See Nathan in Toronto This Autumn

On November 20, the cookbook store in Toronto will host a special event for Modernist Cuisine. Author Nathan Myhrvold will be giving a public presentation on the book and will be available to answer questions from attendees. All previous Modernist Cuisine events have sold out well in advance, so sign up early if you want to attend. For tickets, directions, and more information, call 800.268.6018 (416.920.2665 in Toronto), or email


Books from the Second Printing Are on Their Way

We have some good news today for customers who ordered Modernist Cuisine after the first printing sold out. Copies from the second printing have begun leaving the bindery, and the first 615 sets began their transoceanic journey to the United States on Monday, June 6. Another shipment of that size is scheduled to leave port on June 13, and each Monday thereafter new containers of books will set sail for booksellers around the world, with weekly shipment quantities rising to 1,800 copies in mid-July.

The ocean crossing, customs clearance, and distribution to bookseller warehouses requires four to six weeks to complete. We expect that booksellers will start delivering Modernist Cuisine in late July to the several thousand customers who have back-ordered it. Orders will be fulfilled in the order in which they were received, so if you have been thinking about purchasing the book but haven’t put your order in yet, now is the time to reserve your place in line. You can find a list of booksellers who are carrying the book on our buy page.

Where Will You Put Your Copy?

Readers who preordered early have been so excited to finally receive their copies of Modernist Cuisine that they have been emailing us photos of the books in their kitchen, libraries, or living rooms. As the 6,000 sets from the first printing make their way to customers—more than 4,500 have already been delivered, and the rest are in various stages of distribution—the proud owners have a decision to make. Where do you put such a lovely and large five-volume set? (It’s clear where the sixth volume, the waterproof Kitchen Manual, belongs: in the kitchen!) The snapshots below show a few owners’ answers to that question, including a video from Seattle Food Geek. Send us your photo and we’ll add it to the slideshow.

If you preordered but are still waiting patiently for your copy to arrive, know that it is coming. We’ve received a handful of emails from customers who were told by Barnes & Noble that their order had been cancelled. Rest assured that we’re in touch with Barnes & Noble and other retailers who are selling the book so that they have the latest information about when the next shipments will arrive at their warehouses. B&N assures us that all who have ordered Modernist Cuisine so far will receive copies, and they are getting in touch directly with customers who received incorrect information. Most of the back ordered books will be shipped this month.

The remaining 2,000 or so orders that exceeded the first printing will be filled when copies arrive from the second printing, starting in July and continuing through the summer. As much as we’d love to tell you exactly when your book will arrive, we don’t have access to that information. All we can say is that, based on what we’re hearing from customers who now have the book, you’ll find it was worth the wait.

VIDEO: Seattle Food Geek Unboxes His Copy

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Sales and Shipment Update

Here is the latest word on the shipments of Modernist Cuisine from the printer.


Somewhere between Vancouver and Toronto, there are 250 copies on a train. This is the first shipment to Amazon Canada, where Modernist Cuisine has been long awaited by Canadian customers, as well as a few people outside of Canada who ordered from Amazon Canada. These copies are expected to arrive by March 31 and will be shipped as soon as possible after that.

There are 500 copies on a train to an Amazon service center in Indiana, from where they will likely ship on April 4. Another 600 copies are due to arrive at an Amazon facility in Arizona on March 29.


The last ship left China today, which means that there are 4,130 copies of Modernist Cuisine across a series of nine boats bound for ports in the U.S. and Europe. A boat docks in New York City on March 31 and every few days after that. Some of the boats will not reach their destination for a couple more weeks, but by mid-April, all of the first printing should have shipped to customers.


Total orders for Modernist Cuisine now total about 7,600. The pace of orders has fluctuated a bit as major press pieces come out, but has remained pretty steady.

Second Printing

The second printing is happening! The presses are running today for Volume 1 and we are busy making minor corrections to the other volumes. They will all be in press by the end of the week.

Waiting for Our Ship to Come In

It is an exciting time for Modernist Cuisine! Three ships left China last week carrying a total of almost 2,000 copies and headed for various ports. Each week, more boats will leave with more copies. By March 21, the last part of the first printing will have left China. So we are literally waiting for our ships to come in.

A natural question to ask is: when do those copies reach actual customers? The answer is complicated. It takes a ridiculous amount of time (from where I stand, anyway) to ship the books from their port of entry in the U.S. or Europe to the distribution centers that companies like Ingram and Amazon use to ship products to end customers and bookstores. Part of the problem is that those distribution centers have been located to minimize shipping time from the center to the customer. That sounds great, except that in this case we want to minimize the time from China to the customer.

If a book is in stock, then optimizing the time from the distribution center to the customer makes perfect sense. If a bookstore orders from Ingram, or a customer orders from Amazon, then they want their books quickly. Usually, the books are sitting in a warehouse, typically one situated in an area with good connections for UPS and FedEx, but also cheap real estate, so the cost of holding the books at the warehouse is not too high. Major cities have lots of customers, but hardly anybody places a distribution center in a major city; land is just too expensive. Fortunately, UPS, FedEx, and other shipping companies do a fantastic job of shipping within the U.S., so this system works.

Unfortunately for us, however, the distribution centers are typically located far from the coastal ports where boats from China dock. Shipping a load of 1,000 books from, say, Seattle to Indiana is a very slow process—the books go by train and then truck, on a journey that takes as many as 10 days to complete. That is much longer than the two or three days that UPS or FedEx typically require to ship books to customers.

So, why not use UPS and FedEx to ship to the distribution center? Well, it’s just too expensive. In fact, shipping this way would cost more than twice as much because companies like Ingram and Amazon have deals with UPS and FedEx that are vastly cheaper than a small company like ours can get. That is understandable, given the tremendous volume of goods that these giants move. In addition, the distribution centers have complicated logistics systems that make it easy for them to ship things. We don’t have anything like that at The Cooking Lab, especially in the port cities that we have been using.

Another solution is to send the books to closer ports—to New York, for example, rather than to Seattle or Los Angeles. Water is very slippery stuff, so it does not take much energy to move across the ocean. As a result, most of the cost of shipping by boat is in loading and off-loading. A few years ago, I compared the price of shipping a container from China to Seattle to the price of shipping the same container from Vancouver, B.C. to Seattle. At that time, the cost was $2,500 from China and $2,000 from Vancouver—even though Vancouver is only 150 miles away from Seattle.

The drawback to the many-ports approach is that boats are slow. Typically, they travel at a mere 23 knots (nautical miles per hour). That is the “made good” speed averaged over the trip, and it corresponds to 26 miles per hour (42 km/hour). The distances are vast. China to Seattle is 5,761 nautical miles, which takes 10 days and 10 hours at 23 knots. China to New York, on the other hand, is 11,061 nautical miles, or almost exactly twice as far. This voyage takes 20 days at 23 knots. Of course, the 23 knot figure is an average. Part of our first shipment did in fact go to New York, and it took a full 30 days, whereas our Seattle and Los Angeles shipments have been more like 11 days, in line with the estimate above.

In addition, there are always snafus. We had a situation where 150 copies of the book got misplaced at a distribution center for several weeks while we and the parties involved tried to find them. Those copies have now shipped, but they got delayed in the system for about three weeks. Yes, that is frustrating, but that sort of Catch-22 situation does happen in the real world.

So, the bottom line is that we are hoping that roughly 2,000 copies will ship to customers by late March, although that may slip into April. All of the rest of the copies should ship during April, but please note that I am saying should, not guaranteeing that they actually will.

There has been a lot of chatter online about Amazon changing shipping dates in their emails to customers. With all due respect to my friends there, I would not take the exact dates very seriously because neither they, nor we, know all of the variables.

Finally, I need to say again that the current shipping situation is due to unforeseen issues with production of the book. The original plan was that the first shipment would also be the last shipment, and we’d get 6,000 copies all at once. It didn’t work out that way, so we decided instead to ship as many books as we could, as soon as we could. I’m sorry that we’ve left people waiting for their copies, but in our defense, this is the first 2,400 page cookbook we’ve ever written. Come to think of it, it is the first cookbook of this scope that the printer has ever done, or for that matter, anybody has ever done. Some teething problems are inevitable when you push the edge of the envelope.

The production issues have all been resolved, but unfortunately there have been some delays. The good news is that everybody who orders, up through today, should get their books in April, or worst case scenario, in early May.

That brings up another issue. We are set to finalize the second printing, but that will not yield books until June. Very soon, people who order the book are going to wind up getting the second printing, not the first, which means that their copies will not arrive until June. It is entirely possible that we will experience some delays until enough of the second printing arrives to soak up the back orders that will arrive between the point that the first printing is sold out (any day now) and when the second printing arrives. Anyone ordering the book in the second half of March will probably have to wait until June to get the book. So I would not be surprised if Modernist Cuisine is on back order status until some point in July.

We hope to improve on this situation, so please don’t panic, but our philosophy of being transparent and open about shipping issues means that I do have to point out that they are a possibility.

Modernist Cuisine is now shipping from booksellers

This set will look great on any bookshelfWe are happy to announce that Modernist Cuisine has begun shipping to customers well ahead of its announced release date of March 14. The book is available for order from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kitchen Arts & Letters, and other booksellers, who will send the first copies to those who preordered. Because of the unexpectedly high volume of preorders, stocks of the book will be very limited for a while. New shipments are on their way from the press and will arrive in March and April.

Houston, We Have Lift-Off!

Space Shuttle Discovery blasts offAfter yesterday’s successful launch of Space Shuttle Discovery’s final mission, comparisons to the pending launch of Modernist Cuisine are irresistible (to us anyway).

Discovery began its final mission having already achieved unprecedented success. According to NASA, over Discovery’s 38 spaceflights, it has carried 246 crew members around Earth 5,628 times over a period of 351 days spent in orbit. First launched in 1984, Discovery has a total of 142,917,535 miles on the odometer.

Similarly, Modernist Cuisine approaches its March 14th launch window having already achieved several milestones. Modernist Cuisine has already been widely lauded by reviewers and will enter the Cookbook Hall of Fame at the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards on March 3, 2011.

Pre-orders from all of the retailers who will carry the book have rocketed well past the 3,000 copy mark, more than half of the book’s total first print run. Last week, Modernist Cuisine entered the top 100-selling books on [Update: On March 9, the book entered the ranks of the top 50.] As the following chart illustrates, the book’s pre-release sales pace has soared into the stratosphere.

Amazon Sales Rank Chart; vertical axis is in powers of 10
Amazon sales rank chart; vertical axis is in powers of 10

(Note that the vertical axis of this chart is logarithmic, so each division in the vertical scale corresponds to a ten-fold improvement in the sales rank.)

Like Discovery, just getting Modernist Cuisine to the launchpad has been a huge undertaking. The six-volume, 2,438-page set weighs 39 pounds, contains 3,126 photos, and took five years and a team of more than 50 to create. Granted, what we did isn’t rocket science. But we’re proud of it nonetheless.

The first copies of Modernist Cuisine have now landed safely on U.S. shores and are making their way to bookstores and customers. We wish the crews of Discovery and the ISS a similarly successful journey and safe return.

A Preview of Our Chapter on Culinary History

First page of the article in GastronomicaThe Winter 2011 edition of Gastronomica, a journal of food and culture, contains an article I wrote titled, “The Art in Gastronomy: A Modernist Perspective.” The 6,000 word, 10-page article is a much-expanded version of a section of Chapter 1 in Modernist Cuisine, in which I explain why the current revolution in cooking is appropriately called “Modernist,” as it is in many ways broadly similar to Modernist revolutions in painting, architecture, literature, and other arts.

The argument is rather involved (that’s why it takes 6,000 words), but the gist of it can be explained relatively simply. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, most aspects of culture and art were rocked by revolutions in which small groups of young artists joined avant-garde movements that were creating new aesthetics by breaking the old rules. The French Impressionists were perhaps the most famous example. These painters rebelled against the realistic style of painting that was in vogue in their day. Their paintings were initially ridiculed and mocked, but the works ultimately became some of the most widely loved art in the world. Similar revolutions occurred in almost every field of human cultural achievement—with the notable exception of cooking.

The revolution in cooking that began in the mid-1980s is just such a movement. Ferran Adrià, Heston Blumenthal, and a number of other chefs formed an avant-garde that refused to follow many of the old rules and in doing so, created food that challenges us as profoundly as any other kind of art does. They have embraced new cooking technologies, such as sous vide, and new ingredients, like xanthan gum, and their creative use of these tools has expanded the realm of what is possible in the kitchen. At the same time, Harold McGee and others started a trend in popular books of telling both restaurant and home chefs about the science of cooking. These threads collectively created a revolution that has clear links to Modernism and its ideals.

I mention this for two reasons. First, the article featured in Gastronomica is a bit longer and thus more complete than the treatment of the topic in Modernist Cuisine. So if you like Chapter 1 on Culinary History but want more detail, this article is one place to look.

Second, if you don’t yet have a copy of Modernist Cuisine (and at this stage nobody does!), this article is a quick way to get at least this part of the book. That said, it is a rather abstract topic—don’t expect to see any recipes or techniques in the article.

Gastronomica is available by subscription and also by the copy at larger newsstands and bookstores.

Demand for Modernist Cuisine Will Temporarily Outstrip Supply

In my previous post, I explained how I arrived at the decision to print 6,000 copies of Modernist Cuisine in the first press run. Initially, the plan was for all 6,000 copies to arrive at about the same time. They would be printed and assembled in China and then loaded into containers for the long trip across the Pacific. Then trucks would pick them up at ports of arrival in the U.S., Europe, and elsewhere, and finally, the books would fan out to warehouses, both those of individual booksellers, like, and distributors, like Ingram.

Unfortunately, the printer ran into some delays in the binding part of the process. Although all of the books are now printed, binding is not yet complete on all of them. Chinese New Year has been another source of delay, like most businesses in China, our printer shuts down for two weeks surrounding this major holiday. A similar delay occurred last fall.

The good news is that the first shipment of books has left China and is now steaming its way across the Pacific. It is due to arrive at the port of Seattle on February 19. As soon as the books clear customs, they will be trucked to the nearest distribution centers. If you have pre-purchased a book, depending on the bookseller and how long ago you put in your order, your set might be on its way to you in the last week of February or the first week of March. This is actually ahead of schedule!

The bad news is that this first shipment contains only 500 books. The next shipment, which should be larger, is due to arrive on March 17. After that, books are due to arrive every week or two through early May.

As of this morning, 2,721 copies have been pre-ordered through various booksellers, so unfortunately, the first shipment will fulfill only some of those pre-orders. Please bear with us; we will catch up as the books come in.

The old-school publishing way to handle this matter would be to hold all of the books until enough have arrived to fulfill every order placed to date. I actually had people suggest that to me! I was horrified. Some people put in their order way back in August. They were first in line, so it only seems fair that they should get their books first.

Apparently, holding books is the conventional wisdom in publishing because publishers consider the bookstore, not the reader, to be the customer. Publishers take great pains to avoid looking like they are giving advantage to one store over another. So if a shortage develops, the publisher typically delays release until it can give every store its allocation of books on the same day.

That strikes me as just plain silly. It is a simple fact that some stores (both the online variety as well as those made of bricks and mortar) have been accepting pre-orders for Modernist Cuisine for months now. Why shouldn’t they get precedence?

Our allocation strategy is to send each store or distributor a prorated share of the shipments based on the number of orders they have taken. That seems fair to both customers and stores. This allocation scheme means that if you order Modernist Cuisine today, you’ll get it at roughly the same time no matter whom you order from. But if you ordered it months ago, you’ll get it before people who order it now.

This isn’t an exact science, of course. Some distributors have longer delays than others in moving new books through their system. Some distribution centers are farther than others from Seattle, and not all vendors use the same delivery services. I can’t control those variables, so the scheme is as fair as I know how to make it.

There is one small loophole to “roughly the same time” that requires a bit of an explanation. Most books are basically sold on consignment, meaning that stores retain the right to retain any books they stock that do not sell. Books that come back from retail outlets are usually remaindered because they become worn from being handled while on display.

For this very reason, expensive art books are almost invariably sold to bookstores on a non-returnable basis. As a result, most bookstores can’t afford to stock them, the cost of carrying the inventory is just too high. Instead, the store takes one copy to put out for display rather than sale; then it takes orders from customers. This is the way that most brick-and-mortar bookstores are handling Modernist Cuisine. I suspect, however, that a few stores have taken the plunge and bought some copies on spec. They will likely have bought through our distributors, so I can’t say whether they bought copies to fulfill customer orders or to place for sale on on their shelves.

So it may be possible to find a copy of Modernist Cuisine for sale in a bookstore, even if it is back ordered online. Then again, it may not. We’ll just have to find out.

The reason I bother to mention all of this is that the possibility of a shortage of Modernist Cuisine looms in our future. Normally speaking, pre-orders don’t add up to much; people tend to wait for reviews and hear the buzz via word of mouth before they decide to buy a book. In our case, pre-orders are already approaching half of our initial print run. They are running well ahead of my expectations and those of the publishing experts that I have consulted.

Frankly, we have no idea how to extrapolate from our amazing pre-order rate to total sales of the book. It seems likely, however, that in the months ahead, people will continue to order the book at least at the current rate that they have been ordering, and possibly at a much quicker pace. If the latter occurs (there is, of course, no guarantee), then we may find ourselves sold out of the first print run before we can fulfill the last pre-orders. Customers ordering at the tail end of the pre-order period could then see a delay of a few weeks to perhaps a few months before their books arrive.

We’re trying to figure out ways around this issue. We’re now working on ordering a second print run, and talking to our printer about accelerating their shipping schedule. We’ll keep you posted on our progress.