Modernist Cuisine and the future of cooking
Dr. Nathan Myhrvold graduated high school and began attending University of California – Los Angeles before turning 15. Eight years later, he had earned not only a bachelor’s and master’s degree from UCLA but also a master’s and doctoral degree from Princeton University. Soon after, he worked with renowned physicist Stephen Hawking as a postdoctoral fellow at Cambridge University, researching cosmology, quantum field theory in curved space time and quantum theories of gravitation. For his professional career, Myhrvold authored papers in esteemed publications, such as Harvard Business Review, and served as Microsoft’s chief technology officer and chief strategist.
So what happens when all that Einstein-caliber intellect goes towards making a cookbook? Five volumes, 2,400 pages, 43 pounds of paper and 4 pounds of ink emerge from a 20-man team and nearly half a decade of time. “Cookbook” would be an understatement for this soon-to-be culinary canon. Modernist Cuisine, scheduled to start shipping in March, covers everything from the basics chemistry and physics to recipes that even the most avant-garde chefs will find to be innovative. Already, the coffee table-sized book has begun circulating in the food world, garnering praises from the likes of Ferran Àdria and Grant Achatz. To put things in perspective, Àdria used to run a restaurant that attracts one million reservations each year, 8,000 of which get fulfilled, and Achatz maintains one of the only nine three-Michelin stars restaurants in the U.S.
Modernist Cuisines differentiates itself from other comprehensive cookbooks because it delves into the world of molecular gastronomy. Basically, it brings the expertise of scientific doctorates to the primitive act of cooking. Modernist Cuisine explains why placing food in cold water does not stop cooking processes, why oil and water homogenize in an emulsion like mayonnaise and much more. The book goes even further however, and details the use of lab-grade centrifuges in creating the most immaculate broths, stocks, and, even, pea soup. Recipes for dehydrated watermelon chips or foie gras à la vapeur can be found in volume five.
Myhrvold chose the perfect time to publish his science-heavy cookbook. With molecular gastronomy gaining an ever-increasing presence in our world, Modernist Cuisine has established itself as an invaluable reference even before public release—simply because there are no other like it. Modernist Cuisine combines knowledge scattered across disparate sources with completely new, laboratory research to create a single destination for the modern cook. While its $625 price tag might seem absurd, the five-volume Modernist Cuisine is not any more expensive than the average textbook. Realistically, Modernist Cuisine’s limited audience will temper its impact on the culinary world, but Myhrvold plans to release electronic and paper-bound versions of the culinary collection, both of which will carry significantly reduced price tags.
The history of food writing has produced a handful of timeless works: Brilliat-Savarin’s The Physiology of Taste, Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and few others. Such works remain cherished because they introduced or redefined a world of cooking to a large group of people—The Physiology of Taste redefined the way humans should experience food, and Mastering the Art of French Cooking popularized French cooking in America. Modernist Cuisine seems poised to join the ranks of these gastronomical titans; it aims to catapult the primitive art of cooking into the twenty-first century by bringing science into the kitchen.
This article was originally published in Common Sense, the high school newspaper for which I am webmaster of.