During promotional events for Modernist Cuisine, we are often asked what exactly we do all day. While one might imagine that our days are filled with whimsical experimentation coupled with high-tech gadgets and mysterious powders, the reality of this project is that a book needs to be written and that book needs data.
So, the short answer to what we do all day is that we provide data for the 1,000+ recipes and step-by-step procedures contained in the book. This information includes the numbers, percentages, ratios, and recipes for the plethora of formulations and tables that supplement the body text of Modernist Cuisine.
In this three-part article series, I will describe the process by which we developed our recipes, staged the photographs, and tirelessly captured the parametric data for the book. This first installment will discuss our recipe development process.
Inside The Lab with the Modernist Cuisine Kitchen Team: Recipe Development
Over the last three years, we have developed hundreds of recipes in our test kitchen. Most of these recipes have been either adapted from or inspired by various chefs and styles of food. But beyond inspiration, our goal with these recipes has always been to put our own unique Modernist take on them. Whether we improved upon the methods used or completely restructured the dish, we always sought to provide something novel in our approach to every recipe.
The recipe selection and development process evolved over time. Initially, Chris and Max worked together closely with Nathan to assemble an initial plan of recipes that dovetail with the body text to illustrate all the various cooking techniques and ingredients discussed in the book, and that also fit together to form highly appealing plated dishes.
That recipe plan was refined and elaborated extensively as the research kitchen staff grew. In 2009, the recipe development and testing process evolved into its final form. That process usually begins when Maxime, after hours of research and consultation with Nathan, presents the rest of the kitchen team with a dish that inspired us. We are then collectively given the assignment of finding a way to redefine and refine the technique(s) in which the inspired dish is approached.
For example, several months ago, we were asked to make a Modernist ham and cheese omelet. We already knew there were certain components that we wanted treated a certain way. For instance, the omelets filling would consist of finely diced ham and cheese, but it would also contain a siphoned scrambled egg with a silky smooth consistency.
After many trials, we finally found the perfect temperature and time for cooking the eggs sous vide, in such a way that the finished eggs were still fluid, but not sticky. From there, we moved on to the omelets skin, which we found to be ideally tender when baked in a steam oven at around 82 °C / 179 °F.
In short, we began with a vision of the model traditional omelet (specifically, a fluffy un-caramelized skin with a moist filling) and methodically worked our way towards its Modernist extreme, creating, in our opinion, a remarkable result.
The Modernist kitchen team whiteboard.
Stay tuned for the second installment of this three-part series, in which I will describe our preparations for capturing the images used in the book.