Curiosity about the day’s lesson in “molecular gastronomy” and the promise of learning how to make the well-named “soda caviar” prompted a standing-room-only crowd in a Hellgate High School culinary class on Wednesday.

Audrey Clark, a recruiter for the Art Institute of Seattle, took charge of Audrey Nichols’ class to inspire students to create food that is “beyond the box.”

With 3 grams each of sodium alginate and calcium chloride, some water and a can of Sunkist soda, Clark performed a magic trick.

In her hands, the inert, rather mundane chemicals transformed into tiny orange-colored spheres that jiggled and looked exactly like what she called them: fish eggs.

“This is all about a play on the eyes,” Clark said with a satisfied smile as her teenage students ogled the unusual food. “It is so real-like, I have students who won’t eat any because they think it is caviar, even though they have watched me make it.”

The rubbery-textured, orange soda-flavored spheres were made all the more tasty by serving them atop vanilla ice cream.

“I think it’s cool, but also kind of weird,” said Elias Snyders, who received a pass from another class to drop in on the presentation.

“It is interesting how the chemicals form the spheres and how it translates into taste,” said Hope Sands. “I would like to try it using pomegranate soda or huckleberry juice to make those spheres and serve them on a salad.”

What captivated Sands was the fact that the balls “don’t feel how they look.”

“The look gooey, but really, they are kind of crunchy – and soft – at the same time.”

Clark’s lesson was one of many she will hold by the end of the week.

Her recruitment job takes her to high school kitchens throughout western Montana.

“I go into all kinds of classes and do demonstrations and talk about the Art Institute of Seattle,” Clark said. “I talk about how these students can go through our many programs, and I share our graduates’ success stories.”

The Art Institute offers programs in fashion, design, and media and culinary arts.

Thanks to cable television and shows like “Top Chef,” “Chopped,” and “Cake Boss,” the school has seen a rise in student enrollment and interest in its culinary programs, Clark said.

Surprising and engaging high school students with molecular gastronomy techniques is always a treat.

“Seeing students really latch on to an idea or a possibility is the most rewarding part of my job,” Clark said. “And I get to see that over and over.”

For Nichols, the guest helps to fire up her students’ imaginations.

“It truly is a great opportunity for them to see a connection between chemistry and cooking,” Nichols said. “And to understand there is a real-world application for chemistry.”

Reporter Betsy Cohen can be reached at 523-5253 or at

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