Just a few days after the first shipment of Modernist Cuisine passed through the Port of Seattle, author Nathan Myhrvold sat down with UWTV’s Media Space to discuss the book’s mission, its impact, and why he created a striped omelet. You can find a detailed account of the event on UWTV’s website or watch the video of the interview below:
Nathan said Modernist Cuisine was driven by a confluence of need, opportunity, and available talent. He explained how the need for a comprehensive book covering recent innovations in cooking led him to build The Cooking Lab and assemble the team that made the project possible. At 1.1 million words and 2,438 pages, Modernist Cuisine makes advanced Modernist cooking techniques and information accessible to the average person.
While he didn’t have time to answer questions from Twitter during the interview, Nathan’s answers to some of those questions are presented below:
Amyrolph: What’s your favorite recipe [from the book]?
Nathan: Given the number of recipes and variations in the book, it is impossible for me to pick just one. I am, however, a well-known barbecue lover, so those recipes will always rank high in my book!
Ryanositis: Great photography for your new book! How did you get some of those cutaway shots?
Nathan: At The Cooking Lab, we have access to nifty toys like high-speed video equipment and a full machine shop. The cutaway shots you see in the book are actual cutaways: that is, we actually did cut things in half to take the pictures! As I’m fond of saying, we now have two halves of the best stocked kitchen in the world!
Larry_B: Is there a subset of equipment or supplies that are reasonable for home cooks?
Nathan: Yes. Chapter 10 on The Modernist Kitchen includes three tables that list, in rank order of usefulness, cooking equipment we recommend that is beyond the ordinary gear that pretty much all home cooks have. The first table details “Must-Have Tools for the Modernist Kitchen,” the second table is “Inexpensive but Invaluable Modernist Tools,” and the third lists “Classic Tools for Modernist Cooks.” Perhaps more important, the book explains what we looked for in the equipment and why, so the reader can make better choices when deciding if and what to buy.
Amyrainey: How have you managed the online movement that’s formed around Modernist Cuisine? How do you plan to leverage this enthusiasm?
Nathan: I’m not sure we’re managing it so much as participating in it and nurturing it. Modernist Cuisine came about largely as a result of my involvement in online forums, so we made a commitment to remain engaged online throughout the project and beyond. We are very active and engaged on our blog at modernistcuisine.com and on Facebook and Twitter, where we invite your comments!
SunaG: Is molecular gastronomy just fancy processed food?
Nathan: This is a topic I have covered extensively on the blog, but the short answer is that it depends on your definition of processed and fancy. All food is processed in one way or another: from picking it off the vine or digging it out of the ground to butchering and cooking. Contrary to popular belief, making even the simplest bread is a highly complex process. Everyone is free to assign arbitrary values to the type and amount of processing they prefer. I would simply suggest that these values are, in fact, arbitrary.
Autumnlerner: What are your thoughts on the raw food movement and Modernist cuisine? Compatible?
Nathan: Again, this depends largely on your definition of raw. The book covers everything from foods that are prepared and served cold to dishes that undergo multiple cooking stages to achieve a range of doneness within a single food. But to address your question, the Modernist and raw food movements are entirely compatible as long as people can eat what they want. And at various points in the book we do explain a variety of techniques, such as marination, that can achieve cooked textures without the application of heat.
Dakini_3: Can Modernist cuisine be vegetarian and sustainable?
Nathan: Sure. Modernist techniques can be used to create foods with so many flavors and textures that any single ingredient can be completely avoided without sacrificing taste. In fact one of the advantages of using modern ingredients is the new paths it provides to familiar culinary destinations. For example we have recipes in the book for a vegan pistachio gelato and for “meat” made of watermelon, as well as fantastic recipes for homemade tofus.
The issue of sustainability has more to do with how and where the ingredients you select are produced than with how they are prepared. We encourage cooks to make sustainable decisions before they even enter the kitchen.
Mrsmoy: How can Modernist cooking be applied to hunger relief (if at all)?
Nathan: This is an interesting question to which I don’t have a ready answer. There does seem to be some potential for improving the safety, nutrition, and storage life of the available food, but this aspect would benefit from the attention of expert chefs who are familiar with Modernist techniques and ingredients.
Joepavey: What’s the biggest science cooking disaster you’ve had?
Nathan: Well, it wasn’t a big disaster for me personally because I wasn’t the victim, but getting the shot of food being flung above the wok was a painful experience for Max! Let’s just say a fire extinguisher was involved.
Larry_B: What about food safety and typical sous vide temperatures?
Nathan: This is another issue that we cover at length in the book and on the blog, in part because some of our findings conflict with conventional wisdom and even some FDA recommendations. The short answer is that sous vide cooking is completely safe if done properly. For the (much) longer answer, you’ll have to buy the book. Scientific American recently published a lengthy excerpt from our chapter on Food Safety Rules that explains some of the reasons we find certain FDA and USDA recommendations to be problematic.