With Dave Arnold, it starts with a simple question—tips for making a superior gin and tonic, perhaps—which then quickly spirals into a one-sided rumination on the ideal lime juice for the drink: Clarified or cloudy? (Clarified.) But isn’t that difficult? (Yes, it has low pH and it can’t be heated.) So what do you do? (Quick agar clarification, or use a centrifuge). But…which is better? And this can go on. The phone call ends with you scrolling through eBay hunting for used medical equipment, because Dave Arnold makes spinning shit fast sound not just fun, but also imperative for the future of drinking.
In gastronomic circles, Dave Arnold is the technologic phenom who identifies and solves dilemmas—especially those not so obvious—with the help of gadgets, a few he actually invents himself. His encyclopedic knowledge of all things food lends him gravitas, but his exuberant mad-scientist curiosity makes stuff fun. Take the Searzall, the hand-held broiler he designed for the home cook, a fixture you attach to a goddamn blowtorch. This Lynchian film demonstrates its function (and shows off Arnold’s impressive eyebrow acting), evenly finishing everything from eggs to scallops. (Pro-tip for cubicle-dwellers: It comes in especially handy for delicious desk nachos.)
Instead of directing his talents towards creating molecular tasting menus, Arnold tends to focus on better ways to get drunk. His Manhattan cocktail bar, Booker & Dax, initially a lab for developing new cooking devices, was opened in partnership with another boundary-pusher in David Chang. Alongside centrifuges and liquid nitrogen at the bar, Arnold utilizes an updated loggerhead of his own invention, an electric poker that both provides visual pyrotechnics and utilitarian function: burning off base alcohol for stronger flavor, and caramelizing the sugar for a toasty profile. But like a true tinkerer, there’s always room for improvement. In his book Liquid Intelligence—a James Beard-winning bible for home-cocktail enthusiasts—Arnold notes that as of its publication, he’d spent seven years and thousands of dollars on perfecting the gin and tonic, and he’s still not satisfied. In conversation he refers to the one on the B&D menu as “the current version.”
But the perfect G&T can only be achieved by recognizing what’s come before, and Arnold's thoroughness plays out in his role as one founder of the Museum of Food and Drink (MOFAD), which opened in 2015. The Brooklyn space was born from his exhibit of over a decade ago at the Fancy Food Fair, which proselytized country ham’s place in American history. (“Before I was known for tech many people knew me as that guy who loves country ham” he writes on his blog.) That same year he began his job at French Culinary Institute (now the International Culinary Center), tasked with conceiving and developing its Department of Culinary Technology, the first of its kind.
But while it’s cool to have your Thai basil drink muddled with nitrogen, sometimes you just want a Manhattan. And Arnold knows this better than anyone. Below are the 10 drinks that inspired the curious mind of Dave Arnold.