Need a stiff, cold drink? Try liquid nitrogen

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    A culinary renaissance man

A culinary renaissance man 01:11

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.

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    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.”