November 21st, 2012
01:09 PM ET

Need a stiff, cold drink? Try liquid nitrogen

By The Next List Staff, CNN

(CNN) - This week, CNN's "The Next List" delves into the world of culinary science and gadgets as we introduce you to Dave Arnold, director of technology at the International Culinary Center. Arnold is one of the leaders of a "modernist" group of cutting-edge instructors, chefs and bartenders using science and high-tech tools to up-end traditional cooking methods.

Tune in Sunday at 2 p.m. ET to see a 30-min profile of Arnold on CNN.

Here's a primer on why he's fascinating enough to make "The Next List."

Why you've heard of him: You might have seen him cooling glasses with liquid nitrogen on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon,” making drinks for Martha Stewart, or maybe you might have read about him in Popular Science, Food & Wine, or the New York Times. Arnold definitely isn't camera-shy. He has lots of video demonstrations circulating online. (See one such video below).

Why he matters: Arnold is a pioneer in applying modernist cuisine techniques – which incorporate high-tech methods of preparing food – to cocktails. He wants to make you a good strong drink. And if those advanced methods make it more delicious, he’ll put them in the service of that cocktail. "I want these techniques to become apart of the canon," Arnold said. "The proof is that every high-end restaurant in New York City uses some of these techniques."

On safety: "There are inherent dangers to liquid nitrogen. It's minus 196 Celsius, which means it's really freaking cold.  And something that cold has the ability to do damage to your skin in the way of frostbite. If you seal it, there's a danger that as it evaporates, pressure will build up, and that the vessel you put it in will explode.  So there are several risks like frostbite, like explosion, like asphyxiation. So there's these basic fundamental safety issues that you need to deal with when you deal with liquid nitrogen. If you put safety in place, those aren't really an issue anymore.  And there's very many dangerous things we use in the kitchen every day.  Deep fryers, burners, flat tops, griddles.  These are all dangerous.  It's just we're trained to use them."

When you can tweet esoteric questions to him: At the International Culinary Center in New York, Arnold adds a "tech flavor" to his classes. He encourages students to think critically and to experiment. Arnold also hosts a weekly live radio show called "Cooking Issues" where people call in (or "tweet in") niche questions on food science and technology. No subject is too esoteric. "Got a question on ike-jime, the Japanese fish killing technique? We got you covered," his iTunes podcast description says. Listen in on Tuesdays at noon ET; and you can follow the show on Twitter.

Why chefs need to have steel-trap memories: When it comes to food and drink, Arnold a walking encyclopedia. That may be one key to his success. What to know how to sous-vide a particular cut of meat? Want to become a seafood anesthesiologist? Arnold has answers. "If I'm not continuously getting new information into my head then I feel lost. So I always just absorb, absorb, absorb," he said.

On the limits of technology in mixology: The drinks, of course, are what stand out at Arnold's bar, Booker & Dax, which is named after his sons. Technology, in some ways, is what sets them apart. But Arnold says craftsmanship is actually more important: “Booker & Dax is about creating drinks, using any technique possible, but always focusing on making things more delicious, and avoiding at all costs gimmicks that are just there for visual effects. From a technical standpoint, the drinks of Booker & Dax, what we focus on is a lot of prep beforehand and a lot of figuring out how ingredients are going to work, figuring out exactly how to prepare them, how to tweak them so they are exactly the way we want. But what’s interesting, and from my standpoint, one of the most important things about the bar isn’t even the technology, it’s the fact that we’re focusing on making the drinks as best as we can.”

Silliest quality: He makes silly faces in photographs.

On his next big idea, the Museum of Food and Drink: “Why isn’t there a museum devoted to food at the same level of something that’s like the Natural History Museum or the Smithsonian? ... If I want to learn about you, I’m going to go to your house and we’ll break bread. We’ll have dinner. Then I feel like I’ll know who you are. And it’s that idea that we can experience cultures through what we eat and how we eat and the history of how we eat. That (idea) needs a museum because you can’t eat on TV. You can’t read about food and have tasted it.”

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Filed under: Food • Innovation • The Next List
soundoff (30 Responses)
  1. In home Personal Training

    I'm so confused about what he uses the liquid nitrogen for.Is he freezing the fruit's?

    April 13, 2014 at 4:57 pm | Reply
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    August 13, 2013 at 1:26 pm | Reply
  3. Curtis Barnard Jr.

    Wow there are a lot of ignorant afraid people commenting on this story. I will say that I enjoy what Dave does, he is not a hack, he is obsessed with making food better no matter the technique. I've been to his bar and they employ good practices, it's clear when they are making the drink that no liquid nitrogen will actually be ingested.

    Stop blaming LN and blame the idiots who make the mistakes. There are many more dangerous things that happen in the world and considering how many LN incidents have occurred vs. how many LN drinks are served it is relatively safe.

    Stay home you wusses.

    November 28, 2012 at 11:42 am | Reply
  4. James

    A teenager had her stomache REMOVED because of liquid nitrogen, sorry guys, but it's pointless playing with this stuff no matter how much training you've had, doesn't matter, the margin for error + the danger of LN is too high. It's like saying that NASA scientists are highly trained rocket engineers, sure, but that doesn't mean stuff won't go wrong, the probability over time is too great, irresponsible article in my oppinion.

    November 27, 2012 at 8:02 am | Reply
  5. yeah_ok

    This guy is full of excuses and justifications for what is essentially a gaudy stunt. "We would never offer a customer a drink containing liquid nitrogen. To do so would be insane. At our bar there is no possibility of a customer ingesting LN. Ever." Anyone who denies any possibility of human error is wrong. Period. Inherently wrong. But to deny any possibility of human error ever happening in a bar, where the lighting is not as bright as it is in a lab, and where bartenders have multiple customers waiting for them ... come on, man. And just because many other things are possibly dangerous does not mean that ordering one of these drinks is a good idea. The cost-benefit analysis doesn't add up. The best that can happen is that the customer gets to drink a silly novelty drink without harm. The worst that can happen ... the customer loses their stomach forever, and possibly worse. Compare that to the cost-benefit analysis for other things this guy mentions. There is no question of saving labor here, or of doing anything useful. The only benefit is novelty. That is a dumb reason to take on risk.This guy feels ok about making his living off of this trend, fine, but that doesn't obligate the rest of us to trust his bartenders as much as he does.

    November 26, 2012 at 4:03 pm | Reply
  6. ckingcnn

    UPDATE: We've added into the post Dave Arnold's comments about safety when using liquid nitrogen.

    November 24, 2012 at 2:29 pm | Reply
  7. Krandal

    Only the hoes like stuff like this. The rest should steer clear.

    November 24, 2012 at 1:52 pm | Reply
  8. Dan

    lame, it's a gimmick and this arnold guy is a hack

    November 24, 2012 at 12:40 am | Reply
    • Joseph M

      Dan has a lot of time on his hands. People like Dan drink the LN and then sue people.


      November 25, 2012 at 8:21 pm | Reply
  9. Dave A

    Everyone who uses liquid nitrogen in the food industry is aware of the horrible tragedy that happened to an 18 year old in England. What that bartender did was unconscionable, stupid, and probably criminal –but that doesn't mean liquid nitrogen is to blame. Many dangerous things are used in the kitchen every day. Take deep frying - if a cook were stupid enough to serve a bowl of 350 degree oil, would you assume that all frying is reckless? No – you would blame the cook. I have used liquid nitrogen on a daily basis for years without incident, and I have taught many people how to use it safely and properly.
    We would never offer a customer a drink containing liquid nitrogen. To do so would be insane. At our bar there is no possibility of a customer ingesting LN. Ever.
    Many of the statements posted here about LN are inaccurate. Small drops of LN on your skin do not, in fact, "freeze dry the point of contact, resulting in permanent tissue damage, every bit as bad as a 3rd degree burn," as one writer stated. The Leidenfrost effect prevents this from happening. You can dip your entire hand briefly in liquid nitrogen with no effect whatsoever.
    I'm not claiming liquid nitrogen isn't potentially dangerous –it is. So are many things. The key to proper use is proper training. In another tragedy several years ago a cook in Germany almost killed himself after sealing liquid nitrogen in a closed vessel. He didn't realize he was making a bomb. That incident didn't have much traction in the press, perhaps because a cook was hurt instead of a customer, but it made me just as sad. Five minutes of proper training would have saved his hands and leg. All of our employees are trained on safety issues and drilled on them regularly. We take this very seriously.
    Remember –just because something can be misused doesn't mean there isn't a place for it in the kitchen. In the right hands, LN is not dangerous and is not a gimmick.

    November 23, 2012 at 5:52 pm | Reply
    • Larry F

      Thank you for a thoughtful post on this subject. Your thoughts apply not only to the product in question (liquid nitrogen) but to most things. Training, taking care, being responsible – these are all common sense methods to approaching life. Very entertaining video.

      November 24, 2012 at 10:17 am | Reply
  10. Jim

    Onwards to oblivion!

    November 23, 2012 at 12:27 pm | Reply
  11. brian baker

    I saw the report on sky about the girl having one of those drinks on her 18th Birthday in London.
    She had her stomach removed. Oh . . my. . . .God!
    True stories are worse than Horror fiction.
    What is the world coming to? When i was young, we would go out on a binge and got stoned on beer and maybe a short or two. The worst thing that could happen was to throw up.The young people are not to blame. They rely on the Govornment to regulate anything that is consumed and should be held responsible. If you can buy it in a pub you natuarally think it is proven and safe.

    November 23, 2012 at 5:45 am | Reply
  12. Ryan

    There seems to be a lot of misconceptions about liquid nitrogen, I think after seeing some people goof of with it and not hurt themselves we can all feel easier. I especially like the part where they poor it on each other, no harm despite it being more than the "Few drops" discussed in chat as dangerous.

    November 23, 2012 at 5:40 am | Reply
  13. Al

    A girl recently had her stomach removed because she consumed liquid nitrogen from one of these drinks.

    November 22, 2012 at 2:19 pm | Reply
    • Sam Meyer

      Yep, which is why you don't drink it, and why any bartender would be insane to serve it to a patron, or let them ingest it in any way.

      November 23, 2012 at 7:04 pm | Reply
      • yeah_ok

        You can call it "insane" all you want but it did happen and a girl in England lost her stomach. She's not even 25 years old and she will spend the rest of her life with no stomach. Stranger things have happened than bartenders making a mistake in serving a drink. And stranger things have happened than young people being less than careful around alcohol. Yet you insist it's "insane." Sure. Right.

        November 26, 2012 at 4:10 pm |
  14. Oscar Pitchfork

    Of course it's dangerous. When every guy out there thinks "yeeah, ahm smahht! Crazy smahht!" then goes on to "lose"(gotcha RealGlaird!) their finger/tongue/lip(s)/internal organ(s). Its an old adage, but it still holds true: 'Kid, you watch too much TV"

    November 22, 2012 at 12:17 pm | Reply
  15. RealGlaird

    It seems that we have a building consensus for a change. Handling liquid Nitrogen, anywhere around untrained or unaware customers, is reckless and irresponsible.
    a) Even a few drops of the liquid, would freeze dry the point of contact, resulting in permanent tissue damage, every bit as bad as a 3rd degree burn.
    b) God forbid, should someone actual get a vessel, with even the smallest amounts of liquid still present, to their mouth; that victim could easily loose their throat, tongue, or large swaths of the interior of their mouth.

    Stupid idea!

    November 22, 2012 at 11:42 am | Reply
    • Oscar Pitchfork

      Good Grief-ENOUGH IS ENOUGH. Its L-O-S-E, you illiterate retard, like YOU'RE A LOSER! Not loose, like don't let the rope get LOOSE when you hang yourself.

      November 22, 2012 at 12:13 pm | Reply
      • Al

        Dude, it might have been a typo that autocorrect missed because it's a word.

        November 22, 2012 at 2:24 pm |
      • Ghodd

        Don't be such a grammar nazi..

        November 22, 2012 at 3:40 pm |
  16. Dave

    Using liquid nitrogen to prepare drinks is completely irresponsible and I would argue it is criminal. This liquid is at a temperature of -321F (-196C) or colder. If any of this stuff is ingested whatever it touches will be frozen instantaneously which kills the living tissue immediately. Thus, if any person provides any drink or food and the liquid is not complete removed/evaporated this person is committing a criminal offense. You should start looking for a good criminal lawyer if you do this. People might die...quickly.

    November 22, 2012 at 11:31 am | Reply
  17. Anex

    I think this article was a bit irresponsible to not mention the dangers. The girl from the UK with the holes in her stomach for instance.

    November 22, 2012 at 11:02 am | Reply
  18. Steve

    I am a chef by trade. I wonder about the safety with some of the food chemicals used in molecular gastronomy. This is one trend in food I will not be diving too deep into. Foaming soups/stock/adding gelatin to things is really not special. I prefer to eat/drink what is real. As intended by nature.

    November 21, 2012 at 8:54 pm | Reply
  19. DUHH

    @ Steve, she died. It is extremely dangerous and anyone that drinks liquid nitrogen deserves to die. Why? Darwin Awards...

    November 21, 2012 at 6:21 pm | Reply
  20. Paul

    Indeed there was, a British girl (I think celebrating her 18th birthday) who now has no stomach and will spend the rest of her life being fed "medically". I'm not sure that we know enough to say whether it was "made incorrectly" or "consumed incorrectly" - it is possible that neither barman nor customer was sufficiently informed of the possible consequences of drinking it "too early" (i.e. still sufficiently cold to perforate the stomach).

    The headline seems to glamorize the idea ("give this a try") whilst making no mention of the possibility of fatal consequences.

    November 21, 2012 at 6:19 pm | Reply
  21. Steve

    Wasn't there a story a few weeks ago about how someone got some pretty bad internal injuries by slugging down a shot of this stuff when the bar prepared the drink incorrectly?

    I love me some science, but drunk science sounds a little risky.

    November 21, 2012 at 5:26 pm | Reply
    • BK

      There was a story about someone ~dying~ from doing this, actually. Natural selection, I guess.

      November 25, 2012 at 5:53 pm | Reply

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