really impress clients. There's even a countdown clock that appears on screen (in a Fringe-esque font) announcing how long they have until the big day. He's got a team of three chefs/caterers/welders who are working for him, and they are all put through their various paces (particularly Robyn the caterer), since Marcel is a self-proclaimed perfectionist. And, well, he wouldn't be Marcel if he spoke softly and asked people in a gentle manner to redo things. Instead he's got a very particular, persistent way about him that makes me never want to work with him, but does yield impressive results.

For his first catering adventure, he is tasked with coming up with some animal themed foodstuffs to promote a wildlife sanctuary. He made little bird nests with a tomato water foam and turned caramelized rice into little balls of liquid nitrogen smoke that mimicked a tiger's breath. He explained all these processes in quite a bit of detail, though in a pleasant way, like a little kid really excited to show off all his new toys. For me, learning how his team made the snakeskin out of pork skin was really impressive, though I nearly lost my dinner when he called Activa RM "meat glue." Wow, totally unappetizing, but yet, the results looked rather tasty. And it was nice to see him fail on occasion and come up with other solutions. He and his team are rather creative in their use of unconventional cooking tools and items, and since I've been watching pastry chef shows where they use metal and explosives in cakes for years, this might be the next thing in that vein. And here, there's an off chance that I might even learn something... though I'll never actually employ any of it in my cooking. I mean, honestly, I can see me blowing up my apartment with liquid nitrogen somehow.

And while Marcel's notorious personality proceeds him, some of the best moments of the episodes came while he was doing a cooking demo for small children. Showing them how he takes an orange, puts the pulpy middle into liquid nitrogen and then uses gelatin to make new orange slices, was kind of great. And hey, my kid and I were impressed that the American Girl tea party had just made Jell-o in orange rinds, and that didn't even involve any smoke and mirrors, so I'm sure that those kids were wowed. And he seems genuinely nervous about making a go of this catering thing, and is often funny ("I am making love to this meat log right now") and exuberantly excited for the challenges. To pair that energy with his nutty controlling ways works, and he comes across like an easily excitable mad scientist (the hair only reinforces this), and if you are going to have a cooking show on SyFy, then that's probably exactly what you need.

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