In Dave Arnold's laboratory on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, you'll find cylinders of liquid nitrogen and a fold-up bike on the floor; wide-ranging books and liquor bottles on the walls; and an unruly workshop in the basement, where he experiments under the auspices of his food science development company, Booker and Dax Lab. Booker and Dax is also the name of his bar in the East Village, and the names of Arnold's sons. The lab focuses on "finding solutions to real world food, beverage and cooking issues," many of which are featured in Arnold's first book, Liquid Intelligence: The Art & Science of the Perfect Cocktail (W.W. Norton), out now, and which his publisher calls "genre-busting."
"I don't like to tout myself as anything," Arnold says about the genre-busting description. "I hope it is influential. I hope that it changes the way people think about making drinks. I'll put it this way: I don't think there's another book quite like it."
But then there hasn't been a guy quite like Arnold before, either. In 2005, the French Culinary Institute built a food technology program around him, and he's been an industry darling for years, which may be why he was given carte blanche to write Liquid Intelligence the way he wanted to.
"I can't believe they let me write the book, frankly," Arnold says. "I've had friends who did cookbooks and the editor's always like, 'You gotta make it friendly,' and I said, 'I'm gonna write this book the way I want to,' and they said, 'OK.' "
The book is accessible and, one might argue, not prohibitively aspirational.
"That's the key to it and that's hopefully why more people will buy the book than the five people who will buy a centrifuge," Arnold says, citing one of the machines he uses in his bar and in his home, and writes about in the book. "What does it mean to really think about what's going to make something better? And if you're not going to do that, hey, that's fine, but what can you do?"
It's hard not to wonder what else he can do. Arnold isn't a trained chef, scientist or engineer -- he holds degrees in philosophy and fine arts -- but he is an inventor and he inhabits these worlds on a daily basis. He spends about three hours a day testing in his lab, then minds the bar and pursues other projects, such as establishing the Museum of Food & Drink, which he hopes will have its first gallery space in New York City by 2016.
Also at the fore of Arnold's mind these days -- one gets the sense there is no back-burner -- is the idea for his second book (junk food, the ramifications of reform movements and cephalopods, an ancient group of mollusks, are all contenders); the manufacture of his high-density, food-grade polyethylene "ice cube," which helps create cold and textured drinks without diluting them or wasting ice; and a simple enough-looking bottle holder that will "hold-any-sized-round-thing thing," he says, placing a bottle in the clamp then turning it upside down. Arnold sees this as ideal for any outing where -- perish the thought ! -- a wine bottle might get spilled. The working title for the device is the "Jed Clampett," which was inspired by the Buddy Ebsen character on The Beverly Hillbillies.
Arnold's first invention to make it to market, the Searzall, is coming to a kitchen near you thanks to a Kickstarter campaign that raised $146,425 more than it needed to from 2,811 backers. The name was inspired by the Sawzall, the "first favorite tool" Arnold ever owned, and it "turns a blowtorch into a handheld supercharged instant-power broiler," combatting torch taste in the process.
With all these ideas on how to make things better, shouldn't Arnold apply his talents to serve the needs of mankind rather than, say, a recipe for the perfect gin and tonic?
"We can't all save babies. My mom saves babies; that's what she does for a living," he says, opting instead to go the route of the gin and tonic. "The promise of the G&T is so great," he writes in Liquid Intelligence, "crisp and refreshing, on the dry side, a bit tart, slightly bitter, aromatic, crystal clear with lots of bubbles. But G&T's almost always disappoint."
Sounds a bit like life.
"Most things aren't quite as good as you wanted them to be, right?" Arnold says. "That's why you gotta keep fighting. So, as long as you don't give up."