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Food Hackers Make High-Tech Geek Cuisine

Would you trust a computer hacker to cook your dinner? What if the menu included dishes baked with lasers or served up in laboratory test tubes?

A high-tech brand of haute cuisine called "molecular gastronomy" is gaining more than a few fans from the pocket-protector set, who have taken to experimenting at home in their kitchens and coming up with some extraordinary recipes and unexpected flavor combinations.

One of the rising stars of the "food hacker" movement is 28-year-old Marc Powell, once voted top computer hacker by San Francisco's Bay Guardian newspaper. These days, he spends more time tinkering with the "code" hidden inside food, using the principles of organic chemistry to design futuristic recipes.

He recently shared some of his new recipes at Dorkbot, a monthly gathering for tech enthusiasts in the Bay Area. The usual topics are software or robots, but on one recent gathering the highlight of the night was geek gourmet.

The guiding principle is to create dishes based on the molecular compatibilities of foods. For instance, unripe mango and pine share a molecular structure, so they might be tasty if combined. That's the theory, anyway. Molecular gastronomists combine white chocolate and oysters for the same reason.

Geek gourmet began with experiments by professional chefs at high-end restaurants like el Bulli in Spain and the Fat Duck in England, where steam baths, centrifuges and microscopes share counter space with more traditional cooking tools.

Computer hackers have put their own spin on things with high-speed blenders and vacuum sealers. And don't forget the exotic chemicals -- like a product dubbed "meat glue" that binds, for example, chicken and beef into one slab of protein called "chick-a-beef."

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