Chef and Tell with molecular gastronomist Ian Kleinman

Ian at Steele.jpg
Lori Midson
Molecular magician Ian Kleinman at Steele Elementary School
"Anything I can possibly dream up is now doable, because I'm able to really play around with food," says Ian Kleinman, Denver's answer to Alton Brown, the wacky culinary scientist (and only food personality worth watching) on the Food Network. Kleinman, too, is a culinary chemist -- a molecular gastronomist -- whose favorite ingredient just happens to be liquid nitrogen, which he loves like the rest of us love ice cream. And here's the thing: Kleinman uses it to make sorbets, ice cream and milk shakes.

Kleinman's fascination with molecular gastronomy dates from 2006, when he was executive chef at O's Steak and Seafood, the on-site restaurant in the Westin Westminster Hotel. The corporate chef of Starwood, the company that owns the Westin brand, sent Kleinman to open a restaurant in the St. Regis -- now the Ritz -- in Fort Lauderdale, and there Kleinman met another chef who'd cooked at Alinea, Grant Achatz's incredibly progressive molecular restaurant in Chicago. "This guy was telling me stories about tomato paper and pineapple gas and flash-frozen sorbets -- all new things I'd never heard of -- and I was really intrigued," says Kleinman. So intrigued that when he resumed his post at O's, he asked the general manager for liquid nitrogen, agar and methocel. "When I started using the additives, there weren't a lot of recipes, so I'd have to do tests, just like in sixth-grade science class," recalls Kleinman.

Born and raised in Breckenridge, Kleinman began working in restaurants when he was just ten years old. A third-generation chef (his father is also a chef, and his grandfather was a culinary instructor), Kleinman started out as a dishwasher and worked his way up to prepping, where he "carried twenty-pound crockpots up to the line." He spent the next several years cooking in different galleys before enrolling in the culinary program at the Art Institute of Colorado. "I wanted to play with knives," jokes Kleinman, who notes that his father, Steve, was an instructor there, which equaled free tuition.

Following culinary school, Kleinman bounced around several Denver restaurants, including the Rialto Cafe, Table Mountain Inn and now-shuttered spots like the Rattlesnake Grill, Nine75, the Hilltop Cafe, Indigo and Bravo, a restaurant with singing waiters that Kleinman says made his stint on the line the "worst job ever."

Kleinman is currently a consultant for H BurgerCo, which recently opened downtown. But his big project is the debut of the Inventing Room Catering Company, which he hopes will eventually lead to an actual storefront where he can make ice cream using liquid nitrogen -- and whatever else he's fooling around with. "We created it to make a fun new food experience in Denver that's also about entertainment," explains Kleinman. "It's a fun show for people who haven't seen the molecular stuff live."

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