On two seasons of Top Chef, Marcel Vigneron made a memorable impression as the culinary mad scientist with mad skills in the kitchen—and a habit of rubbing everyone the wrong way. But that’s reality TV history. On his new SyFy show, Marcel’s Quantum Kitchen, Vigneron is, at last, both the star and the boss. It all brings him one step closer to intergalactic domination. We talked to Vigneron about his far-out food, his prickly reputation, and, of course, his unnatural love of foams.
Give us the three-sentence pitch for your new show. What are we going to see on Marcel’s Quantum Kitchen?
Good question. Let me see if I can do it. So, basically, in a nutshell, Marcel’s Quantum Kitchen is me and my team, starting up a catering company in Los Angeles and showcasing a new style of cooking to create wacky concoctions with elaborate presentations, to just develop and cater parties for various clients.
What’s the connection to SyFy, then?
The connection to SyFy is, well, first of all, the show is out-of-this-world. It’s unlike any other show on television right now. So that in and of itself has a sci-fi-esque nature to it. And with this new style of cooking, often referred to as molecular gastronomy, I utilize science to develop new kinds of techniques. I utilize new pieces of equipment to develop these dishes, so that has a very scientific aspect to it. And a lot of these dishes that I’m creating for these parties are unlike any other food. If we’re serving a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, it’s not going to be your every day PB-and-J. So the food almost has a science-fiction aspect to it. I know a lot of people are skeptical about a food show being on the SyFy network, but once people watch the show, they’ll get it. We bridge the gap through imagination and science.
Do you consider your food to be what people will be eating 50 or 100 years from now?
I think it’s food [people were] eating 50 years ago and [will be eating] 50 years from now, and right now. I think it’s timeless.
Is this new catering business just for the show? Or can people now hire you to cater their parties?
It’s real parties, it’s real food, I have a real catering company. It’s called Modern Global Tasting, and it’s based out of Los Angeles. The cameras are there to document everything that happens.
Now that you’re entering the world of catering, are you at all concerned that the reputation you’ve earned on Top Chef will come back to haunt you?
Can you rephrase that? I don’t really understand the question.
Well, it's just that you famously had a lot of difficulty getting along with other people on the show.
I’m actually not worried about that at all. On the contrary. I’m really excited about Marcel’s Quantum Kitchen, because it’s going to showcase a completely different side of me that you never got the opportunity to see on Top Chef. I think that’s a good thing, I think...Wait. What was your question?
That on Top Chef you were often at odds with the other contestants, so are you worried about how that might affect your new business?
The thing about it is, Top Chef is a reality competition-style show, that basically focuses in on the most dramatic moments to try to make for a polarizing television show, and I was at the brunt of that for the majority of it. On Quantum Kitchen you’ll see other sides of me, the creative side. For example, I have an amazing team that works with me. It’s all about teamwork and creativity. I feel as though my passion sometimes gets misinterpreted for something that it’s not.
It says in the synopsis for Episode 2 that you get into a “power struggle with a demanding party planner.”
Uh, that is correct. Like I said, these are real events that actually take place. It’s that age-old struggle between the front and the back of the house. My event planner for that party didn’t really see eye-to-eye on a couple different details. There’s a couple things we butt heads on to a certain degree, but that’s just the nature of the animal. At the end of the day, we have the same end goal in mind—to cater the best event we can do.
Why the obsession with putting foam on your food?
I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I have an “obsession with foam on my food.” It’s actually a really nice way to carry a flavor. People drink them every day on their lattes, no?
So, it’s made the same way you foam milk? You just take an essence or gravy and steam it and it becomes a froth?
Yeah. And it’s a really nice way to deliver a flavor without it being a really heavy sauce. A beurre blanc, which is a cream-based sauce, can be really thick and heavy. A jus made from bones, or a heavy demi glace, can be really heavy. A foam is nice and light and airy. It’s a technique like any other. You won’t see a lot of it on the show. I do a lot of other techniques that are pretty avant garde—fluid gels, gelification, sous-vide cooking...
Your Top Chef co-star Richard Blais uses a ton of liquid nitrogen. Do you use it as well?
Yeah, there’s a ton of chefs out there who use liquid nitrogen. There’s actually several [liquid-nitrogen] ice creams you can buy in your local supermarket.
Who would you say is the more skilled molecular gastronomist: You or Blais?
Well, for me it’s not really a competition, or who has more skill. That’s a matter of opinion. For me, it’s not really debatable.
Because it’s you?
I don’t really have an opinion.
But isn’t the whole point of Top Chef is to say, “Hey, world! I’m the best chef out there! I’m the Top Chef!”
I think for me, it’s a good opportunity to showcase your cooking style in a way that you wouldn’t normally be able to do. For me, it’s all about cooking. Cooking for me is more of a mission than it is a competition.
Marcel's Quantum Kitchen premieres Tuesday, March 22 at 10pm on SyFy.