Allen Hemberger, a visual-effects artist at Pixar with no culinary training whatsoever, had a conversion experience the first time he went to Alinea, arguably the tabernacle of modernist cooking in the United States. “I was really floored by the whole thing,” he says. “It was my first exposure to presenting food as art — so beautiful and poetic.”
In 2008, Hemberger's girlfriend bought him the Alinea Book for Christmas, and he flipped through its pages, simultaneously marveling over the pictures and scoffing at the idea that anyone could make the recipes at home. “I was amused and irritated. It almost seemed like a bluff. I thought, 'I'm just going to try one of these,'” he says. The recipe was caramel powder. It took him six tries to get it right, making a caramel and then mixing it with tapioca maltodextrin. The results, he says, were “magic.” The Alinea Project, Hemberger's primary hobby and beautifully photographed blog, was born.