When I began writing Modernist Cuisine, I had several goals in mind: to explore the scientific principles behind cooking, to explain the latest Modernist techniques from the top restaurants around the world, and to punctuate the collection with stunning visuals. Nearly every review that came in cited our photography; even commenters who took issue with the Modernist approach or found the book too long or daunting praised the photos and illustrations.
I think we owed that enthusiastic reception, in part, to the fact that our photography stood out as distinctive in a world crowded with food imagery. We created cutaway photos that offer dramatic views inside previously hidden realms of cooking. We stepped away from recent trends in food photography, which have long seemed to me to focus more on the ambiance than the actual food, and shot our dishes on black and white backgrounds that highlight the beauty inherent in the subjects. We also deployed a wide range of photographic techniques, such as compositing, microscopy, macro photography, and diffuse lighting, to create photos that are informative as well as visually interesting.
This approach required extra time, effort, and money, but it was worth it. I love photography as much as I love food and cooking. It’s been a passion of mine for as long as cooking has (since grade school)!
Soon after the publication of our second cookbook, Modernist Cuisine at Home, I started thinking more seriously about the hundreds of thousands of photos that my team and I have made and collected over the years’ those that made it into the volumes of our books and the many more that didn’t. I decided to showcase them in a new way by creating a book dedicated to the images themselves.
We pored over our vast photo library and ultimately selected 405 photos for our book, The Photography of Modernist Cuisine. Of those images, 145 are presented full-bleed across one or two full pages. As we look at these images, it’s hard to resist the temptation to comment on their backstories, to share some of the scientific, culinary, or photographic context to the image. We didn’t want to add captions on the images that would distract from their impact, so we have instead included a chapter in the back of the book that presents some short but interesting backstory for each photo. Readers who dip into that section will learn, for example, how I coaxed crystals of vitamin C to produce a kaleidoscopic explosion of colors, how we use enzymes to remove the peel from the tender juice sacs of a grapefruit, or how you can quickly turn fresh herbs into a crispy snack or garnish in your microwave oven.
We also included a chapter that reveals, in a very visual way, all of the major methods that we used to make these images. From cut-in-half kettle grills to levitating hamburgers, we explain how it was done. We even have a few pages on how to get the best food shots in restaurants if all you have handy is a point-and-shoot camera or a camera phone. While we were at it, we cut a camera lens in half to illustrate how it works.
One thing you won’t find in our new book is a single recipe. When I first told friends about our new project, they thought it was a nice idea, but asked, “Of course, you’re going to have a few recipes, right?”
No. This is a photo book. If you’d like to try our recipes, and we hope you will, please check out our other books, or click here.
In 2011 Modernist Cuisine tested the then dubious proposition that people would buy a six-volume cookbook. The Photography of Modernist Cuisine is a similar experiment: Will others share our desire for an art-quality book that immerses readers in vistas of food that are familiar, yet profoundly new? I hope that readers will be drawn to our photos and will share with us the child-like wonder and curiosity that we feel when we look at them.
The Photography of Modernist Cuisine will be released October 22, 2013.