Late last year, I checked in with Dave Arnold to talk about his new product idea, the Spinzall (which he has since started to move into production), as well as talk about his book and how to make great ice.
Needless to say, Dave has a lot of interesting things to say, so we thought we would present the full transcript of the conversation for your reading pleasure. The transcript has been lightly edited for readability.
Michael Wolf: For the listeners who don’t know, we jumped right into it, but I’m going to step back and introduce you. You’re Dave Arnold. You are host of the Cooking Issues podcast. You are also a creator of products. The first one was Searzall, which is an after-sous vide burner or finisher, if you will, you can probably explain it better, and now you have the Spinzall, which is your centrifuge for culinary explorers, consumers, whatever. Did I do a good job? I missed a few things, I would imagine.
Dave Arnold: Yeah. We have another product that we never even did but it exists because I wanted it to kind of exist. It’s called the Cocktail Cube, and it’s to get the texture that a professional would get using big ice when you’re shaking by using regular garbage ice. It’s basically just a texturizer. But again, it’s never going to put a dent in anything, so we built it just so it exists and I thought they’re on Amazon but we never do any publicity around it, yeah.
Michael Wolf: Some would ask why go through all the trouble of making all these pieces of hardware, trying to create prodcuts. I mean I kind of call you like a culinary mad scientist in a way because you are doing all these things. You write books on how to do kind of really cool cocktails, but why go through the trouble of making your hardware?
Dave Arnold: Well, when you’re working in this field, you notice gaps or things that you wish you could do or things that you wish other people could do, and then it’s in my nature to try to fix that. I have always wanted to do it. That’s one of the reasons I kind of started the company, struck out a way from my old job as the director of culinary technology at the French Culinary was I wanted to actually build and make some of these products when I see a gap.
I noticed that people can’t really generate the heat required to do finishing of low temperature products, meats, sous vide, so I built the Searzall basically like a high-powered handheld broiler but very small, so it’s very focused, so you’re never going to do like 1,000 steaks with it, but you can do one and in fact I use it 90 percent of the time for non-intended purposes just because it’s handy to have like a broiler like a handheld broiler sitting around with you at all times.
Michael Wolf: Is 100 percent of that food purposes or other purposes outside [laughter]?
Dave Arnold: No. I use it only for food, but it’s like because you always had it there, so I kind of use it as a jail-free like hit the top of an egg a little harder or I just use it all the time – melt cheese on a burger as it’s always next to wherever I’m cooking, so I end up using it all the time. My wife uses it when the delivery pizza is a little too coagulated on top, she just like hits it when it’s top of her plate, so it sits on the table. We end up using it a lot for not the intended purpose but it’s good. It’s certainly has more purposes than you think.
The one with the Cocktail Cube that I was constantly going to events and not having decent ice to shake with and you need really big ice cubes to get a perfect like the bar quality texture on a drink that we would get. I just got sick of going to events and providing something that I thought was not a top-notch product, the shake and drink, so I was never happy with them.
I did some tests and it turned out that it was not the fact that you were shaking with big ice. It was just the dimension of that cube was what was important. And so, I basically built something with that dimension that has the same density as ice that won’t break in a shaker, that won’t flake off, it’s food-safe. It has low thermal mass so it won’t affect the chilling and so yeah. I was like I wish I had this product, therefore I made it.
Michael Wolf: People are very specific about their ice.
Dave Arnold: Yeah.
Michael Wolf: The texture, the shape of it. FirstBuild built their own ice machine because they wanted a certain type of restaurant-style ice.
Dave Arnold: Who did?
Michael Wolf: FirstBuild, the GE ‑
Dave Arnold: Yeah.
Michael Wolf: Hacker space, whatever. They made an ice machine that allows you. I like McDonald’s ice because it is a very specific type of ice, even though McDonald’s is a terrible place to eat.
Dave Arnold: Right. It depends also like if there is no one perfect kind of ice for what you want to do, but like for shaking cocktails, you want this kind of like large-dimension ice. You can freeze it so you can buy like a 2-inch change mold that doesn’t need to look good this ice and freeze it, but then you’re throwing them away and then you have to bring them to events. And so, the people that I know that have them are mostly actually people who have access to that ice who keep the cube in their kit in case they’re in a situation where they have to shake their cocktail and they don’t have the good ice. But again, I haven’t publicized it so it hasn’t spread that far.
Michael Wolf: All right, so talk about the Spinzall. Why do we need a lower-cost centrifuge and aren’t there already kind of cheap centrifuges out there? What was different with yours?
Dave Arnold: Yeah, so the cheap centrifuges that are out there are functionally worthless for doing anything. They’re good just for proof of concept of being able to play around with them. That’s what I always said is I told people years and years ago, I bought one of the inexpensive $150 brand they put out there for people to buy was a Champion E-33, and I think it’s somewhere like $150 but it spins these little tubes and if you ever as I have been in the basement of a hotel in Bogota, trying to spin out banana Justinos with an E-33.
Michael Wolf: I’ve done that in that hotel [laughter].
Dave Arnold: Yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s terrible, right? I mean so like you’re sitting there, but the worst part of it isn’t even the tiny yield, although that is horrible. The worst part of that is actually those tubs are impossible to clean out. It’s just a nightmare to clean all those tubes, so you have to rack all these tubes and you’re spinning constantly to get anything. It’s just they’re a horrible nightmare. The big ones are nice, but you can’t take them with you. No one can afford the space really even if you have the money. Even if you have $8,000 to $10,000 or you’re willing to buy used, very few people can afford the space and so these techniques, both in the bar and culinary are techniques that I have always thought deserved a much wider audience.
People are like, why do I need a centrifuge? When they focus on it, they’re focusing mainly on like the things that you see in Modernist Cuisine like pea butter and things like this but really the bread and butter of a centrifuge for someone who’s into cocktails is juice and liquors like Justinos. But then even if you stand from a non-culinary standpoint like the day-in day-out that they that they use it… I know someone was running it over there, is herbal oils. He made these fantastic herbal oils. It makes very fast, very low mess butter, and so the quantities that you make in these because it holds 500 ml in the bucket at a time, which is vastly more than a Champion E-33, less by a factor of 4, say what a full-sized benchtop 3-liter centrifuge actually holds. It doesn’t actually hold 3 L. You never actually put 3 L into it when you’re running it, so you end up putting about 2, so we have a quarter of that capacity. By the way, you could buy one of these and still be weigh, weigh, weigh less than one of those and a lot easier to store and easier to run. But I digress.
All these things that people don’t know that they want it for, that it’s just awesome to have. I want more people to be able to use a centrifuge and get this kind of results. I especially we started because I was kind of always been a little miffed that the techniques that I’m really interested in the bar tend not to spread. I think it’s because of the difficulty of them spreading.
Michael Wolf: Right, right. It’s not democratized from a tool standpoint.
Dave Arnold: Right, right. And so even though this is expensive for a human being, if you’re buying it for a business, once you – one of the reasons I thought it’s like, look if you’re trying to have a centrifuge at the bar, very few bars that I know of can afford the space and the money. But then even if you do make that leap, you don’t want to pin your whole program on having an ingredient where any second maybe it breaks and then you’re done, you know what I mean? It needs to be small enough and kind of inexpensive enough that if something hit the fan, you could just replace it or get it fixed and it wouldn’t end your program, you know what I mean?
Michael Wolf: Yeah, yeah. I still see the centrifuge as something that needs someone. Maybe it’s you. Maybe it’s like I think you were on a road tour. You showed it to Chris Young at ChefSteps. I think you may have sent one out to Kenji, I’m not sure.
Dave Arnold: I stopped by.
Michael Wolf: But you need a guy like him or you or Chris to write the book on it or maybe it’s someone we don’t know who just backed it on your site, who’s going to take it, blog about it because I think people don’t know what to do with it yet. Is that right?
Dave Arnold: Right, and so I think what’s going to happen is that see what I’m banking on is there’s a certain number of people that bought Modernist Cuisine when it came out and there’s a certain number of people that bought my book, Liquid Intelligence, when it came out, and they see that I have a chapter where I’m like basically everything that I actually do at the bar, I do in a centrifuge. Then here are ways to get around the fact that you don’t own a centrifuge. Then if they didn’t have to get around that, if they could just own an centrifuge, why wouldn’t that be better. And so, what I’m hoping is that we get some early adopters who can see how non-intimidating and useful a centrifuge is just by virtue of using it more, you know what I mean?
Michael Wolf: Are you hoping, Liquid Intelligence, that chapter is kind of the ground zero, kind of like Modernist Cuisine was for a lot of what happened afterwards, or do you think you’re going to see some other folks writing books, and then do you also need something like on the culinary side to write a book about how you do this for culinary purposes?
Dave Arnold: Yeah, I mean as far as I’m concerned right now, I’m going to write the manual for this. It’s going to have some recipes in it, but yeah, I want more and more people to want – the only thing is when people write books, they don’t write books for stuff that you can’t have, you know what I mean?
Michael Wolf: Yeah.
Dave Arnold: They just don’t do that.
Michael Wolf: They won’t sell very well [laughter].
Dave Arnold: Yeah, right. So I think it’s probably more something is going to get pushed in kind of in the Internet in the blogosphere at least initially because it’s just I’m imagining going – I actually went to my publisher. I was like, “I want to write a book on cocktails.”
They’re like, “Cocktail books don’t sell that well.”
I was like, “Yeah, but this one is going to be incredibly complicated and talk about equipment that nobody can own.”
They’re like, “Oh, yeah. Sell it to me.” Do you know what I mean?
Michael Wolf: Yeah [laughter].
Dave Arnold: It’s like ‑
Michael Wolf: The publishers are already trying to like they know their business is dying. You come there with this idea.
Dave Arnold: yeah, but the thing was they let me write it and I think the good news was that I told people how to do things if they didn’t have it, you know what I mean?
Michael Wolf: Yeah.
Dave Arnold: My assumption was that people wanted to be treated like I cared about them and what that means to me is I’m going to tell them how I actually do things. Then I’ll also give them ways how to do it without those things, but I wouldn’t want to buy a book where someone had to pull a bunch of punches, you know what I mean?
Michael Wolf: Yeah. one of the cool things about the sous vide machines now you’re seeing with Chris, you’re seeing to a certain degree with Anova is the app connected to it. I don’t like to dismiss apps and let’s say, “Okay, you could turn it off, get notifications, great.” But I do think like there’s just this concept of guided cooking I’ve been writing about, just the idea like having some sort of whether or not it’s a recipe to kind of be fused with the hardware. Do you see an opportunity with your centrifuge to maybe have some sort of connectedness, maybe not this generation where you can actually fuse it with software, do interesting things? Or is it like getting too far out there?
Dave Arnold: I don’t know. I mean it’s a pretty simple boneheaded machine. In fact, the ‑
Michael Wolf: So I’m making things way too complicated by saying let’s put an app on there [laughter] ‑
Dave Arnold: No. I mean you got to remember I’m old too, right?
Michael Wolf: Yeah, so am I.
Dave Arnold: I don’t understand like I just like to cook, you know what I mean?
Michael Wolf: Yeah.
Dave Arnold: I’m not I was at Kenji’s place and as a demonstration was like Alexa turned on my jewel to some temperature. I was like, “You, man.” I push buttons, I turn knobs, you know what I mean?
Michael Wolf: Yeah.
Dave Arnold: The engineers in China were actually not happy with me because I was like, “I want two knobs. I want knobs, three knobs now. I want knobs and switches.”
They’re like, “No, we’re going to put a membrane thing here.”
I was like, “here’s what I want. I want knobs and switches.” [laughter] you know what I mean? My theory is ‑
Michael Wolf: This is for a year, this went back and forth?
Dave Arnold: Yeah, even though I’m old and maybe wrong about this, my gut tells me that when you’re trying to get someone to use a new piece of technology, you want to make it as friendly as possible. If there’s anything their way, right, it’s going to piss some people off more than it’s going to exciting to the people that get the extra bells and whistles, but I could be wrong.
Michael Wolf: You initially offered this at $699?
Dave Arnold: Yeah.
Michael Wolf: I think that’s right, and where do you see going forward? Is this something that you ultimately see 5 years from now as a $299 price point? Do you want to be in Target or is it something ‑
Dave Arnold: I have to sell a lot of them exactly like after the presale, the price is going to go up because like to make, I mean the cost that we pay now is high like our tooling costs is high, our per unit cost is high because I don’t anticipate making that many of them. If someone said to me, “Hey, Dave, we’re pretty confident that you’re going to sell 15,000 of this a year,” then I could drop the price substantially, you know what I mean, but I just can’t, you know what I mean?
Michael Wolf: Who knows? I think Anova is doing hundreds of thousands of circulators. I’m not saying like sous vide is an analogue, but maybe at some point you get a bunch of cocktails ‑
Dave Arnold: Well, it is. Remember back in the day, a circulator costs $2,000?
Michael Wolf: Right. Maybe you’re kind of like looking at those volumes down the road, who knows? I mean you’re a blog post person?
Dave Arnold: I mean yeah, look at it this way, right? All the circulators prior to 2005 or 2006, I forget when the exact date was, were $2,000. Philip Preston dropped the price of circulators to under $1,000 and they started taking off in the chef community, along with the fact that I got them to give one to Wylie. Wylie put it on Iron Chef against Mario, plus with the Spanish invasion coming over of chefs, circulators started to pick up, so there was a reasonable number of people buying circulators at $1,000 apiece.
I know a number of other people, but I started teaching courses on how to do low-temperature sous vide work and so people started to train up on it. More and more people are buying them. There’s also always a steady supply of people buying them used on eBay, right? Then eventually people started making their own. You have this price point of $800, which is almost reachable for people, then all of a sudden, a guy at [unintelligible 0:23:08] Nomiku and [unintelligible 0:23:09], they broke the $500 mark and quickly got it down to $300, and then I think the floodgates opened. Now you’re down under $200, you know what I mean?
Michael Wolf: Yeah.
Dave Arnold: So, it could happen. It’s just you need to do volume to be able to manufacture stuff at those prices.
Michael Wolf: Yeah, I think that Gourmia Sous Vide Pod maybe around $99 from $129 or something, so they actually have those down at that price point now.
Dave Arnold: Yeah.
Michael Wolf: It’s crazy. You have a lot of other things you’ve beyond this centrifuge. You’re the guy behind MOFAD, the Museum of Food and Drink, and I think you’re actually talking to me from there right now.
Dave Arnold: Yeah.
Michael Wolf: So tell people what that is all about?
Dave Arnold: It’s just the first idea I had. I knew I wanted to be in food but I actually didn’t think I wanted to be involved with the actual restaurant world, so I could have a fine arts degree, and I was like there’s no museum in New York. There was at the time actually Copia, but there was no museum devoted to what I thought was like the most important subject, food and drink, so like there needs to be kind of a large-scale museum. This is an idea I had of opening back in ’04, and then it’s just been for the first 8, 9 years, I didn’t have the ability or any real team to start it with.
It just never really happened, and then I teamed up with Peter Kim, who was our pro bono lawyer, who have just been slowly building it up now. Now we have a brick and mortar lab space. It’s kind of a museum incubator, which is where I am now. We did an exhibition on flavor, on the kind of the birth of the flavor industry, the advent of organic chemistry and the birth of the flavor industry.
Michael Wolf: It’s a really cool topic, by the way.
Dave Arnold: It’s cool and people love, people don’t understand it. In fact, very few people understand it and it’s tied up with a very particular mentality and point in time and understanding of things like real versus artificial that are just fraught words, and then now we have an exhibition up on Chinese-American cuisine, kind of how it came to be because it’s kind of if you look at a Chinese-American restaurant, its existence has a different trajectory from any other that I can think of ethnic cuisine in America. It’s also loved, intensely loved and also sometimes maligned as being inauthentic when in fact it is authentic for what it is, Chinese-American food. We have an exhibition up on the roughly 150-something year history of that.
Michael Wolf: I love that. I love the idea of like flavor trends and food trends, analyzing those because I would imagine there’s a pattern to what happened to Chinese. I don’t know with the other ethnic foods take that same pattern, Japanese food for example, but like is anyone doing that from the museum perspective besides you?
Dave Arnold: People do individual exhibits on food because it’s such a popular way to kind of get people in but in general they don’t have the same focus that we have. Our main thing, we were looking at culture of food, culture, history, commerce, society, science through the lens of food and most like a lot of these impact very heavily on all of those domains. It’s a good topic through which to look at almost anything and we all eat. Most of us enjoy it.
Michael Wolf: [laughter] Pretty much everyone eats.
Dave Arnold: Yeah.
Michael Wolf: Last question in terms of where people can buy the Spinzall now. Where they can get one?
Dave Arnold: Sure, sure. So preorder the Spinzall now, please, because we’re doing preorders at Modernist Pantry, so it’s modernistpantry.com/spinzall, and you preorder now. We have a special preorder price. We were trying to sell 1,000 of them preorder so that we are guaranteed to have the money to be able to get the tooling and the first run built and then we will deliver them in July, it’s what we’re shooting at. The money is fully refundable up until ‑we’re not going to charge the cards until we get to the point where we know that we have the funds to complete the run. Then it’s fully refundable until the moment we ship. However, if you do back out, you lose the deal. You lose the deal. You don’t get back in line, but yeah, preorder it now. Be the first kid in your block to have a centrifuge that is the size of a food processor but still make enough product to serve a whole bar.
Michael Wolf: And people could find you at Cooking Issues on Twitter. I think the Cooking Issues podcast, they could search iTunes for that.
Dave Arnold: Yeah. Cooking Issues and I’m on Twitter and Instagram, yeah, and then call into the podcast on Tuesday.
Michael Wolf: You do a live calling show.
Dave Arnold: Yeah.
Michael Wolf: You’re a much braver than I am.
Dave Arnold: most of the people actually end up emailing me questions, so I think I lot of the people can’t listen during the day anyway, but I do get live calls. you know what, here’s the thing: you shouldn’t worry about being stumped because if you don’t know, you just say I don’t know. That’s always a valid answer. You don’t have to know everything, you know what I mean?
Michael Wolf: I like it. We all do it.
Dave Arnold: Yeah.
Michael Wolf: All right, Dave, thanks for spending time with me, man.
Dave Arnold: All right, thank you.