Night at the museum: Columbian Ball 2011

October 24, 2011

The very rich are different from you and me. Not that you could tell at the Museum of Science and Industry's Columbian Ball Saturday night.

The Ball was named after the "world-renowned Exposition and annually plays a crucial role in funding the Museum's exciting and inspirational exhibitions and educational programs. Proceeds from the Columbian Ball go toward the Museum's Annual Fund, which in turn supports every aspect of the Museum experience," according to MSI.

Tuxedoed and ball gowned guests nibbled foie gras lollipops, studded with half a red grape, and finished with a sprinkle of Pop RocksI'm guessing the strawberry flavor. Graham Elliot Bowles popularized the combo when he was the chef at the Peninsula's Avenues.

Though I wore neither tux nor ball gown, I also had the Caprese salad skewered on a vinaigrette filled pipette; I have to say I'm not a fan of squeezeable plastic tubes. They were a stark contrast to the cinnamon muffin topped with pulled BBQ pork.

Champagne cocktails with vodka and something else sweet, from across the room, looked like they held Orbitz-like balls. The extinct drink used gellan gum, a popular futuristic food ingredient. These were just little ice cubes.

Under the Rotunda, my friend Homaro Cantu, who is featured in the Fast Forward exhibition and had invited me to the event, held court. With a team of chefs, he rolled edible cigars.

The cigars are thinly sliced bread, rolled into tubes, and fried; filled with Philly cheesesteak, Monte Cristo, or Cuban sandwich ingredients; wrapped in a collard green leaf and finished with a edible paper printed cigar band. At his restaurant Moto, they serve them in an ashtray, complete with liquid nitrogen smoke and edible ash.

Just as the cocktail reception was wrapping up, the Mayor showed up for a shake-by—as he did at the Hideout a few weeks back. I didn't see him eat anything, though he did have an assistant who carried a glass of what looked like water, carefully covered with a paper lidlike what you see from hotel room service. He didn't stay for dinner.

He could have grabbed a lobster bisque and breadstick test tube to go.

As dashing as he is, I doubt the mayor could have looked as elegant as Ava Youngblood did while sipping her bisque. Wearing a fuschia silk and gold embroidered ball gown designed by her husband, she was radiant in a sea of black tie and black gowns. (Note to self: When photographing fashion, get the whole dress.)

The air bread was a fancy inside-out Hot Pocket.

"The Vertical Garden" held three slender, fried wonton wrapper cones, the trio called "Flowers in the Field": "Parisian Smoked Salmon Mousse," "Asian Vegetables," and "Mojo Crab Ceviche." The garden was dedicated to another Fast Forward exhibit innovator Dickson Despommier, a vertical farming godfather. In the glass was the "Morning Dew Salad," with Honey Crisp apples, cranberries, fennel, arugula, goat cheese, and honey lemon vinaigrette. The "Butterfly Parmesan Crisp," dedicated to Zack Simpson, who created "Mariposa, a wall projection interactive where they can see butterflies land on their shadows."

"Out of this World" was a curious plate. Ostensibly simply Osso Bucco Milanese, but then it gets weird, even in context: "Squash Supernova with Sweet Potato" and "Root Vegetable Asteroids and Meteorites." Dedicated to Peter Diamandis, the "Commercial Space Entrepreneur."

I did not see the vegetarian option: "Autumnal Vegetable Risotto with Pea Puree and Rice Paper Globe, Asparagus Spears, Shitake Mushroom and Yellow Tomato Satellites," evidently also an ode to space.

The dessert course, "Spark of Creation," presented a dense "Chocolate Ginger Mudslide"; a "Freakonomics Apple"; and most notably "Chef Cantu's ACME Bomb," actually Moto pastry chef Ben Roche's take on a s'more: a chocolate graham cracker truffle with a marshmallow wick.

No fancy dinner would be complete without mignardises, in this case served in a dessert buffet back in the Rotunda.

And a couple more inventive sweets to finish the night. The apricot "caviar" is made by the reaction of sodium alginate in a calcium chloride solution, introduced by Ferran Adria to fine dining. And the dessert pops were frozen on the Anti-Griddle, like a hot griddle but cold, invented by my friend Philip Preston for Grant Achatz at Alinea.

The very rich may be very different from you and me, but Saturday night at the museum, not so much in food. The way they raised their live auction paddles to give $10,000 to support CASE (Center for the Advancement of Science Education)? Yes, but not so different in the shared childlike wonder in food.