We could never do what we do without the support of an incredible team of people. Over the years, numerous chefs, photographers, editors, researchers, and machinists have contributed to our endeavors at The Cooking Lab. They don’t always get the recognition they deserve for all of their hard work, so we’re starting a “Spotlight” series that allows members of The Cooking Lab to share what it’s like to work here, from their perspective. –Nathan Myhrvold
I went to the University of Washington for a degree in linguistics, but my track was actually premedicine. I worked in bioengineering research for about 2 1/2 years and was planning on getting an MD, or possibly going into an MD/PhD program. But then I took the summer off and enrolled in a few cooking classes. I wasn’t planning on going to culinary school full-time, but I did. I fell in love with the craft of cooking, with the very idea of it.
I had heard a little bit about Nathan Myhrvold and his Modernist Cuisine project before I even started culinary school, but at that time, it was still supposedly focused solely on sous vide. Then when MC came out, some of the team from The Cooking Lab came to my school. Max brought Johnny and some of the other staff chefs to do demonstrations, but they were also talking about their pedigrees and where they had worked. There just aren’t a lot of chefs in Seattle who can tout the same lineage of restaurants in which they have worked.
I really wanted to pursue that Modernist experience, but I wanted to do so locally, and there really weren’t a lot of restaurants around here that were doing it, at least not as well as the top-tier Modernist restaurants. Sure, we did things here and there at The Harvest Vine, where I worked for two years, such as playing with a couple of gels and foaming agents like soy lecithin, etc., but we didn’t really delve into the concept or philosophy of Modernist cuisine. It was more about utility. So when Max mentioned they might have work, I jumped on it.
I really wanted to come here to get grounded in the philosophy of the Modernist movement and to work with some of the best. A number of Modernist chefs like Ferran Adrià, and even Max and Nathan, talk about Modernist cuisine as a language. I have a deep interest in linguistics, which is probably why their explanations appeal to me. In Modernist cooking, just as in every language, there’s definitely structure–an architecture, if you will–but there’s also nuance. There are myriad ways to convey one particular thing. Many people think of Modernist cuisine as technique-driven, but, at least as I practice it, it is really more philosophical. It’s much more fluid. It’s the idea of creativity. It’s searching for purity, for perfection in any dish, whether it’s classical or completely novel. That’s rare, in any realm of life. That’s what I take away from my time of working with the team: the sort of philosophy of Modernist cuisine, more than any technique such as pressure cooking or sous vide. Most importantly, I’ve learned to keep an absolutely open mind. To stretch beyond technique.
I think that that will serve me in my next step, which is to stage for a few months at L’Agapé Substance in Paris. It is a Modernist restaurant, but rooted deeply in classical French cooking. When you go into a new restaurant as a chef, you are not necessarily thinking of which technique to bring. You are there to be imbued in what they’re doing and to understand it. Pushing boundaries, keeping an open mind, and always striving for perfection will help me bridge tradition and modernity. These are all Modernist principles, and all things I learned while at The Cooking Lab.
Aaron Verzosa joined the team as an intern fresh out of culinary school. He had written me a very passionate and sincere letter describing his connection with Modernist cuisine and his desire to contribute in a very meaningful way. Over the past year, Aaron has more than lived up to that promise and has blossomed into a very talented chef. He is now off on a journey that is important for every young chef, and I have no doubt he will continue to hone his creative culinary potential. –Maxime Bilet, Head Chef, The Cooking Lab