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With his groomed goatee and calm demeanor, Ian Kleinman, founder of West Highland’s the Inventing Room Dessert Shop, doesn’t look like a culinary mad scientist. But the scars on his palms and his right thumb, which is missing its top (an unfortunate consequence of Kleinman’s predilection for working with liquid nitrogen), hint at his true obsessions: molecular gastronomy and DIY inventions that run from Wonkalike treats to the machine he built to make Pop Rocks–esque candies. Here, an inside look at how Kleinman does it all—in one very long day.
5 a.m. Kleinman’s day begins with calls to his partners in the United Arab Emirates’ Dubai and Qatar (Kleinman opened six locations in the Middle East following his success in the Mile High City).
7 a.m. After picking up 12 packages of Oreos at King Soopers for the shop’s liquid nitrogen ice creams, Kleinman stops at Restaurant Depot (his list: chocolate chips, lemons, Sour Patch Kids) and visits his catering kitchen in Westwood.
10 a.m. Kleinman and his three-member crew arrive at the sunlit shop. The caramel aroma of sticky toffee pudding fills the air as they organize plastic storage containers of honeycomb candy and compressed banana; carbonate house-made spiced soda for the shop’s beloved butter beer; and spin fresh puffs of purple cotton candy using grape-jelly-flavored sugar.
10:15 a.m. A nitrogen refill truck pulls up to top off the Inventing Room’s four tanks. The shop runs through more than 700 liters of the liquid every four days.
10:30 a.m. Kleinman uploads the day’s menu—which includes composed desserts, build-your-own ice cream sundaes, snacks, and drinks—onto the large flat-screen above the ordering station. The menu changes almost daily, but favorites like the Mexican fried ice cream stay put. “We’d get shot if we touched it,” Kleinman says.
11:50 a.m. A tween girl strolls in (10 minutes before official opening time) and orders the crème brûlée waffle. While the waffle bakes, one employee pours the ice cream base into a temperature-regulated metal bowl before adding a scoop of house-made grilled strawberry jam and a splash of liquid nitrogen. He stirs and passes the resulting strawberry ice cream to Kleinman, who finishes the dessert with Nutella and “exploding” (nitrogen-frozen) whipped cream.
2 p.m. Business picks up. Most groups snag $4 orders of Really, Really Cold Cheetos, for which the airy, cheesy snacks are deep-frozen in—what else?—liquid nitrogen. Kleinman skims a batch from its bath. A group of young boys delight in breathing cold plumes of water vapor through their nostrils, “like dragons!”
3 p.m. As customers steadily stream in, Kleinman garnishes every dish. The
“magic chocolate”—molten chocolate drizzled via squeeze bottle into liquid nitrogen so it freezes into sculptural squiggles—elicits oohs and aahs every time.
7 p.m. The one downside to the free liquid-nitrogen-frozen salted caramel popcorn that’s given to every customer while they wait in line? “We’re constantly sweeping up popcorn,” Kleinman says, as he and the crew tidy up before the after-dinner rush.
10 p.m. Since just before noon, the Inventing Room has served more than 200 people. After the last guest is gone, Kleinman heads home. He’ll be back early tomorrow morning to pick up the day’s shopping list and do it all over again.