Michael Laiskonis is a pastry demigod, and being the Executive Pastry Chef at Eric Ripert’s Le Bernardin in New York he has a tremendous forum to show it. He is all-encompassing in both technical and creative senses with an incredible intuition for restraint while still being very ambitious. Starting his pastry career in his home state of Michigan, he originally studied visual arts at Wayne State University. He eventually became the Pastry Chef at the acclaimed Tribute in Farmington Hills prior to a move to New York and to Le Bernardin. His accolades are numerous and include, but are not limited to, The James Beard Award for Outstanding Pastry Chef, as well as Pastry Chef of the Year from Bon Appetit. He has also been praised for his contributions in culinary education doing continuous lectures and classes to up and coming culinary students and professionals, as well as writing educational and insightful articles for Food & Wine magazine. His pastries are well-respected for their refinement and accuracy while maintaining highly approachable flavors and keeping a very modern edge. And with all that going for him, he’s a really nice guy to boot. He is a fantastic judge for the chefs to have critique their food.
For the last couple seasons of all of Top Chef, liquid nitrogen has been making appearance. It is nitrogen that has been made into a liquified state by a process known as fractional distillation. By a method of compression it slowly chills and becomes a liquid state. Zygmunt Wróblewski and Karol Olszewski first achieved it on earth on April 15th, 1883 at the Jagiellonian University. It is -210º C (-346º F) and boils at -196º C (-321º F) and evaporates out to nitrogen gas. By having a liquid at such a low temperature it allows chefs to freeze things at a much more rapid pace than usual, as well as freezing things that a traditional freezer cannot, like hard liquor. The most common usage in the everyday food that you might have seen is in the sporting arena favorite Dippin’ Dots. They are made when ice cream base is dripped into a bath of liquid nitrogen where it freezes into pearl shapes before it has a chance to hit the bottom of the container. The chefs have been using it over the past few seasons to freeze ice cream and sorbet very quickly as well as for a few more specific techniques like the pearls.