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A food journey into The Mist

Published January 17, 2012 4:36 pm

Novelty • Chef Gavin Baker prepares to wow diners with molecular gastronomy at a pop-up restaurant in SLC.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

As producer of The Mist Project, Gavin Baker has spent months writing — and rewriting — a script, assembling a cast and creating special effects.

So it's no coincidence that this ultra-creative chef's production will premiere on Thursday— the same day the 2012 Sundance Film Festival begins.

While Mist is a "pop-up" restaurant — not a movie — it mirrors the cinema, providing an escape from the usual restaurant setting and offering a journey into the world of molecular gastronomy. With 15 courses served over more than two hours, the dining experience also will be as long as a feature-length film.

The Mist experience, which costs $150 a person (wine not included), will start with small bites, build toward suspenseful entrées and end with super-powered desserts. Some dishes will be served in their freshest, most unadulterated forms. Others will have multiple components. A few will be presented as broad landscapes for the table to share.

Without revealing too much of the plot, Baker said guests can look forward to a crispy pork lollipop appetizer with nitro "Dipping Dots." Later, they will gaze at "Sunrise From My Plane Window," a dessert made with white chocolate, passion fruit and sugar that looks like the rays of the sun.

Food at Mist is more than just sustenance — it's art. And it's "more intimate than a painting or film because you get to eat it," Baker said.

Setting • Baker's production will take place inside the former Metropolitan restaurant in downtown Salt Lake City. Baker hopes to make it more intimate by limiting seating to 36 customers per night.

Producer • This isn't Baker's first guerrilla restaurant. In 2008, he produced the first Mist event in Park City, serving a 12-course meal over several nights. According to his online biography, the 38-year-old Baker served four years in the Marine Corps; hiked from London to Scotland in the dead of winter; taught villagers in the Himalayas how to make pizza; and trained Indonesians how to run a sustainable kitchen on an island not far from Papua New Guinea.

He has worked in several fine-dining restaurants, most notably The Fat Duck in London. But he's no stranger to Utah. He worked for several Park City restaurants around the time of the 2002 Winter Olympics. While in Utah, he met his wife, Angie Mecham, and the couple decided to return to Salt Lake City to reintroduce The Mist Project.

Cast and crew • Just like any filmmaker, Baker has spent months assembling his supporting cast. Tricia Layton, a recent graduate of the culinary program at the Art Institute of Salt Lake — and a friend of Mecham's — was the first person Baker brought on last June. Once he realized how well Layton had been trained, he began bringing on more of the students and graduates from the Draper school. Some earn a daily stipend, others are unpaid volunteers.

Over the past six months, Baker has worked individually with each student. Initially, they pored over recipes and brainstormed ideas. Later, they tested and retested, practicing until each dish could be replicated perfectly time and time again. "One day we tested something at least four different times," said Layton.

That attention to detail is usually only attempted by chefs seeking Michelin-star ratings. "That's my goal," he said, "to create the first restaurant that gets Michelin stars that doesn't exist in one place."

Baker's mentorship and The Mist experience is invaluable training, the students say. At any other restaurant, neophytes are stuck in the back of the kitchen peeling potatoes, said Michael Burtis, a recent Art Institute graduate. "Here I get to see the whole process from concept to drawing to testing to final plating."

Special effects • Baker turned the kitchen and living room of his Salt Lake City home into The Mist Test Kitchen. On a recent Saturday morning it looked more like a science lab as Baker poured liquid nitrogen over chocolate cake.

Using a mortar and pestle, he crushed the frozen concoction until it resembled dirt for the edible forest that he and pastry chef Rebecca Millican were assembling. Millican, the pastry chef at Amano Artisan Chocolate, will oversee all of the Mist desserts. (Yes, she says, there will be more than one.)

On another table, Katie Weinner, an instructor at the Art Institute and Mist's head development chef, is helping Jennifer Krstyen turn yogurt into tiny white spheres that visually and texturally resemble caviar, a process called spherification.

Using this kind of molecular gastronomy to create visual and sensory surprises for diners gets to the heart of a Mist meal.

"It's not just about me serving you amazing food," Baker explained. "It's about the conversation it sparks around the dinner table."

kathys@sltrib.com

Twitter: @kathystephenson

facebook.com/saltlakefood —

Now playing: The Mist Project

What • Chef Gavin Baker's "pop-up" restaurant will take diners on a 15-course journey of food and molecular gastronomy.

When • Premieres Thursday, Jan. 19, and continues on various nights through Feb. 19. Seatings available starting at 7 p.m. Plan on two to three hours.

Where • 173 W. 300 South, Salt Lake City. (The former Metropolitan restaurant.)

Tickets • $150 per person. Must be purchased online in advance; an 18 percent gratuity is added at the time of purchase. Guests who want wine can bring their own, and no corkage fees will be charged. Wine recommendations are available online.

Availability • Only 36 tickets available each night

Cameos • Every Monday, a different Utah chef will be a guest in the kitchen creating one of the 15 courses. On Jan. 23, it will be Colton Soelberg, of Communal, in Provo; Jan. 30, Viet Pham, Forage; Feb. 6, Ryan Lowder, Copper Onion and Plum Alley; and Feb. 13, Takashi Gibo, of Takashi.

Online • themistproject.com