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Mad (Food) Scientist: The Inventing Room's Ian Kleinman is Fearless about Eats

Ian Kleinman opened The Inventing Room, a catering company focused on food entertainment.

Ian Kleinman's oyster pearls with tomato and tarragon.

Chef Ian Kleinman cooks using various techniques, including using liquid nitrogen

Ian Kleinman's magic truffle.

Chef Ian Kleinman focuses on molecular gastronomy.

Mad scientist, innovative chef or modern-day Willy Wonka? The Inventing Room's Ian Kleinman is finding success as all three. Armed with liquid nitrogen and an unconventional imagination for food, Kleinman is creating molecular magic for taste buds around the country. 
While he was growing up, if Ian Kleinman was told not to play with his food, he obviously didn't listen. Colorado native Kleinman, the brainchild behind The Inventing Room, is certainly making a living playing with dishes such as lump crab on rice paper with compressed apples and coconut caviar, floating chocolate truffles and nitrogen-cooled lemon drop martinis with blueberry caviar.
 
"We wanted to take a concept, what we call 'food entertainment,' to give an experience no one was providing in town, and very few people are doing across the country," Kleinman says. 
 
If you want to get technical about it, Kleinman's discipline is called molecular gastronomy (try to say that three times in a row), where the chef incorporates tools from science labs to create dishes with new techniques that include sous-vide cooking, liquid nitrogen and a variety of textures that highlight foams, jellies, bubbles and more. 
 
"It's not just providing smoke, it's about the texture … just an entire experience all the way through," Kleinman says. "I truly believe we bring something new, something different, something exciting and something fun to the table."
 
Another way to cook an eggIan Kleinman opened The Inventing Room, a catering company focused on food entertainment.
 
Cooking is in Kleinman's DNA. He's a third generation chef, as both his father and grandfather are chefs and culinary instructors. He started his kitchen career after high school and went on to several traditional culinary positions in the U.S. In 2006, he joined The Westin Westminster as Chef de Cuisine of O's Steak and Seafood. 
 
All seemed to be going well, except for one little problem: boredom. 
 
"I had come to the point where I need stimulation as a chef, for instance, there had to be another way to cook eggs," he says. "Then I learned about the practice that instead of only knowing 20 techniques, I could do 200 techniques."
 
The practice was molecular gastronomy and Kleinman spent months experimenting "as if he was in a sixth grade science class," while at the same time educating himself about the process and ingredients.
 
"When you use liquid nitrogen, it's actually pretty dangerous, so I had to become extremely comfortable with it," he says. "But once you are comfortable with it, you get to come up with amazing new things." 
 
Kleinman eventually convinced O's to offer a tasting menu that would consist of courses with his new and unique textures.
 
"It took a while because of the location, after all Westminster is not a hotbed for groundbreaking cuisine," he says. "But it turned into an absolutely amazing experience, we had a great run."
 
Food + science = profits  
 
In 2009, Kleinman left behind Westminster and opened The Inventing Room, a catering company focused on food entertainment. The company's philosophy is to bring molecular cooking to the masses, by creating events that give guests a new kind of dining experience. 
 
Kleinman invested in a full set of lab tools, which included all types of beakers and test tubes and, of course, a nitrogen tank. But don't expect a serious science lab at his events; The Inventing Room is all about setting a Willy Wonka-like atmosphere.
 
He says business has grown through referrals and word of mouth and his events vary from birthday parties to events for more than 700 people. The Inventing Room events have also expanded outside Denver in places such as Vancouver, Los Angeles and Kansas City.
 
"I know that our concept is not only viable here in Denver, but we are staying ahead of the curve in other places in the U.S," he says. "We're always evolving and thinking of new things to try." 
 
In addition, Kleinman founded a Donut Pop-Up concept where he "takes over" a Denver restaurant in the morning for a few days to display his molecular magic. For instance, his stints at Bittersweet and Table 6 allowed him to showcase gastronomic creations such as his take on an apple pie, which is made with green apples, pie crumbs, candied pecans and toasted cinnamon liquid nitrogen ice cream or the Oink, a maple pastry with bacon-Nutella powdered sugar, spicy house cured bacon and salted chocolate.
 
Never boredIan Kleinman's oyster pearls with tomato and tarragon.
 
Educating the public, whether it's guests at a high profile event or children at school about his cooking style is a big part of what he does. Kleinman set up a school science program to help show kids in the area how science and food are related. While at first it was merely a fun way to make ice cream for the kids, it has evolved into learning lessons about how carbon dioxide is found in nature and how it's used to make beloved treats such as pop-rocks and soda. 
 
While he's enjoying the catering, pop-up locations and educating the next generation of molecular chefs, Kleinman hopes one day for The Inventing Room to have its own small quick service storefront somewhere in the city, which would build upon his Donut Pop-up shop concept. 
 
Kleinman got involved in molecular gastronomy because of boredom at the kitchen and so far, food and science has been a happy marriage. But he still strives to keep things fresh.
 
"I'm always looking to develop something no one else has done, for instance we're looking into building an ice crystal or different texture that feels like snow when it hits your mouth, but tastes like crème brulee or roast beef," Kleinman says. "But I also know that it may take years to develop a texture for that. But once we get it down, we can do all over the place. That's what exciting for me: There's not a top of the mountain, but so many different mountains to climb to keep it interesting."

Read more articles by Heather Caliendo.

Heather is a Denver-based journalist and Confluence contributor. 
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