Cook From It?

First, Try Lifting It

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The long-awaited ³Modernist Cuisine´ is a visual roller coaster through the current world of food and cooking tools. More Photos »
By MICHAEL RUHLMAN Published: March 8, 2011

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/09/dining/09modernist.html?tntemail1=y&emc=tnt&page wanted=all
DESCENDING this week on the culinary scene like a meteor, ³Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking´ is the self-published six-volume masterwork from a team led by Nathan Myhrvold, the multimillionaire tech visionary who, as a friend of mine said, ³decided to play Renaissance doge with food.´
As scientific as it is gastronomic, it is virtually an encyclopedia of cooking, a visual roller coaster through the world of food and cooking tools, as well as a compendium of 1,500 recipes. Ultimately, it is a manifesto declaring that the new form of laboratory -inspired cooking ² led by Grant Achatz in the United States; Heston Blumenthal in England; and Ferran Adrià, the father of this cuisine, in Spain ² is a cultural and artistic movement every bit as definitive as Impressionism in 19th -century France or Bauhaus in early 20th-century Germany. It proclaims a revolution ³in techniques, aesthetics and intellectual underpinnings of gastronomy.´ At last we can dispense with ill-fitting terms like ³molecular gastronomy´ and just call it ³modernist cuisine.´ Thanks, Dr. Myhrvold. His vision drove the project, and his involvement has been a cause for healthy skepticism and admiration. No chef could have created it and no publisher would be crazy enough to produce and distribute this 40-pound monster.

I had to shake my head so hard my cheeks made Looney Tunes noises. The text. chemistry. fascinating. microbiology.000-square-foot warehouse. infuriating. the laboratory of Dr. What it all means. Myhrvold¶s company. nutrition. Several pages are devoted to how to wash your hands and there is a brief foray into the Timurid dynasty of Central Asia. To do it critical justice would require numerous reviewers. But artful prose is not the point. eye-bulgingly riveting. I will get this out of the wa y fast. but rather times that food must maintain specific temperatures to kill it. including a large machinist area and about 4. I was left wondering how a book could be mind-crushingly boring. ³Saturated fat isn¶t associated with heart disease anywhere. and a food journalist. And still I am not qualified to review every aspect of this encyclopedia. in any large study. the Pacojet.000 square feet for the kitchen and photo studio. sound and. edifying. On sous videequipment. mechanical engineering. at other times it is recklessly (and admirably) opinionated. too thorough. Someti mes overly proud of itself. For nearly two weeks I lived with this extensively hyped work ² immersion circulators humming on my counters. and subjective judgment. a pressure cooker hissing. and go on to malign high-fiber and low-salt diets for people who are otherwise healthy. for instance. all in the same moment. the book includes the equation required to calculate the radiant heat of a gas grill (which is not nearly as effective as a charcoal grill. well. some familiar but described from new and compelling angles. ultrasonic baths. I¶ve written numerous books. Intellectual Ventures. a chef who practices this rarefied spectrum of the craft. Every time I tore myself away from these stunning pages to emerge for air. gelling agents. Government suggestions for temperatures at which chicken and pork are safe to eat seem ³to have been based not on science but on politics. a traditional chef. versed in physics. food sealer and grinder hot from use beside them ² and I remain frustrated that I lack so many tools and ingredients required to actually use this behemoth. I¶m a member of the last group. frustrating. if anything. how a nd why it works. the goal was clarity and thoroughness. tradition. Not sure how to balance your centrifuge? Look no further. is proficient and as compelling as my high school science textbooks. While the quantity of aspirin required to read this straight through can be measured in thousands of milligrams. . it says. and there is a lot of it. I¶ve written about chefs considered the best in modernist cuisine. some truly original. The authors provide the time-temperature tables. the text is astonishingly thorough. and the tools and ingredients it could not do without. This work was composed over several years by a team of dozens of chefs and assistants ² led by Chris Young and Maxime Bilet ² in an 18. Buried in the verbiage is a treasure of insights. hydrocolloids and emulsifiers. I hope to know one day before I die.We now have a definitive work about this cuisine.´ the authors write. explaining why). many of them referenced in this volume.´ There is no single safe temperature that kills salmonella. and the information is indeed clear. I have a culinary education and have worked in and reported from many kitchens.

often measuring ingredients to the 100th of a gram. the crucial role of humidity in the oven and its impact on baking. even some from books I¶ve been involved with. recipes exemplifying those methods are given. an electrical discharge machining system. Nothing seems to have been spared on the quality of the photo reproduction. For the professional chef. chefs¶ stock answer). not that the juices redistribute. modernist or not. The table for custard lets you pick your . Among those worth the price alone for cooking professionals are the scores of parametric recipes.´ the authors write. As a physical object it is remarkable.62 online). since the authors advise doing it anyway because it ³pulls heat away from the surface evenly and with remarkable speed. it w ill be an invaluable reference. less than 10. are efficient and effective. to scale them up or down as you need.´ Much of the cooking requires ingredients most people haven¶t heard of and equipment few can even afford.There are also some exciting reports from the testing kitchen on what is happening to a roast in the oven as the skin dries out and the water just below the surface hits boiling temperatures. sometimes I found myself simply staring at the block of books. A not atypical recipe step reads ³Cavitate in an ultrasonic cleaning bath for 30 minutes. a barbecue grill) that have been cut in half using an ³abrasive water-jet cutter. and other machine-shop tools. everything from how long to sous vide different cuts and thicknesses of meat to how long to microwave various vegetables. Recipe formats are likewise innovative and. they announce ² which may be true (the core temperature of hot food in an ice bath continues to rise. why braised food tastes better the next day and dried beans sometimes never seem to get tender (try cooking them in distilled water). and the real reason to rest meat (because dissolved and degraded proteins thicken the juices. on heavy stock with solid binding. And I hope that much of what they¶ve compiled filters down through cookbook publishing and into everyone¶s cooking. he says) to create this. the chief technology officer for Microsoft until 1999. A rotary evaporator costs thousands of dollars. The food photography is excellent. it will be endless fun. but it¶s not a distinction to trumpet. tables giving recommended times and temperatures for a variety of techniques. Myhrvold. The authors occasionally overreach: shocking vegetables in ice water doesn¶t halt the cooking. some original. the easiest and most exact way of measuring. For the cooking geek with $625 to spare ($467. once you get the hang of them. many inspired by chefs as varied as Alice Waters. These recipes are laboratory precise. but even more compelling are the 36 illustrated photographs using kitchen tools and appliances (a pressure cooker. Tetsuya Wakuda and David Kinch. Dr. to help readers visualize what is happening inside a cooking vessel. a wok. As techniques are described. the bo ok shows). All the recipes are in metric weights. spent millions of dollars (more than one.´ ³Modernist Cuisine´ is not for most home cooks. And ² unprecedented outside technical baking books ² all ingredients are listed as percentages.

to create a thick Anglaise-style sauce or a stand-alone custard. Are we to embrace the ingredients and techniques of modernist cuisine at the very moment industrially processed food is being blamed for many of our national health problems? I have no desire to make Pringles in my spare time. The book¶s pressure cooker stocks are a miracle: clear. Myhrvold has been relaxing by repairing to a cooking laboratory. Volume 5 is devoted to recipes for finished dishes. the authors have included a sixth. but I wouldn¶t stop anyone who did.desired consistency based on what percentage of egg you use and the temperature you cook it to. . or simply an interesting style practiced by a splinter group of passionate chefs who care about this difficult and expensive form of high-end cooking? Much of this revolutionary cooking is based on ingredients and techniques long fundamental to the processed food industry. I saw not a single recipe involving meat where the meat is not cooked sous vide (other than beer-can chicken. spiral bound kitchen manual on paper that could probably go through a dishwasher cycle no worse for wear.´ the culinary phenomenon David Changis quoted as saying in its promotional material. (The index for Volumes 1 through 5. which gets a whole page treatment). shake my head and bow to him and his crew for their work of unprecedented scope and ambition. Since these dishes often require returning to tables in earlier volumes. crucial for using this book. The progenitors of the cuisine have hailed this work as the most important cookbook since Escoffier¶s. When I finish work. clean and flavorful in a fraction of the time required for traditional stocks. Volume 5 includes fabulous barbecue sauces and dry rubs with no unfamiliar ingredients. roasted at 175 degrees. Myhrvold and company tell you how. Cooking sous vide. I¶ll use it forever. is a foundation technique of modernist cuisine. and the use of thickeners. shorthand for vacuum-sealing food and heating it to precise temperatures well below the boiling point. Dr. microbiology and nutrition in Volume 1. though I found its lack of indexing frustrating. The only cooking discipline they do not cover is pastry (perhaps because you can¶t cook a pie crust sous vide). is superb. the recipes clear. I¶ll never make small batches of stock any other way. The book builds from an overview of food history. Dr. ³The cookbook to end all cookbooks. wherein all these chemicals and tools come together to creat e elaborate modernist meals. it¶s brilliant. But can this truly be the food of the future. to traditional and modern techniques in Volume 2. I can only smile. the science of cooking meat and plants in Volume 3. I relax by cutting and chopping and cooking a simple dinner for the family. I tested it. gels and foams in Volume 4 (which also has a detailed chapter each on wine and coffee). In the end.) What few recipes I could actually cook were mainly solid: sous vide time and temperatures were on the money.

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