Foodies Gone Geek

Dr. Nathan Myhrvold’s presentation at the International Food Bloggers Convention (IFBC) today appeared to be a big hit with the food bloggers in attendance today. Despite the rather scientific nature of the book and the presentation, the audience seemed engaged throughout. The high speed, high definition videos and high resolution photographs elicited cheers from the audience who demanded to see some of them again.

After the presentation, the audience had questions ranging from the definition of an emulsion to the source of the parasites pictured in the book. After the conference organizer stopped the question and answer session in the interest of time, bloggers lined up to talk to Nathan until the next presentation began.

Look for a more detailed account of Nathan’s presentation in a few days. Meanwhile, here are a few photos.

The MC team at work

When Food Words Fail

Is food blogging its own unique art? The short answer is yes, as I discovered during Kathleen Flinn’s “Writing With All Five Senses” workshop today. This IFBC workshop was packed with professional food bloggers who seemed to have no problem with the seemingly simple exercise of describing a lemon. A few bloggers read their descriptions aloud for the group. The ones that drew applause were reminiscent of romantic poetry, complete with sensual double entendres and emotional descriptions about…the experience of seeing a lemon. “I think porn writing and food writing at their best are very similar,” said Flinn after a particularly suggestive description.

Each exercise (touch, smell, sound, and taste) elicited emotionally descriptive and evocative musings from the audience. I eventually stopped trying to compete and just listened to what the others were writing. That, as it turned out, was the overarching message of the workshop.

“Pay attention to every moment of your life,” said Flinn in her summation of the session. “You must love something about food to be a food blogger. Challenge yourself to embrace even more something you love, because it is so easy to get caught up in feeding the beast.”

This reminded me of something one of the chefs at The Cooking Lab told me yesterday. As I watched the chefs prepare dishes for this week’s IFBC events (look for videos of this here later), I asked Max if the average person’s palate was sophisticated enough for them to distinguish and describe the complex sensations associated with what I was eating. “Well,” he said with a polite smile. “We may have to learn how to describe all of the flavors and textures we experience when we eat, but we are born knowing how to taste.”

As the subtitle of Modernist Cuisine suggests, cooking is as much art as science. This is true of eating as well. But while science can help a chef express his or her artistic vision of a meal, the eater needs to neither know the science behind it nor have the words to describe it to enjoy the result.

Turning lemons porn?

The Cooking Lab Reception

Last night, the authors of Modernist Cuisine hosted a small demonstration and reception at The Cooking Lab, where the book was created. (I say “created” rather than “written” because the book contains more original art and research than some universities — but that is for another post). In attendance were approximately 30 food bloggers, many in town for the International Food Bloggers Convention (IFBC) which kicks off later today. I will leave the coverage of the reception itself to the other bloggers for now, but you can see a copy of the menu here. I personally am still thinking about the ultrasonic fries and pressure-cooked grits.

The authors — Nathan, Chris, and Max — clearly enjoyed the passion and energy of the assembled group. Nathan was constantly surrounded by a group three people deep, who barraged him with questions about everything from metallurgy to physics. Chris engaged in detailed and thoughtful conversations with smaller groups and individual bloggers. I overheard a few guests ask, “You did WHAT to that cherry?” (You probably had to be there to really appreciate that, but the authors created a delicious foie gras that looked like a cherry.) Max, who happily conversed and entertained from the kitchen side of the lab, said of the evening, “Every conversation I had was meaningful.”

Don’t get me wrong. This wasn’t a social gathering of the book’s or the authors’ fans; they were food writers and connoisseurs. They asked some tough questions and pressed for their answers. But they did so out of what appeared to be genuine interest. The conversations I saw struck me as in-person analogues of the sincere and bidirectional online interactions on which the IFBC is based.

But you needn’t take my word for it. If you are in Seattle and happen to be registered for IFBC, stop by the Modernist Cuisine display on Friday night and see for yourself. The first 50 or so attendees to stop by for a taste of our caramelized carrot soup with young ginger, licorice root, and carotene butter, will also receive a sample booklet to take home to the family. See you there!

New Excerpt!

We have made a 20-page excerpt from Modernist Cuisine available for download. This section tells the story of the book and provides insight into why we created it and the philosophy that guided us in designing and writing it. The excerpt also discusses how we made the photographs and offers a few illustrations of the recipes to explain how our recipe formats work. We hope you enjoy it.


Welcome to our web site!

It is very exciting to have our web site go online so that we can share our project with the world. We have been working away for years on the project, and are nearing completion. The web site is a great milestone. It lets us show off a tiny bit of what is in the book.

The site is a work in progress, so expect that we’ll add features and content over time. We have been putting so much effort into the book itself that it was hard to find time for the web site. As the book heads off to the printers, we’ll have some more time to lavish on the site, but we’re pretty tied up for the next few weeks.

Right now, we have a lot of pages to proofread! Galley proofs are coming in, and a million last-minute details need to be handled. This will consume most of our energy, but I will try to post updates here as I find the time.