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Using liquid nitrogen, chef Ian Kleinman makes magical sorbets at O's Steak & Seafood ("Mr. Wizard," October 25). But the magical ice cream served at O's comes from Peter Arendsen, the owner and only ice cream-maker at Ice Cream Alchemy up in Boulder — a guy who'd done everything from digging ditches to laying cable before deciding that if he wasn't going to be able to find a job he liked to do every day, he'd make a job he liked to do every day.
Remembers Arendsen: "My wife basically just asked me, 'What do you want to do?' Making ice cream was the first thing that came to my mind." And not just ice cream, but really good ice cream; ice cream made out of the stuff it's supposed to taste like and nothing else — even when that stuff is white truffle, gorgonzola or sweet potatoes.
I first heard about Arendsen from Biker Jim Pittenger, who uses Alchemy's Costa Rican coffee ice cream in the construction of the Jittershake at Biker Jim's Freakishly Small Concession Stand in Skyline Park. Biker Jim told me I had to talk to Arendsen because, in addition to making great coffee ice cream and some nice cherry, chocolate and chipotle, the man had actually turned bacon into ice cream. "It's bacon ice cream, dude," Jim said. "You gotta try it."
10600 Westminster Blvd.
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Region: Northwest Denver Suburbs
And he was right, so I called Arendsen, who offered to bring some samples by the office one afternoon, since Alchemy has no retail arm and does all its business straight through the kitchens of dozens of area restaurants, including O's. I expected Arendsen to bring two or three or maybe four of his best concoctions. Instead, he showed up with an enormous freezer bag filled with about thirty — and I tasted every single one. Some I devoured completely. The avocado-lime version was amazing, somehow trapping the smooth fattiness of avocado in ice and capping it with the citric sweetness of fresh lime juice. I'd sit in front of my TV and eat it every night if I could. The bourbon, rose and ginger-peach were all great; the mint chocolate (generally my least favorite flavor) made with nothing but ice cream base, dark chocolate and fresh spearmint leaves (no oils, no chemicals) tasted as clean and fresh as normal mint chocolate ice cream tastes heavy and thick.
The gorgonzola and chive was like a complete rewiring of my mouth for tasting the simplicity and utility of a savory dessert; the olive oil was just odd. Even the Thai chile ice cream was delicious, stranger than strange but so perfectly balanced that I wanted to put some in soup just to see what happened. The green chile ice cream, made with ice cream base and roasted Hatch chiles, came off like any other unusual fruit ice cream — sweet, vaguely vegetable-y, with a dim background heat smothered under the coldness of the cream.
But then there was the foie gras ice cream, which tasted like cold liver mousse — not the greatest flavor in the world. By Arendsen's own admission, this one's still a work in progress, since all the flavor in foie comes from the fat, but adding too much fat to ice cream will cause it to separate and freeze badly. And finally, I tried the bacon ice cream, which, all things considered, was one of the less interesting flavors Arendsen carried in his magical bag of tricks. Like so many of his more unusual flavors, the bacon was originally done for a chef experimenting with savory desserts, and it was fatty, meaty, indefinably strange. To chase it, Arendsen suggested a nice, creamy stout ice cream.
Beer and bacon... Credit where it's due, the man really knows how to pair two great tastes.
Big night: After my review of O's, Ian Kleinman called to share the effect of my glimpse into his freaky culinary weirdness. That Friday, he told me, he'd done as many of his molecular-gastronomy tasting menus than he'd done in the entire previous week — more than a hundred courses of sous-vide-this and gelatinized-that and Dippin' Dots made out of yuzu. He got his ass kicked, but he loved it and had even more on the books for Saturday night. The only thing that seemed to bug him was that he had to repeat the cheese course I'd raved about — the Point Reyes blue with Alsatian grape caviar, whole grapes, still on the vine and jacketed in peanut butter, balsamic vinegar whipped into a stabilized foam and caramelized with a blowtorch — because people wanted the same paradigm-shifting experience I'd had, that sensation of hundreds of years of food tradition being yanked out from under me like a rug. And Kleinman hates to repeat himself.
He got over it, of course: Money's money. The rest of the menu, though, was all new and, if anything, even wilder than the one I'd watched him prepare. A glued-together, sideways Napoleon of shrimp, scallop and salmon topped with fluffed curry. Strawberry noodles with chocolate and black-truffle whipped cream and blueberries crusted inside a shell of Pop Rocks. Homemade black-walnut bubble gum. And while he was putting that together, he was also creating showpieces for a magazine spread and demo-ing his liquid nitrogen tricks for a bunch of middle-schoolers. His thinking on showing kids how to make instant sorbets with dangerous chemicals: If they're introduced to this sort of magic early, not only will they be less intimidated when they see it on a menu when they're older (by which time, cutting-edge chefs will no doubt be making moon-rock soufflés and cooking with anti-gravity potatoes), but they might also be the people cooking it. "I think I convinced a couple of these kids to become chefs," he said.