9 September, 2021, 01:10

Molecular Munchies: Street Food Embracing Chemistry

Young food truck Molecular Munchies brings modern technique to the streets with Sriracha sliced in sheets.

While the chili sauce is usually dispensed from the ubiquitous green squirt-top bottle, Molecular Munchies’ Spicy Sriracha Burger features a slice of the sauce that looks like a red slice of cheese.

“We’ve been doing a lot of slices of things,” said Jacob Wahl, chef and co-owner of Molecular Munchies. “Like a slice of sriracha or balsamic honey.”

Agar, an algae-derived substance used to gel desserts throughout Asia, is responsible for the sliced substances. “It’s really weird eating a liquid and chewing it,” Wahl said. But the gel melts with the heat of the burger and your mouth to become saucy again, providing a unique textural experience.

Molecular gastronomy, the inspiration for the truck name, isn’t as complicated as it sounds. Wikipedia defines it as a “sub-discipline of food science that seeks to investigate the physical and chemical transformations of ingredients that occur in cooking.”

To Wahl, “all it means is cooking with modernist techniques.” This means he fully embraces gelling agents, emulsifiers, and other substances such as agar, sodium alginate, xanthan gum, soy lecithin.

Wahl and fellow chef and Molecular Munchies co-owner Brian Lee had the truck up and running only about a month ago on September 16. The duo met while working at Caffe Torino in the Foothills, and came up with the idea of the food truck after accidentally creating a burger they fell in love with.

Spicy Sriracha Burger and fries at Molecular Munchies (Credit: Taylor Noel Photography)

Spicy Sriracha Burger and fries at Molecular Munchies (Credit: Taylor Noel Photography)

Burger patties are cooked sous vide, which means they are vacuum-sealed and cooked in a precisely-controlled water bath. While packets of beef in water doesn’t sound as romantic as good old-fashioned grilled patty, the results are dramatically different. It’s a fool-proof way to provide consistent edge-to-edge medium-rare with just a quick hot sear needed to provide the crust.

“I bought a cheap sous vide device online and we tried it out with a half-pound burger and it was the best thing ever,” Wahl said. “We should probably sell this because it’s delicious. We paired it with brie cheese and it was just over the top.”

To elevate their burgers, the duo sources beef from the University of Arizona Food Products and Safety Laboratory, greens from Merchant’s Garden, and as many additional ingredients as they can through farmers markets. Furthermore, they make their own brioche buns and sauces from scratch.

“We make a legitimate aioli with egg yolk and garlic, not just mayonnaise with garlic added,” Lee said. The flagship Truck Burger features the “truck aioli” rather than one of the sliced sauces. Considering all the work and quality ingredients behind the burger, $8 is a great deal. “We understand it can be expensive, but we want to bring it to the street at a decent price.”

All of Molecular Munchies’ proteins are cooked sous vide. Since the proteins are already cooked to temperature and only need a sear, this means serving time is significantly reduced. Jake’s Steak Bites features a medium-rare steak cast iron seared and smothered with mushroom Gruyère bechamel, all ready after just a few minutes. “Because this beef is so fresh [local from the U of A], it comes out so tender,” Lee said.

Molecular Munchies co-owner and chef Brian Lee (Credit: Taylor Noel Photography)

Molecular Munchies co-owner and chef Brian Lee (Credit: Taylor Noel Photography)

On the opposite end of the temperature spectrum, the food truck uses an anti-griddle to whip up ice cream to order. The device quickly flash freezes the ice cream, which results in smaller crystals and a creamier sensation.

Additional fun items include “molecules,” Fruit Gushers-like pearls of sauce with a liquid center, and carbonated fruit, which is fruit made effervescent through the use of dry ice or a carbon dioxide siphon. Sodas will constantly change with custom unexpected flavors, such as chocolate avocado cola.

While most dishes offer a quirky sensation or technique, simple dishes focus on highlighting local ingredients. Beer-battered specials utilize beer from the brewery the truck is parked at. The duo also noticed a lack of salad options in most food trucks, so they offer salads highlighting seasonal produce with quick pickles and Merchant’s Garden greens.

Since the concept is still so young, the duo is still constantly experimenting with menu offerings. Keep up with Molecular Munchies on Facebook to see their newest creations and find out where they will be parked next.

Molecular Munchies (Credit: Taylor Noel Photography)

Molecular Munchies (Credit: Taylor Noel Photography)

Jackie is a food writer and photographer native to Tucson. He loves corgis and still thinks rickrolling is funny. If you'd like to stalk him, visit jackietran.com and his Instagram @jackie_tran_.