Chris Young to Speak at Chicago Ideas Week

MC coauthor Chris Young will speak at Chicago Ideas Week about a topic we have a lot of ideas about: food. Even more fittingly, he will be presenting the Modernist Cuisine perspective at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art. Chris will discuss how food “shapes our cities, our culture, and our bodies.” The line-up of speakers includes:

  • Colin Archipley: Co-Owner & CEO, Archi’s Acres
  • Karen Archipley: Co-Owner & Marketing Director, Archi’s Acres
  • Faith D’Aluisio: Former Award-Winning Television News Producer
  • Peter Menzel: Photojournalist, What I Eat: Around the World in 80 Diets
  • Kevin Pang: Reporter, Chicago Tribune
  • Ryan Poli: Executive Chef/Partner, Tavernita
  • Chris Young: Chef-Scientist & Coauthor, Modernist Cuisine

The event is Saturday, October 15, 2011, from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Click here for tickets and more information.

For information about other MC events and appearances by the authors, head over to our events page.

And the Nominees Are…

We are pleased to announce that Modernist Cuisine author Nathan Myhrvold has been nominated for an innovation award at this year’s International Chefs Congress in the category for contribution to American cuisine.

While it’s always an honor just to be nominated, we are especially proud considering the steep competition. The full list of nominees includes:

John Besh
Daniel Boulud
Nathan Myhrvold
Marcus Samuelsson
Alice Waters

Wish us luck! And if you are going to this year’s Congress, be sure to check out MC coauthor Chris Young’s presentation on Monday, October 3, at 4:30 p.m.

A Visit to Uwajimaya

Recently, we took a camera with us on a trip to Uwajimaya, a local Asian grocery store (the one in Bellevue, WA is pictured at right). Most urban or suburban areas have myriad specialty ethnic markets where all sorts of great food can be found. Here, we have focused on the produce, some of which is seasonal.

Yes, green mangoes really are different than regular mangoes!


You can get kabocha squashes elsewhere, but can you beat this price?


Get your zucchini blossoms for beignets (see page 5·153) while you still can!


Kaffir and makrud lime leaves are the same thing.


Young ginger and curry leaves are musts for many of our recipes.


Our recipe for barbecued eel with whipped caramel (see page 4·283) calls for store-bought barbecued eel.


We found an assortment of hot peppers, both fresh and dried.


A few of our recipes call for Tokyo negi, such as yakitori (see page 3·201).

How to Hyperdecant Your Wine

MC author Nathan Myhrvold has an article in this week’s issue of Bloomberg Businessweek, which features their first annual “How To” guide. The topic: how to “hyperdecant” wine with a blender.

It may strike traditionalists as a little nuts, but as explained in more detail in Modernist Cuisine (see pages 4·342-344), a quick pass through a blender can bring out the best of even a fine 1982 Château Margaux. In the article, Nathan also explains how to set up a proper “blind” taste test so that you can judge the results for yourself.

See Us in Action!

Maxime Bilet, Chris Young, and Nathan Myhrvold.

With so many upcoming talks, presentations, classes, and demonstrations, we’ve added an Events page. We’ll also blog about events as we add author appearances to the schedule.

Today, we’re happy to announce that MC coauthors Nathan Myhrvold and Maxime Bilet will be appearing at The Restaurant Show in London on Monday, October 10, 2011, at 2:00 p.m. GST. Click here for more details.

We also have two new events with Sur La Table coming up. At the first, Nathan will turn up at the Sur La Table stall at the Los Angeles Farmers Market on Thursday, October 20. The second event, on Monday, November 14, will feature both Nathan and Max at Sur La Table’s SoHo location in New York City.

In the Recipe Library: Striped Mushroom Omelet, Explained

The final plated dish is filled with siphoned scrambled eggs and mushroom marmalade.

We’ve included a new recipe in our Recipe Library. This time we’re taking a look at our increasingly famous Striped Mushroom Omelet. Along with the recipe for the omelet base, we’ve also posted the recipes for the mushroom puree and siphoned scrambled egg components. Watch our video and check out our tips, and you’ll be well on your way to making the most impressive breakfast your family has ever seen.

If you register and choose to receive our e-mails, you’ll get these recipes sent straight to your inbox a few days in advance. You can join the discussion on our forum, too!

Our Urban Herbs

Between grilling ribs, making rare beef jus, tossing pizza dough, and duties as the resident barrista (really, he makes the best macchiatos!), our Culinary Research Assistant Grant Crilly recently discussed one of his other roles at the The Cooking Lab: gardener.

Tell me about the system you set up for growing herbs outside The Cooking Lab.

We plant all of our herbs in burlap coffee bean sacks. You can get them for free from just about any coffee bean roaster. Each bag lasts only for about a season, but they work well for both holding moisture in and for drainage purposes. We put them on pallets, so they don’t rot at the bottom. They’re just regular shipping pallets, but they create a nice circulation underneath the bags.

Tell me about the hoses you have set up for watering.

It’s an automatic drip system, which is set up to drip for 60 minutes every four hours for an 18-hour period throughout the night. You don’t want it to drip during the day because you’ll lose most of the water to evaporation and you can even burn some of the plants on a sunny day.

Do you use any fertilizer?

We use compost. It’s all from Cedar Grove. That’s the local waste management composting company. All of the compostable waste from our building goes to Cedar Grove actually, most of the compostable organic waste from the Seattle area goes to Cedar Grove. They then turn it into actual compost.

You don’t really do much in the way of trimming the plants back, do you?

No, we don’t trim like in a normal garden because we want the blossoms and flowers and everything. We use those. And the bees like them! We just do some general weeding.

The garden is between the Lab’s building and the parking lot, which isn’t a lot of space. Would you say you could do this on, say, an apartment balcony?

Yeah, you can do this anywhere. The nice thing about this system is that you can adjust the size. You can do one bag; you can do a hundred bags. And you can move them around. We used to have garden beds out there, but this system works better because if one plant is done for the season, you can take it out, scrap it, and get a new bag for a different plant to replace it.

Tell me about the cherry tomatoes.

This year has been a rough one for tomatoes in the Pacific Northwest. We grow two types of tomatoes out there: Sweet 100s and Sun Golds.

Some of these herbs I recognize, some I don’t. For instance, I see more than one kind of thyme and basil.

Yeah, there’s a few different types of thyme. There’s a French thyme, and then a lemon thyme. There’s a little bush thyme, but we don’t really use that. The thyme grows like crazy. There are a few different basils, too: a globe basil and a green basil and a purple basil. And then there’s a Pistou, which is a petite basil.

What are some of the more interesting or unusual herbs you grow?

We grow pineapple sage. If you grab it and mush it real quick, it smells like pineapple. Stevia is interesting: it is like pure sugar. It’s the only zero-calorie sugar. It’s super sugary. It’s like eating a whole thing of Bubblicious bubble gum. We grow salsify. We have cute little purple carrots.

You grow chamomile, right?

We used up our Roman chamomile during the last Lab dinner in Max’s sherry reduction for the spot prawns course. Chamomile also has a dry floral component like sherry; they match up really well. Max infuses it in the sauce at the last second. So what you see now, that’s pennyroyal: it looks kind of similar. We use it to flavor broths or serve with fish. It dries on the bud, but we use it fresh or dried. It’s good fresh, but we like to flavor things with the dried pennyroyal.

So, do you really grow enough of each herb to use?

No, we use them for garnishes and stuff like that. We’re not using them for substantial amounts of food. But as a garnish, they bring our dishes a nice freshness.

What are you going to be doing this time of year to prepare for the winter?

Rip everything out, pretty much. Just let it be dirt for a couple of months.

In the springtime, when you put the dirt in a new bag, will you actually dump it out or put the whole bag in a new bag?

You can’t really do that because the bags are so tender, they will start to decompose a little bit. So you have to dump everything out and put it back in there. But you’ll want to do that anyway because you want to rip the old plants out and loosen up the soil. And start over. Get new sacks. Plant new stuff.

Even though some of the herbs would come back?

Yeah, some would, like the mint. Most of the mint and chives are from last year. But it’s getting too out of hand. It’s getting crazy.

So it’s time to restart?


Tipping the Balance

When Nathan began seriously thinking about Modernist Cuisine, he was adamant about one aspect of the recipes: they would all be measured by weight. At The Cooking Lab, we believe that precise measuring by weight is the only way to ensure a dish turns out accurately every time.

The other day, Farhad Manjoo published an article–almost a plea, really–in The New York Times advocating for more cooks and cookbooks to toss their cups and spoons and use kitchen scales instead.

While he doesn’t mention hydrocolloids, or other Modernist ingredients that can change a recipe if off by just 0.1 gram, he does give this anecdote in defense of scales:

J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, the managing editor of the blog Serious Eats, once asked 10 people to measure a cup of all-purpose flour into a bowl. When the cooks were done, Mr. Lopez-Alt weighed each bowl. “Depending on how strong you are or your scooping method, I found that a ‘cup of flour’ could be anywhere from 4 to 6 ounces,” he said. That’s a significant difference: one cook might be making a cake with one-and-a-half times as much flour as another.

We ran into the same problem during the production of MC when we wanted to give a table of average volume measurements for people who did not own a scale. Yet despite all of our efforts, it is impossible when working with solid ingredients to consistently obtain a given number of grams simply by measuring the volume. The ingredient dimensions, the force with which you fill the measure, and the natural shifts in water and solid content all contribute to inconsistent measurements; there just isn’t any practical way to replicate these factors every time.

Manjoo explains why we don’t see many recipes giving quantities in grams or ounces, despite all of the evidence that everything from carrots to hydrocolloids needs to be measured by weight:

Yet the scale has failed to become a must-have tool in American kitchens. Cook’s Illustrated magazine said scales were in the kitchens of only a third of its readers, and they’re a fairly committed group of cooks.

There’s a simple reason for this: The scale doesn’t show up in most published recipes. American cookbooks, other than baking books, and magazines and newspapers generally specify only cup and spoon measurements for ingredients. A few, like Cook’s Illustrated, offer weights for baking recipes, but not for savory cooking. (The Times Dining section recently began using weight measurements with baking recipes.)

This creates a chicken-and-egg problem for the kitchen scale. Cooks don’t own scales because recipes don’t call for one, and recipes don’t call for one because cooks don’t own one.

Many people argue that they prefer to cook by feel: they don’t measure because they don’t need to. But they are making recipes that they know, and they have acquired a sense of taste and confidence in the kitchen through a significant period of trial and error. The truth is professional chefs, bakers, and pastry artists often do things by feel, too, but only because they have gained such a breadth of experience beforehand.

Because we wrote our book to teach people and to empower them with accurate information, we saw it as fundamentally important to give them the precision of a weight for every ingredient (the sole exception we made is for final fine adjustments to seasonings that are highly dependent on the individual taste of the cook). People who are learning how to cook and follow a recipe according to volume often end up disappointed by failure and can end up losing interest in cooking; that is a terrible shame when it happens.

We are hopeful that more cook­book authors will embrace this philosophy. Good scales are cheaper and easier to find than ever, and we hope they find their way into all modern kitchens. You can read all about them on pages 1·94-95 and 4·41 of Modernist Cuisine, and find our recommendations in our Modernist gear guide.

Why a Book Was Needed

In this video, Nathan passionately explains the need he perceived and is trying to fill with Modernist Cuisine. You may have heard his story before: having realized that no book included all of the science, techniques, and information out there on Modernist cooking, he strove to create the ultimate guide, including the best high-tech techniques from world-renowned chefs. But it’s different hearing Nathan tell it; his enthusiasm is catching. We bet you’ll be running to your set of books in no time.

If you would prefer to watch this video on YouTube, you can view it here.