Friends hoping to make frozen popcorn a hot trend

Jean-Franciois Chavanel, a managing partner at Popped, a gourmet popcorn shop, makes frozen caramel popcorn using liquid nitrogen at his shop on Eastern Avenue on Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2011.

Popped

Frozen caramel popcorn is made with liquid nitrogen at Popped, a gourmet popcorn shop on Eastern Avenue, on Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2011. Launch slideshow »

Popped Gourmet Popcorn

Liquid nitrogen is a typical tool in the arsenal of chefs around the valley, but a trio of local friends decided to use the ingredient in a decidedly lowbrow concoction — frozen popcorn.

The idea for the treat was born out of experimentation. When Oliver Morowati used nitrogen on a batch of popcorn at a barbecue last year, Zelma Watsubo and Jean Francois Chavanel, Morowati’s friends and co-workers from the Eiffel Tower Restaurant at Paris Las Vegas, thought it would make a marketable product.

After a few months of kicking the idea around, the friends decided to launch a business. They scouted locations, bought ingredients and in July opened Popped Gourmet Popcorn in a shopping center in Silverado Ranch at 9480 S. Eastern Ave.

“There are so many fine dining uses for liquid nitrogen,” Chavanel said. “The idea was to find a product to use with the nitrogen so everybody can enjoy it.”

The brightly painted store is part traditional popcorn store and part science laboratory.

There are different selections of popcorn each day, ranging from more typical cheese popcorn to a sweet mix of popcorn, Pop Rocks and Nerds candies with a dash of pink sparkles dubbed “Pink ‘adelic.”

Cups of popcorn start at $2 each, and for an extra dollar, customers can add frozen nitrogen, which drops the popcorn’s temperature to 300 degrees below zero.

“If you touch it you’ll freeze. There are splashes sometimes. You have to be careful,” Chavanel said, noting that the workers wear protective gear when handling the nitrogen.

The frozen corn takes on a distinctive texture. In addition to being cold, the popcorn is crunchier, and the gases trapped in the kernel are forced out during eating, creating a tingling, bubbly sensation in the mouth.

The popcorn is frozen to order, and the effect wears off in about 10 minutes as the nitrogen melts away.

“The fun part is most people have never experienced something like this. It’s new,” Watsubo said. “We wanted it to be a fun snack you can get … with the economic situation the way it is right now, not everyone wants to go out to dinner. But people still want to do something fun with family and friends.”

The frozen popcorn is beginning to develop a cult following, with people calling to see when their favorite flavors are going to be available.

Eventually the group members say they would like to open a retail store on the Strip, but for now, they’re enjoying the early success.

“It’s been super fun,” Watsubo said.

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  1. 'The brightly painted store is part traditional popcorn store and part science laboratory.'

    traditional popcorn store? I know I don't get out much, but are there traditional popcorn stores?

    I hope they are paid up on their liability insurance. I can see big problems with this.

    Best of luck.

  2. OK i have never heard of Liquid Nitrogen making a tingling sensation unless it is while being deprived of oxygen to your brain while eating the popcorn. Also the big question is what about the nitrogen where is it coming from ? And what government agency has given the blessing to freeze any kinda food product in Liquid Nitrogen ?? Especially one that may still contain some nitrogen as you are about to bite in to it. You know the stuff is -340 degree's or so.