Introducing Modernist Cuisine at Home

When it comes to cooking techniques, the classics are well covered. But the latest and greatest techniques, developed by the most innovative chefs in the world, were largely undocumented until we and Chris Young, along with the rest of our team, published Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking in 2011. At six volumes and 2,438 pages, it wasn’t an ordinary cookbook. Many people were skeptical that it would interest a wide audience.

As it turned out, Modernist Cuisine sold out of its first printing within weeks; it is now in its fourth printing. The book has been translated into French, German, and Spanish. It has been reviewed in thousands of news articles. Long discussion threads about the book on the eGullet Internet forum have been viewed more than 300,000 times.

We often get the question “Isn’t this book only for professionals?” The answer is no; we wrote and designed Modernist Cuisine for anybody who is passionate and curious about cooking. As hundreds of blogs and forum postings show, many amateurs have embraced the book. Of the 1,800 or so recipes in it, probably half could be made in any home kitchen. That number rises to perhaps two-thirds or three-quarters for those willing to buy some new equipment (for cooking sous vide, for example).

The remaining recipes are indeed challenging— even for professionals. We felt that many food enthusiasts would like to be on the front lines of culinary innovation and get a chance to understand the state of the art, even if they couldn’t execute every recipe. At the same time, we realized that we had the right team and resources to bring the Modernist cuisine revolution to an even wider audience of home cooks by developing less complex recipes that require less expensive equipment. The result is this book, Modernist Cuisine at Home (in-stores October 8, 2012).

Although we kept Modernist Cuisine in the title, this new book is not a condensed version of its predecessor. If you want to learn about food safety, microbiology, the history of foie gras cultivation, or hundreds of other topics, Modernist Cuisine is still the book to turn to.

This book focuses on cooking equipment, techniques, and recipes. Part One details tools, ingredients, and cooking gear that we think are worth having. Equipment once available only to professional chefs or scientists is now being manufactured for the home kitchen; we encourage you to try it. But we also show you how to get by without fancy appliances, such as how to cook fish sous vide in your kitchen sink and how to cook steak in a picnic cooler.

Part Two contains 406 recipes, all of which are new. In some cases, we took popular Modernist Cuisine recipes— Caramelized Carrot Soup (see page 178), Mac and Cheese (see page 310), and Striped Mushroom Omelet (see page 148)—and developed simpler versions. In general, the food is less formal; you’ll find recipes for Crispy Skinless Chicken Wings (see page 254) and Grilled Cheese Sandwiches (see page 318).

What’s the same as Modernist Cuisine is our focus on quality in both the information in the book and in the way it is presented. You’ll find stunning cutaways of equipment, step-by-step photos for most recipes, and ingredients measured in grams (because every serious cook should have a scale). We use the same high-quality paper, printing, and binding that we did for Modernist Cuisine. The kitchen manual is again printed on washable, waterproof paper. We hope that in following the vision we set out to accomplish with our first book, we have created a great experience for home chefs who want an introduction to Modernist cuisine.

Pre-order now to get the book delivered on October 8, 2012

Frequently Asked Questions

Press Kit

Read more about Modernist Cuisine at Home

The Kitchen as Laboratory

The late Oxford physicist Nicholas Kurti is best known for conducting cooling experiments that came within a millionth of a degree of absolute zero (-459 °F / -273 °C), the temperature at which the motions within atoms cease.

A less-celebrated endeavor–but one of equal achievement in our minds–is the collection of essays on the science of food that he published with his wife, Giana, in 1988. But the Crackling Is Superb: An Anthology on Food and Drink by Fellows and Foreign Members of the Royal Society was one of the earliest efforts to bring the scrutiny of scientific minds to bear on the ordinary miracle of cooking. Along with Harold McGee, we can thank Kurti for insisting that the culinary arts are a worthy subject for science, a position that was unpopular before now.

And we do thank Kurti, by name, in a chapter we wrote for an anthology published earlier this year: The Kitchen as Laboratory: Reflections on the Science of Food and Cooking. Our chapter on cryo-cooked duck combines two of Kurti’s favorite themes: low-temperature physics and crispy, crackling skin. Although Kurti never visited The Cooking Lab, we couldn’t have done it without him.

Like our chapter on cryo-cooked duck, the book itself is an homage to Kurti, lovingly assembled by editors César Vega, Job Ubbink, and Erik van der Linden. I’m proud to say I knew César way back when he was getting a Ph.D. in food science at the University College Cork, Ireland. He applied for an internship at The Fat Duck’s Experimental Kitchen, where I was founding chef; and, even in our first brief phone conversation, his knowledge, commitment, and passion impressed me. We’ve stayed in touch ever since.

César and his colleagues collect a variety of essays and share myriad opinions. There are gastrophilic discussions of spherification, mouthfeel, and xanthan gum, along with treatises on the interactions among food, society, and ethnic cuisines, all of which integrate the senses into the eating and cooking experience.

For example, food physicist Malcolm Povey of Leeds University, who awakened me to the importance of sound in making delectable fish and chips, described the acoustical experiments by which he arrived at “the universal definition of crispiness.” Chemist and Khymos blogger Martin Lersch expounds on how and why to speed up the Maillard reaction.

Alex Talbot and Aki Kamozawa of Ideas in Food devote a chapter to the perfect chocolate-chip cookie dough (the secret ingredient isn’t an ingredient at all but a technique: vacuum sealing). In a closing chapter, Micheal Laiskonis, executive pastry chef at Le Bernardin, cautions against the fevered following of trends and gimmicks in science-based cooking and calls for a renewed investigation of basic processes and ingredients.

Other essay topics run the gamut from insights on familiar, beloved foodstuffs (e.g., grilled cheese, soft-boiled eggs, bacon) to explanations on more exotic fare (e.g., pig trotters, “fox testicle” ice cream). Needless to say about its 32 chapters, The Kitchen as Laboratory has something for every pastry maker, butcher, scientist, professional chef, home cook, restaurateur, and food enthusiast.

We are honored to have our work included among these fun and fascinating explorations. Kudos to César and his co-editors for building on Nicholas Kurti’s legacy, in print and in the laboratory of the kitchen.

Glow-in-the-Dark Gummies

When Wired magazine asked us if it would be possible to tweak our Olive Oil Gummy Worm recipe so that the finished product would glow in the dark, we knew we had to try. Research chef Johnny Zhu whipped up a batch that week, and when they were set, we all stood around nervously dimming lights and setting up a black light. What was there to be nervous about? We knew the science behind glow-in-the-dark success (quinine), but we always get anxious when we’re about to find out if one of our experiments is a success. We needn’t have worried though. They glowed: oh man, did they glow!

Check out the recipe on or in the June 2012 print edition to find out where we sourced the quinine. You might be surprised to learn that you have some already in your fridge or behind your wet bar.

For a step-by-step video on how to make the regular worms, see the recipe page in our library.

My First Memphis in May

In 1991, I was reading an article about a guy, John Willingham, who had won the World Championship of Barbecue—multiple times, and at multiple championships (like many cult followings, barbecue is claimed by many, so which contest is the definitive World Championship is still up for debate). The most interesting part of the article to me was that he claimed that the key to his whole success was his amazing barbecue cooker, which he had invented. I decided right away that I needed to have one of those cookers.

I called him up and soon discovered what an amazing character he is; he’s a really smart businessman. At the end of our conversation he said, “Well, I’m not going to sell you a cooker unless I get a nondisclosure agreement.”

So I said, “Okay, send me one.” He sent me this five-page legal nondisclosure agreement, which I signed and sent back. It was all pretty standard. Some people might be put off at this point, but I am familiar with NDAs because we use them all the time in the technology world.

The next thing I knew, FedEx delivered a refrigerated box of ribs to my house. It included instructions, which I followed exactly, on how to cook the ribs. These were the best ribs I’ve ever had in my life. At this point, the guy had me totally hooked.

So I called him back and said, “Okay, I’m ready to buy a cooker.”

But John told me, “Well, I won’t sell a cooker to someone I don’t like. In fact, I won’t sell a cooker to most of my friends.”

We had about a three-hour phone interview in which I had to justify that I was worthy of acquiring a cooker. He also had concerns about the rainy weather in Seattle, and how that would affect the cooker. In the end, I did get my cooker, and with it I made the best ribs I’d ever made. But they weren’t as good as John’s. So I tried again, and I tried again, and I called him on the phone. Clearly, I was not quite getting all the elements together.

Exasperated, I said, “John, why don’t I just come down to Memphis and maybe you can teach me.”

He said, “Oh, that’s great. Why don’t you come down in May. We have a little contest coming.”

On my way there I thought, okay, I’m going to have a couple hours of barbecue instruction, and then I’m going to go over to Beale Street and hear some jazz, and then maybe I’ll tour Graceland, and then I’ll go home. It’ll be pretty straightforward, a fun weekend. Well, it turned out his little contest was the Memphis in May World Championship of Barbecue Cooking Contest.

John handed me an apron and said, “You’re on the team; it’s the only way you’ll learn.”

For three days I cooked for 16 hours a day (this was before I went to La Varenne or had even worked in a restaurant kitchen). It was an incredibly intense experience; I trussed a whole hog for the first time in my life. I trimmed about 300 pounds of ribs. Ultimately, they put me in charge of two dishes: one for the pasta category and one for the “anything but pork” category. We made smoked pasta and decided to use ostrich for the “anything but pork.” We won first place for both those dishes, amazingly enough! We also won Best Team Overall. John and his team deserve all of the credit, of course. I was just this weird technology guy who they took under their wing.

I have to say though, my barbecue did get better. Maybe not as good as John’s, but I’m still working on it.

The Memphis in May World Championship of Barbecue will be held this year from May 17 to 19.

MC Just Won the James Beard Award!

“Too few people understand a really good sandwich.” –James Beard

Given the quote above, we hoped that James Beard would appreciate our Ultimate Burger, and consider us to be knowledgeable in our understanding of “a really good sandwich.” It was with the enthusiasm of creativity and scientific discovery that we set out to find, not just the perfect burger, but everything! Before publishing Modernist Cuisine, there wasn’t anything like it. There was no precedent to go on. We chose to self-publish because publishing houses would only agree to a limited print run and great oversight. We published the book that we, as scientists and chefs, wanted. And it paid off. We have sold 45,000 copies in a little more than a year. And while I am greatly pleased with the response, the eminently prestigious James Beard Award is a validation of our efforts that conveys so much more than sales numbers. We are greatly honored to have received both the awards for “Professional Cooking” as well as “Cookbook of the Year.”

There is no better time than when receiving an award to publicly thank people. My coauthors, Chris Young and Maxime Bilet; photographer, Ryan Matthew Smith; and editor-in-chief, Wayt Gibbs, are just a few of the three dozen people who worked on this book. Others include our staff chefs, Grant Crilly, Johnny Zhu, Anjana Shanker, Sam Fahey-Burke; assistant photographer, Melissa Lehuta; art director, Mark Clemens; public relations representatives, Shelby Barnes, Amy Hatch, and Carrie Bachman; editors and editorial assistants, Karen Wright, Ellen Kurek, Tracy Cutchlow, and Daniel McCoy; and publishing advisors, Mark Pearson and Bruce Harris.

That’s not to even mention the expert reviewers and professionals who provided their expertise and advice. Among them are Ferran Adrià, Heston Blumenthal, David Chang, Kyle Connaughton, Srinivasan Damodaran, Eric Dickinson, Wylie Dufresne, James Hoffmann, David Kinch, David Julian McClements, Harold McGee, Donald Mottram, Joan Roca, Ted Russin, Jeffrey Steingarten, and Cesar Vega. If that’s not enough, dozens of other chefs provided recipes that we adapted or inspired us.

The competition for the James Beard Award was stiff this year. For “Cookbook of the Year” there were many, many cookbooks that could have easily won. Just in the “Cooking from a Professional Point of View” category we were up against the excellent Eleven Madison Park and The Art of Living According to Joe Beef. But we always knew we had an edge, and would crush the competition with the weight of our volumes, if nothing else.