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Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Porthole Kickstarter

The first time I saw the Porthole was on the September 2011 cover of Food Arts magazine. The Porthole with herbs and fruits sandwiched between two round pieces of glass looked stunning. The Porthole is a cylindrical glass vessel custom-designed and made by Martin Kastner of Crucial Detail, and used at the Aviary Bar for various infusions. Aviary is operated by Grant Achatz, who also owns the famous 3-Michelin star restaurant, Alinea, in Chicago. I came to know Kastner's work through the various serving pieces he developed with Achatz for Alinea, which were well publicized along with Alinea's innovative cuisine. However, the Porthole was something that I actually want to get. Unlike some of the Alinea serving pieces, the Porthole seems like something I can use at home. It turns out I wasn't the only one thinking about a Porthole. Many people who frequent Aviary asked about purchasing the Porthole. There are even stories of some guests trying to take the Portholes home.

When I found out on the Internet that Kastner was doing a Kickstarter project to fund a commercial version of the Porthole, I was happy to make a pledge. Before I signed on I have never used Kickstarter before. I have also never been or wanted to be a venture capitalist. In other words, I didn't have much of an idea of what I was getting myself into. Nevertheless I made a pledge in mid-August 2012 for two Portholes. I bought two mainly because the cost of shipping for one to Taipei is US$50 while for two is only fifteen dollars more. I also thought that since the Porthole was scheduled to be delivered before Christmas, perhaps I could give one to someone else as a present.

Christmas came and went and the Porthole was nowhere to be found. About once a month, Kastner would send an update and the delivery date would keep moving back. There always seemed to be some kind of problem with the manufacturing process. Since I am an architect, I can sort of understand the problems Kastner were facing; stuff happens. However, he was way too optimistic with initial estimate of delivering the thousands of Portholes before Christmas. Nevertheless, it was nice of Kastner to provide updates on his progress – informing us about his various problems and keeping us in the loop. I felt like I was part of the venture. Unlike buying a product from a store, the Kickstarter project is really an adventure of making a new thing. You are along for the ride and you have to think people are doing their best to deliver the goods. Frankly, there wasn't much one could do but to be patient and wait.

It wasn't until June this year that I was notified that my Portholes would be shipped soon. I received the two Portholes via DHL in July. The packaging was quite nice. Along with the Porthole, Kastner also added two asymmetrical tumbers that are very beautiful.

The Porthole also came with a few recipes for drinks served at Aviary. The recipes are complicated with many ingredients, similar to some of the dishes served at Alinea. The problem for me is many of the ingredients are very hard to find in Taiwan. I can't even find white verjus, let alone dried elderflower or rare tea cellar berry meritage tea. After looking through the recipes a few times I basically gave up. I can only hope that one day someone from the States can bring some things back for me. With my dream of reproducing the drinks from Aviary dashed, I started to look on the internet for simpler things to do.

Before I did any infusion I filled the Porthole with water to make sure I was doing things correctly and with no leakage. The Porthole consists of only a few parts: two round plate glass covering a round frame and connected by a short stainless pipe via screws on the outside. The first time I assembled the Porthole together and poured some water inside, I actually couldn't get a good seal and the water started to leak out at the bottom. The trick to sealing the Porthole, as per the instructions in the box, is to press hard on the glass in order to compress the gasket all the way around the circle. The instructions also said the screws should not be over-tightened. However, I don't really know what that means. In my experience I felt I had to tighten the screws quite hard so the two pieces of glass remain pressed against the gasket. After a few trials with water, I decided to do my first infusion.

I started with some vodka infused with pineapple slices and mint. I let the Porthole sat in the fridge for three days.

The second one I tried was some bourbon with apple. This would form the basis for some apple honey toddy.

I am not sure what's the next infusion I will do. Instead of alcohol perhaps I might start doing some fruit infused water. The Porthole with things inside is also so pretty to look at that I will probably use it as some kind of table centerpiece the next time I have friends over for dinner.

Even though the Porthole was delayed by more than half a year, I am still quite happy upon receiving the vessel. Nevertheless, I don't think I will support projects on Kickstarter on a regular basis. It was an interesting experience but for now I will just focus on making drinks.

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