Shana Tova! Tonight Rosh Hashana marks the beginning of the new Jewish year. It’s a time of renewal, connecting the events of the past to the possibilities of the future. It’s fitting then that last week I had the privilege to observe an ancient tradition in adopting a new technology for the home kitchen.
Aware that cooking, serving, and eating are inherently spiritual endeavors, the Bible commands deep in the Book of Numbers that we consecrate new cookware and servingware by immersing them in a mikveh, a natural body of water or a special ritual pool connected to a source of pure rainwater.
Jews have maintained this practice for millennia (if Christening is a thing, is there such a thing as Jewening?). It was thus a profoundly meaningful experience for me to be quite probably the first to immerse (or tovel) and consecrate the rotor of a Spinzall culinary centrifuge, the first centrifuge designed with a cook’s needs in mind rather than those of a lab technician.
A centrifuge is a device that, through the centrifugal force of spinning, creates forces many times that of gravity, propelling the contents outward. If you’re not sure what I mean, just think of your washing machine on the spin cycle, or remember the old Gravitron amusement park ride.
The contents aren’t just forced outward, they arrange themselves according to density, making centrifugation a powerful method of separating, filtering, and clarifying that wouldn’t otherwise be possible. Invented by Dave Arnold of Booker and Dax Labs, the Spinzall features many novel features that bring the huge, expensive, dangerous, and finicky lab centrifuges into a convenient and safe countertop appliance. It can be used to make cold brew coffee, yogurt, butter, infused oils, and more, most famously clarifying fruit juices.
There is certainly an element of “The Emperor’s New Clothes” here. We modernist culinary folk are wowed by new technology. In the beginning of Joe Ray’s clear-eyed Spinzall review, his wife brings us back down to Earth:
“Behold,” I exclaimed as my wife Elisabeth passed through the kitchen. “I made butter in a centrifuge!”
“Wow,” she said with a tone that foretold bubble bursting. “Did they run out of butter at the store?”
New technology is called cutting edge, and there are some said to be on the bleeding edge, so new that their reliability, utility, and certainly cost-effectiveness are unproven.
Sous vide circulators in the home kitchen were bleeding edge a few years ago. Recently, to my great delight, I’ve seen many new users popping up all over the place. As home sous vide cooking graduates from bleeding to cutting edge, I hope its adoption continues and we see this particularly useful appliance join the mainstream kitchen arsenal.
I was stoked when Dave Arnold gave us our first Spinzall teaser, and I balked at the price (even the significantly cheaper one for early backers in a Kickstarter-style campaign). I knew then that its immediate utility would be limited, and I decided to watch the early adopters from the sidelines. My dear wife, however, intuited before I did that it’s not really about the food, it’s about the process. To my surprise, she encouraged me to join the pre-sale campaign and invest not in a kitchen appliance, but a source of wonder and marvel, a proving ground to conceive, explore, and test new ideas.
So is the Spinzall a useful appliance as sous vide circulators are? Not yet. Not for the home cook, anyway. But it could be. At this point it does serve an essential value – that of confronting our complacencies and challenging us to think in new ways, to innovate. It’s the perfect stimulus for a kitchen scientist to get thinking out of the box, my favorite kind of thinking. Thank you deeply, Mrs. AJB, for this gift of growth and learning.
And so on this Rosh Hashana Eve 5778, may the new year ahead indeed be one of growth and learning; may we challenge ourselves and not succumb to complacency; may we innovate and not stagnate. May our minds be poised, open, and tolerant to new possibilities and different ideas. Mostly, may we be mindful and fulfilled, and foster the fulfillment of others.
Oh yeah, here’s my obligatory butter photo (it goes really well on roasted garlic ciabatta), with a side of buttermilk. And check out more video and pics from the process. It cost more money and time to centrifuge heavy cream than to make a trip to the store to just buy butter as we’ve been doing for years. Except this one marks the beginning of a new adventure in my kitchen playground.