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Seattle College Student Wins Modernist Cuisine Party Contest

Seattle College Student Wins Modernist Cuisine Party Contest

A bevy of PolyScience gadgets are only part of the prize

When Seattle Weekly ran their ‘Dorm Room Dinner’ contest, critic Hanna Raskin may not have expected to see a salmon entrée prepared sous vide by way of a plastic cooler, microwave and sink. Seattle University sophomore James Cashman, a film studies and creative writing major, impressed Raskin and her crew not only with his vacuum cooking Franken-machine, but by using all five of the suggested ingredients of “favorite college foods”.

A victor with considerable spoils, Cashman wins a Modernist Cuisine dinner party for eight, a copy of Modernist Cuisine at Home, a PolyScience Smoking Gun and Sous Vide Professional CREATIIVE Series immersion circulator and an iSi Whipping Siphon so that he can foam with the best of them.

Modernist Cuisine at Home, the much buzzed-about follow-up cookbook from Nathan Myhrvold and Maxime Bilet, encompasses nearly 400 recipes that use modernist techniques to show-stopping effect. The book also includes ways to achieve 6 different cooking techniques via microwaves.


'Modernist Cuisine': The Most Important Cookbook Ever?

One by one we arrive, dropped off at the door of an unremarkable office building. With an air of reserved anticipation, we nod to each other in recognition, or dispense with brief introductions. Only once we find ourselves ushered into a bright conference room and sit at a large table are our identities clear. Among the dozen guests are chefs David Chang, Michael Voltaggio, and Animal's Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo, not to mention Dana Cowin, editor of Food and Wine, and guidebook publishers Tim and Nina Zagat.

What, one might ask, does it take to assemble such a group on a rainy Saturday afternoon in a quiet Seattle suburb? Well, when someone like Nathan Myhrvold invites you over for dinner, you quickly say "yes." And then you book a flight.

This isn't a typical dinner party and Myhrvold is not a typical host. A modern-day Renaissance man and former chief technology officer at Microsoft, he employs several hundred people through his Bellevue-based Intellectual Ventures, which oversees projects ranging from nuclear reactors and hurricane control to high-tech surgical equipment and efforts to rid the world of malaria. Lucky for us, Myhrvold also happens to be a passionate cook. This passion led him toward barbecue championships, a culinary degree, and a stint in Thierry Ratureau's Seattle restaurant, Rover's. Myhrvold's love of food and his obsessive attention to detail have also produced a cookbook, perhaps to rival all others that have come before it.


Quantum Kitchen

Ten miles east of downtown Seattle, in a nondescript warehouse not far from a gun range, a revolution is in progress. This is the Cooking Lab: the research facility of former Microsoft chief technology officer Nathan Myhrvold and the site of the multifarious experiments documented in Myhrvold's Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking. The six-volume, 2,438-page opus, which seeks to radically reinvent cooking &mdash with more than 1,500 recipes &mdash is now being published in Spanish, French, and German editions. Meanwhile, the work in the Cooking Lab hasn't stopped.

The 20,000-square-foot space formerly housed a Harley-Davidson service center. "We still get guys who look as if they came from a ZZ Top video coming by," Myhrvold says. He's amused, but his eyes sparkle with intensity behind his glasses his hair is a mad-scientist frizz. "We send them down the road." One side of the building contains the Intellectual Ventures Lab, which develops all manner of technology and holds all manner of patents. I'm walked past a space-age chamber full of mosquitoes, where the lab is experimenting with knocking out malaria with lasers, and another enormous contraption that's working on something no one's allowed to talk about. There's also a vast machine shop this is where whole barbecue grills were sawed precisely in half for the gorgeous cutaway photography in Modernist Cuisine.

Sandwiched in the middle, the Cooking Lab hums, an industrial-strength kitchen full of gleaming oversize gadgetry. The Pacojet, for instance, is a blender on steroids used to make the world's smoothest, glossiest, most flavorful pistachio gelato, without any butterfat. The ridiculous-looking machine with the bulbous glass globes is the Rotovap it can evaporate bourbon under vacuum pressure into a deeply nuanced distillate with zero alcohol. A centrifuge that resembles a large-capacity washing machine is used for, among other things, spinning market-fresh peas into their component parts: pea water, a layer of flavorless starch, and "pea butter" &mdash the pectin and sugars, silken and lush, which taste dizzyingly like the soul of a pea. Visitors are warned not to lean over the centrifuge, which can achieve rotational speeds of up to 30,000 rpm, the equivalent of 25,000 times the force of gravity. In the unlikely event of a problem with the rotor, it will explode upward, removing your head.

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Myhrvold delights in showing off his equipment. "We love our freeze-dryer," the 52-year-old says. In it, mushrooms for his famous "striped omelet," which he demonstrated on the Today show, receive four days of flavor-intensifying time. It's as tall as he is, and it would have cost a quarter of a million dollars new he got it for a few thousand, surplus from a biotech firm. The huge range hood was bought on an industrial auction website for $100. Myhrvold takes pride in economizing, but he also has another entire warehouse of you-never-know-when-you-might-need-it parts. Is he a large-scale hoarder? "Yes!" he admits happily.

Myhrvold pauses over the reflecting water of the Branson ultrasonic bath, which, in the normal world, is used to clean jewelry or electronic equipment by way of high-frequency sound waves. He tried making osso buco in it, but the exterior of the meat just got mushy. "There's a lot of failure when you experiment," he acknowledges, unperturbed. But the ultrasonic bath is what ultimately enabled him to create his Ultrasonic Fries, which are the platonic ideal of french fries. Ninety minutes in the bath, set at a frequency of 40 kHz, gives the surface of each slice of potato micropockets made by cavitation bubbles, which create a maximally crispy exterior, post-frying. When I try them, I realize this is what the fry has always wanted to be. The ultrasonic bath, Myhrvold notes with quiet glee, also makes the best tea, as the bubbles surround and extract the maximum flavor from the leaves.

At age nine, Myhrvold, who grew up in Southern California, announced to his mother that he wanted to make Thanksgiving dinner. He went to the library and checked out cookbooks, including Escoffier's (which, he notes, "turned out to not be that helpful when making Thanksgiving dinner"). Of his dinner, "It was decent," he says, modestly. He recalls his disappointment upon paging through James Beard's Theory & Practice of Good Cooking to find that it was only recipes, lacking in theory altogether. "I was a little nerd, and now I'm a big nerd," he says.

He lives with his wife Rosemarie in an immense, futuristic house of his own design overlooking Lake Washington. There's a T. rex skeleton inside, and the landscaping includes plants from the Mesozoic era. Their twin sons graduated last year from Princeton. (Myhrvold collected a bachelor's and a master's degree at age 19 from UCLA before pursuing graduate work in theoretical and mathematical physics at Princeton.)

In 1991, Myhrvold entered the annual Memphis in May barbecue competition and won a prize &mdash becoming perhaps the only champion pitmaster to have studied quantum physics with Stephen Hawking. Four years later, while still at Microsoft, he asked Bill Gates for &mdash and was granted &mdash a leave of absence to go to La Varenne, the cooking school in Santa Monica, California. ("That was the first and last time I asked.") In 1999, with a net worth estimated at $650 million, Myhrvold left Microsoft.

As his fascination with cuisine continued to grow, he found that classic cooking was well documented but that there was very little about the foams and gels and other chemistry-minded departures by the new chefs of so-called molecular gastronomy. When he got on egullet.com to discuss the low-temperature, vacuum-packed cooking method known as sous vide, the same chefs, including Wylie Dufresne of New York's WD-50, began to e-mail him questions. Myhrvold set out to write the first book in English on sous vide. After that, he says, he was on "the famous slippery slope": He needed to cover food safety, and food science, and because he had the luxury of self-publishing, the book went from 600 pages to 2,400. "The luxury versus the curse!" he says. "Because you don't know when to stop!" He sounds jubilant. At the last possible moment before printing, he crammed another 100 pages of material into the existing layout. He could not resist. (The book, which goes for $625, came out last March.)

At the Cooking Lab a staff of five white-coated research chefs captained by Modernist Cuisine co-author Maxime Bilet work on a whiteboard's worth of projects: a liquid nitrogen method for opening oysters, a milkshake made with sous-vide crème anglaise, centrifuged banana juice, and vacuum-reduced Woodford Reserve. A lab notebook on the counter is open to a page about the milkshake. It includes the ingredients, the barest of annotations, and a single comment: "Perfect!" It is exactly that: rich and eggy, with the caramel smoke of bourbon but without any of the bite. As a lucky special guest, I'm handed from chef to chef and fed lavishly: pressure-cooker caramelized carrot soup like candy, another soup of centrifuged pea juice with exquisite local baby vegetables, a small square of superrich sous-vide beef-cheek pastrami, eerily flawless roast chicken, the Ultrasonic Fries with mushroom ketchup, the pea butter on little walnut bread crisps, the pistachio gelato.

A glass-front refrigerator holds quail eggs, whipping cream, fish sauce, French mustard, mascarpone, and more. Next to it are shelves and shelves of bottles and canisters labeled with the likes of LAMBDA CARAGEENAN, SODIUM CITRATE, SORBITOL. The atmosphere is collegial, but the staff clearly reveres &mdash and, possibly, slightly fears &mdash Myhrvold. Two of the chefs responded to an advertisement Myhrvold placed on Craigslist. "Turns out it's not just for old sofas," he says of the site.

Myhrvold's knowledge of the modernist movement in art and architecture might be called encyclopedic, but it's more nuanced than that. He gives a monologue on the topic that has an elegant arc. Modernism in cooking, he says, began in the 1960s, in the form of nouvelle cuisine, but it was limited. Soon enough, "It was 'Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.' " (He interrupts himself: "I'm going to have another french fry.") The rebellion, the reimagining, ground to a halt. Only recently have our assumptions about cooking been exposed. Only recently has our relationship to the art and science of it been spun out &mdash like peas in Myhrvold's centrifuge &mdash into its component parts, reconceived, distilled.

As for Myhrvold's interest in running a restaurant, it is exactly nil. The leading revolutionary in modernist cuisine, Ferran Adri, closed his renowned El Bulli last summer to concentrate on culinary research. "What Ferran is doing is like what we're doing," Myhrvold says with a confidence that implies that Adri went at it the wrong way, only now liberating himself from the pesky demands of paying customers. Meanwhile, the Cooking Lab hosts a 30-course dinner every few months, in the warehouse, for food writers, chefs, and other special guests &mdash Thomas Keller, Jacques Pépin, Harold McGee. "We're not quite a pop-up," Myhrvold says, smiling as always. It's invitation-only, and it's only to further his cause. Because engaging intellectually with books, with ideas, is one thing. "Once people taste the food," he says, "they truly understand."


A Rare Peek Inside the Modernist Cuisine Kitchen


On Thursday, I had the extremely rare privilege of getting an inside look at the kitchen laboratory at Intellectual Ventures.  If you aren’t aware, Nathan Myhrvold (Intellectual Ventures CEO) along with chefs Chris Young and Maxime Bilet, has spent the last four years working on the book Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking.  This will be no ordinary cookbook – at 2400 pages and 5 volumes, it is unarguably the most in-depth, detailed compendium on the scientific process of cooking that has ever been written.  I’ll have many more interesting facts on the book in upcoming posts, but if you want the big picture, check out my interview with Nathan Myhrvold back in May.

The pictures and videos below are from a reception that the Modernist Cuisine team hosted as part of the International Food Blogger’s Conference.   Needless to say, this is the most sophisticated kitchen on earth, and as a food geek, I was in heaven.  Click through for more photos and video.


[Click the picture to view full-size] This panorama gives you a sense of the kitchen’s layout.  All of the stations are on wheels and the whole kitchen can be rearranged as the team focuses on different projects. 

In this video clip, CEO and King of the Food Geeks Dr. Nathan Myhrvold discusses the decision to not dumb down the book to cover only the equipment you’re likely to have in your home kitchen.


[Click the picture for the full-size image (so you can read the labels)]  This is the Modernist Cuisine kitchen’s idea of a spice cabinet.  Many of the products are available through the website www.chefrubber.com


A centrifuge is used here to separate solids from liquids and clarify sauces and stocks.  The green bottle is finely-blended raw peas that have separated into solids and pea water.

In this video, Chef Chris Young talks about the benefits of having a kitchen without customers.  The unique design of the Modernist Cuisine kitchen allows the staff (up to 36 people at certain points in the book’s development) to focus on research and testing of new recipes and techniques. 


You’re looking at the world’s only deep-fried watermelon chips.  I have no idea how they managed to deep fry watermelon, but I promise that it’s a dangerous proposition if attempted incorrectly.  The chips were light and delicious, with a recognizable hint of caramelized watermelon flavor.


Those look like beautiful cherries, don’t they? They’re actually made of foie gras.  And yes, they were delicious.


Chefs plate a small bite of horse mackerel sashimi with ginger and plum, proving that not all of the recipes require a particle accelerator.


My favorite dish of the night’: "tongue and cheek pastrami and rye”.  A thin slice of sous vide smoked Wagyu beef cheek is served with thinly-shaved tongue and delicate rye chips.  But, what makes this dish spectacular is the beef marrow mousseline (shown being shot out of a CO2 charger).  The mousseline is like the richest, fattiest mayonnaise you could imagine, except it’s made from sous vide egg yolks and bone marrow, and it is served warm. 


The frozen pistachio “cream” (ie. pistachio ice cream) alone is worth the price of the book.  As you can see from its beautiful glossy sheen, the ice cream was creamy and incredibly smooth.  What makes this dish really incredible is that the ice cream is made only from pistachios, emulsifiers and sugar.  No milk. No Cream. No eggs.  That’s right, it’s vegan!


And, for a little whimsy, they made olive oil and vanilla bean gummy worms.

And finally, I was thrilled to get a picture with Nathan.  See that grin on my face?  I kept it for days.

For more information on the book, check back here and also be sure to visit the official site for the project, www.ModernistCuisine.com. 

Update: The book finally has a shipping date – March 14th, 2011!  Pre-order your copy today!


The extremist: Nathan Myhrvold and ‘Modernist Cuisine’

Holding the business end of a centrifuge in one hand and a jar of pea solids and their liquid in the other, Nathan Myhrvold explains with a gleam in his eye how to separate pea purée at a force 40,000 times Earth’s gravity. “It’s a fun thing to do to food once in a while,” he says, grinning.

Also scattered around his cooking lab in an office-park warehouse in a Seattle suburb are, among other things, a rotary evaporator (for vacuum distillation, of course), various homogenizers (high-tech blenders), a spray dryer (for turning liquid into powder) and a $250,000 freeze dryer that he bought at a discount from a company gone bankrupt (though he’s a multimillionaire several times over, he’s reportedly quite thrifty).

But there’s more to this than mad scientist and his toys. Former chief technology officer of Microsoft (he managed the development of Windows) and a founder of patent firm Intellectual Ventures, Myhrvold will be coming out with his own highly anticipated cookbook, “Modernist Cuisine,” sometime in the not-too-distant future. He describes it as “an encyclopedic treatment of modern cooking,” including instructions for the avant-garde techniques that have sparked what Myhrvold calls a culinary revolution — think of it as “The Joy of Cooking” for the Ferran Adrià set.

It’s six volumes including a waterproof kitchen manual, 2,400 pages and more than 43 pounds (without its acrylic case). He and his publicists like to say that it weighs as much as a small child and that if you break down the retail price — $625 — it comes to less than $15 a pound. Some are calling it the next Escoffier, or outlandish, or both.

And it’s also late. Until this month, the book, four years in the works, had an expected December release date it has been pushed back to mid-March. ( Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble’s website have listed it for pre-order since May.)

Now a cadre of 16 full-time editors, designers and photo editors are holed up at the lab, a workshop carved into Intellectual Ventures’ warehouse, intently pushing through the last two volumes.

Myhrvold, a polymath and inventor with a background in space physics and fascinations including paleontology and photography, formed his own publishing company in the midst of writing the book — a tome too daunting for other publishers to tackle. What started as 150 pages or so on sous-vide (cooking vacuum-packed food in water at a relatively low, very stable temperature) snowballed into a magnum opus, the culmination of Myhrvold’s obsession with cooking.

A year ago Myhrvold described the book as three volumes and 1,500 pages, but it obviously continued to grow. “If you talk about sous-vide, then you have to talk about food safety, and microbiology, and heat…,” says Myhrvold, whose co-authors are chefs Chris Young and Maxime Bilet. “Now we laugh that we once thought 800 pages was big…. There are a hundred more things I wish we could have had time to cover.”

What it does cover are topics such as (but not limited to) culinary history, the physics of food and water, modern ovens, thickeners, gels, emulsions, foams, plants, starches, fish, poultry and cuts of meat both tender and tough. There is sous-vide, and there is barbecue. More than 600 pages are devoted to recipes, including the “ultimate burger,” Indian curries and elaborate plated dishes inspired by or adapted from chefs such as Adrià, Heston Blumenthal and Wylie Dufresne.

The aim “was to explain how cooking actually works, the science behind it,” says Myhrvold, who is professorial and inclined to crack wonky jokes. Why boiling often cooks faster than steaming, why a hot wok glows, what happens when you brown a piece of steak. And more. If you want to know about food poisoning and the differences between viral, bacterial and parasitic infections, it’s in there.

“We kept saying we can do this in five pages and then 50 pages later…,” says co-writer Young, who has degrees in biochemistry and math and headed the research kitchen at Blumenthal’s Fat Duck restaurant in England. Myhrvold, Young and Bilet worked alongside several other cooks to develop and test recipes.

“When we started, my hair was short,” adds Bilet, an exuberant Frenchman whose résumé also includes a stint at the Fat Duck and whose wavy coif now reaches his shoulders.

Myhrvold, who occasionally and enthusiastically answers cooking questions with “You have to buy the book!,” won’t say how many he is printing or how much it has cost to publish them, only that “it’s an expensive project and I hope that it will be successful and people will like it.”

From what they have seen so far, some already do. “It represents not only an awful lot of what’s been going on for the past several years in cuisine at the higher levels,” says Nach Waxman, owner of the Kitchen Arts & Letters bookstore in New York, who has been presented with a “flip-through” of some pages by Myhrvold, “but I think it’s going to have effects on even how home cooking is done in the coming years.”

Myhrvold, 51, says he started cooking at age 9 (five years before he started college) when he made Thanksgiving dinner — based on recipes from “The Pyromaniac’s Cookbook.” “It was awful,” he says, laughing, “but not so much that I was discouraged.”

In between other pursuits, he took culinary lessons at Ecole de Cuisine la Varenne in Burgundy, worked in the kitchen of a Seattle French restaurant and won several awards at the world championship of barbecue in Memphis in 1991.

His conversations about sous-vide beginning six years ago on the online forum EGullet were the seed for “Modernist Cuisine.” His entry on March 16, 2004, reads: “I am wondering if anybody has sources for recipes for sous-vide cooking….” It is one of the most popular single-topic threads on the website.

Myhrvold hired former Scientific American senior writer Wayt Gibbs as an editor in 2006, but the book got off to a slow start, according to Gibbs, who calls it “the visual [‘On Food and Cooking’ by] Harold McGee, written by a physicist rather than a chemist.” The project gained momentum after a crackdown by some health officials on vacuum-sealed cooking caused a stir among chefs, and then “Chris came on [in 2007], and once the two of them got together the fireworks really flew,” Gibbs says.

There are step-by-step directions for restaurant techniques developed in the last 30 years, such as sous-vide and reverse spherification. Recipes might include hundreds of variations for, say, hot fruit gels. Many of the 3,500 photographs show what is happening during the cooking process in pots, pans, even microwave ovens that have been cut in half (cleaved with equipment such as an electrical discharge cutter at the lab). “To make some of these topics accessible it was important to have great, compelling photographs,” Myhrvold says.

But the ultimate tech guy, birthing his chef-d’oeuvre in print? “After a lot of soul-searching we decided there was no better way to deliver high-resolution images than print. Why ink? Why paper? Even though I love digital images … it’s still better to have paper.” The book is being printed in China to art-book specifications: on heavy stock, using stochastic screening and wide gamut ink for better pictures. Myhrvold says his favorite statistic is: The ink itself weighs 4 pounds. “The printer made a sample book with blank pages and said it would be a half-inch taller with the ink.”

One reason for the book’s delay is that the printer at one point ran out of the paper. Another is that the packaging for shipping recently failed stress tests, and new packaging is being developed.

Although some publishing industry insiders say it’s over the top, the general reaction is awe. “I’ve been publishing books about cooking for close to 20 years now and have never seen anything quite so ambitious as this,” says Pamela Chirls, an executive editor at John Wiley & Sons, which handles the big glossy cookbooks created by the Culinary Institute of America and who had discussed the book with Myhrvold at an earlier stage. “There is really nothing that even approaches what these books are attempting to do. To the core reader, which I think is a chef, it’s an amazing collection.”

Last month at an open house at the cooking lab to promote the book, Myhrvold held court as servers passed around “ultrasonic fries” and foie gras shaped like Bing cherries. He, Young and Bilet were thronged by a couple dozen of the eminently curious, peppered with questions about the book: whether it would be available digitally (not anytime soon) or volume by volume (no), whether it includes gluten-free recipes (well, some) or if other books are planned (yes).

Though some are skeptical about the “culinary revolution” he’s touting, immersion circulators and whipping siphons and hand-held smokers already have trickled into Sur La Table and Williams-Sonoma. Adrià is teaching classes at Harvard. A subset of home cooks is thrilled at the prospect of having reliable directions for the use of gelling agents such as sodium citrate and sorbitol.

Still, even the food-obsessed might pause at the prospect of spending the price of a New York-to-Paris round-trip flight or a 48-bottle wine storage system with dual temperature zones on a cookbook. “It would make a beautiful coffee-table book,” says Diane Eblin, an avid cookbook collector, at the cooking lab’s open house. “But it costs more than my coffee table.”

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Betty Hallock was the deputy Food editor, covering all things food and drink for the Saturday section and Daily Dish blog. She started at The Times in 2001 in the Business section and previously worked on the National desk at the Wall Street Journal in New York. She’s a graduate of UCLA and New York University.

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Inside Nathan Myhrvold's 'Modernist Bread,' The $625 Bread Bible

"Modernist Cuisine" used advanced technology and artistic styling to pioneer its unique style of . [+] cutaway food photography. "Modernist Bread" similarly utilizes this style in its exploration of all topics related to bread.

Nathan Myhrvold/The Cooking Lab, LLC

A visit to Intellectual Ventures Laboratory evokes the most classic imagery you'd ever associate with a top secret scientific lair. Upon entering its large nondescript headquarters in Bellevue, Washington, you are immediately ushered through a neon-lit, slick white tunnel entry way that funnels into a lobby featuring among other oddities a functional Tesla coil chandelier.

Intellectual Ventures is the privately-held invention capital company led by CEO Nathan Myhrvold, the former Chief Technology Officer at Microsoft. Its aforementioned laboratory facility houses a wide range of experimental environments and specialists who work together to invent technology-based solutions for complex global problems. Ranging from a keg-inspired vaccine transport system built for Sub-Saharan Africa to an initiative that selectively breeds cows to increase their milk output in East Africa, the IV Lab's interdisciplinary team of biologists, coders and machinists is trying to tackle large problems with scientific vigor. This discovery-based ethos is inspired by the relentlessly curious, cross-disciplinary mind of Nathan Myhrvold.

The Cooking Lab and its work on "Modernist Cuisine" and "Modernist Bread" is highly informed by . [+] Nathan Myhrvold's science background.

Nathan Myhrvold/The Cooking Lab, LLC

"Nathan loves dinosaurs," a representative in the lobby noted while pointing out a 3D-printed dinosaur vertebrae . "He had he had a hypothesis that the Apatosaurus had a tail that could produce a sonic boom by whipping its tail like a bullwhip. To test it, the team built a tail with the estimated correct proportions and then tested whipping it to assess speed. It was a bizarre work environment for a few weeks because you would just hear whips, but ultimately the tests suggest that the supersonic movement was possible."

The most curious element of the IV Lab space however is The Cooking Lab, which is the test kitchen that formulated the famous six-volume and 2,438-page obsessive cooking guide, Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking, that published in 2011 and shook the culinary world. While this element of the IV Lab space may initially seem out of place, it is a natural extension of Myhrvold's lifelong passions for cooking and scientific exploration. Having earned a culinary degree from École de Cuisine La Varenne, served as a guest judge on Top Chef and won Memphis World Championship Barbecue while working directly for Bill Gates among other accolades, Myhrvold's building of one of the most advanced kitchens in the world in retrospect seems like an obvious project for him to tackle.

Representative of the scientific exploration across the IV Labs facility is the printing of . [+] science-inspired quotes on the backs of select pieces of equipment in the Cooking Lab. (Credit: Christina Troitino)

So what could be more innovative if not more absurd than a 2,438-page cooking guide? The answer: A 2,600-page guide dedicated solely to bread. Yes, just bread.

Modernist Bread was authored by Myhrvold and James Beard-nominated Francisco Migoya and is based on 1,600 experiments conducted in their lab. Fusing together Myhrvold's relentless curiosity and scientific methodologies with Migoya's expertise in bread and visual art experience, the Modernist Bread is a robust historical and future-thinking exploration on one the oldest foods of mankind. Presenting tested recipes, in-depth research and beautiful photography (including the famed Modernist Cuisine-style cutaway photography), this exhaustive guide is the epitome of Myhrvold: research-driven and curiosity-inspired obsession.

The "Modernist Cuisine" used advanced technology and artistic styling to pioneer its unique style of . [+] cutaway and hi-res food photography. "Modernist Bread" similarly utilizes this style in its exploration of all topics related to bread. Often times, these photos are personally taken by Nathan Myhrvold.

An article will not suffice to summarize all to be learned from Modernist Bread and its expansive research, but in large the book highlights a few surprising takeaways:

1. Bread Economics: Dirt Is More Expensive Than Wheat

"I'm tempted to say that wheat is as cheap as dirt, but in fact it is cheaper than dirt," noted Myhrvold. "You can buy potting soil for your apartment for more than .10 a pound!"

Myhrvold and team's research for Modernist Bread revealed surprising truths about the economic landscape of bread. Largely due to a historical goal to drive down the cost of food staples, the inputs of bread production have overtime become extremely cheap. The book breaks out the input costs of bread production, with the smallest percentage going back to farmers. According to a cited USDA study, out of a $2.10 loaf of bread only about .05 goes to the farmer (even for artisan bakes). This is due largely to the fact that 60 pounds of wheat sells for only $6 (.10 a pound).

Myhrvold's team noted the seemingly absurd commodification of wheat when discovering wheat tickers in rural Washington. Just as you would see the temperature or time of day displayed on a ticker at a bank, his team found wheat price tickers that served to observe the commodity's price fluctuations.

Myhrvold argues that if the sole purpose of growing wheat is to produce cheaper feed for livestock intended to produce items like hamburgers, then the reduction of input costs makes logical sense. However, this has created a mental block in consumers wherein they expect bread to always be cheap or free at a restaurant, when ultimately its cost is built into the price of everything else.

He argues further in crude economic terms that people would pay more for it if they were provided information to assess its value accordingly. Similar to how quality is based on geographic source for products like wine and coffee, he believes highlighting the origins of bread would encourage producers to also own these farms and ultimately produce a truly artisan, single origin bread.

Until this happens, Myhrvold believes that bread is going to be the last food to be elevated because consumers are conditioned to think it should be cheap based on an emotional connection to our past and the diets of our ancestors, wherein bread was a necessary caloric foundation.

The "Modernist Cuisine" used advanced technology and artistic styling to pioneer its unique style of . [+] cutaway and hi-res food photography. "Modernist Bread" similarly utilizes this style in its exploration of all topics related to bread. Often times, these photos are personally taken by Nathan Myhrvold.

2. Bread's Golden Age: Old Is The New Modern

Myhrvold believes that despite the aforementioned cost cutting measures associated with current bread production that we are currently in a golden age of bread. While he believes that bread quality is higher than ever, he is quick to point out that rather than mastering seemingly old bread recipes, much of the bread we eat today is shockingly modern and with origin dates closer to present than expected.

For example, ciabatta was only started in the 1980s and its name was copyrighted shortly thereafter , confirming its creation was solely for commercial purposes rather than as a passed down cultural food. This type of bread has confused consumers due to its rustic look, comprising of ill-formed and bubbly masses. However, most historic peasant breads did not follow this style.

For context, in the 1840s bread represented a substantial portion of human caloric intake. As a result, loaves made then tended to be very heavy (upwards of four pounds) and capable of feeding masses. This is in stark contrast to today's idealized breads which tend to be bubbly and airy.

The "Modernist Cuisine" used advanced technology and artistic styling to pioneer its unique style of . [+] cutaway food photography. "Modernist Bread" similarly utilizes this style in its exploration of all topics related to bread.

Nathan Myhrvold/The Cooking Lab, LLC

3. Gluten-Free Food: Don't Believe The Hype

As a shock to most bread baking purists, Modernist Bread contains a full chapter of gluten free recipes as well as a chapter dedicated to the nutritional aspects of bread. In the name of scientific integrity, Myhrvold states his team sought to find and analyze all of the research on bread's nutrition to date in order to present it in as unbiased a way as is possible for a book dedicated to bread.

His team's most surprising general finding was that much of what we observe today in terms of dietary trends has actually ebbed and flowed for long periods of time. For example, the first anti-carb diets were recorded in the 19th century and have since come and gone at various points in time.

Myhrvold is aware that there is much debate as to what constitutes "good" calories, but ultimately notes that bread has been demonized because of its gluten content. Seeking to delineate gluten-free preferences from the bonafide needs of the small population of those diagnosed with celiac disease, his team graphed the number of Google search queries containing the term "celiac" versus those with "gluten-free" with the former having a constant stream of searches in contrast to the latter which has had a recent spike in searches.

Myhrvold attributes this discrepancy to evangelists of gluten-free diets, companies pandering to said evangelists, and consumers performing self diagnoses.

The "Modernist Cuisine" used advanced technology and artistic styling to pioneer its unique style of . [+] cutaway and hi-res food photography. "Modernist Bread" similarly utilizes this style in its exploration of all topics related to bread. Often times, these photos are personally taken by Nathan Myhrvold.

4. But If You Must: The Creation Of The Most Convincing Gluten-Free Bagel

"My mother claims I was teethed on bagels," Myhrvold added while flashing photos of the lab's bagels on his phone.

While Myhrvold has strong beliefs around the validity of gluten-free diets, he ultimately believes that everyone should eat whatever they want. As such, Modernist Bread, includes a number of gluten-free recipes researched to support these bakers.

Inspired by someone who challenged Myhrvold to create a gluten-free bagel, he initially believed that the challenge would be impossible to achieve without the stretchy proteins associated with gluten. However, he characteristically got an idea on the way to an asteroid conference in Uruguay and quickly emailed the kitchen to try out his idea which ultimately was a success.

Essentially, his team developed a special technique for mimicking a normal bagel's texture. The recipe surprisingly follows baking instructions similar to the book's normal bagels.

To further ensure that this book isn't overly critical of gluten-free diets to the chagrin of the general media narrative, he is quick to also point out his team's research that revealed that whole grain bread isn't substantially better for you either.

Like many enthusiastic baking kitchens, the Cooking Lab named their unique yeasts using pun-based . [+] names.

Like many enthusiastic baking kitchens, the Cooking Lab named their unique yeasts using pun-based . [+] names.

5. Bread's Future: A Celebrated Course, Not An Assumed Free A ccompaniment

Myhrvold ultimately finds the consumer narrative around bread to be hypercritical when contextualized around the history of starch consumption. Historically, the majority of human calories came from starches (ex. rice in Asia, corn tortillas in Central America, potatoes in Ireland, etc.) because it is easier for plants to make starch than protein.

Acting essentially as a bulk meal filler, starch-based foods have largely been celebrated in non-bread dishes. For example, dishes like pasta, risotto and polenta can fetch high prices at restaurants, whereas consumers expect bread to be cheap or free.

Myhrvold argues that bread should catch up with the quality perception associated with other starch-based foods and start being more actively served as a price-equivalent course rather than a free or assumed meal accompaniment. For example, Per Se and French Laundry have already started doing so. He believes that bakers from the home to the restaurant should be emboldened to make their own unique recipes instead of buying bread, and that it is time for bakers to realize the hypocritical and ridiculous nature of this current state of starch-inequality.

"It would be so strange to buy pre-made risotto from some vat-facility down the street!" he explained.

Just like people love innovations in other foods, artisan breads are stuck in a phase of trying to replicate the past and similar recipes instead of innovate for the future and create new recipes. If that can be achieved, then Myhrvold believes that breads will be rightfully elevated in our minds and capable of fetching higher prices.

Until this future is realized, Myhrvold and his team will continue to deconstruct and create new recipes in their ultimate mission to make bread grain again.


A Q&A with Modernist Cuisine’s Francisco Migoya

In the Seattle episode of Parts Unknown , Anthony Bourdain goes to the Modernist Cuisine Cooking Lab, where he confesses to founder Nathan Myhrvold and executive chef Francisco Migoya, “I live in terror of bread.” Bourdain is treated to, among other things, bread in a jar (what?). Ahead of the publication of the new Modernist Bread series , Explore Parts Unknown editor Kaylee Hammonds chatted with Migoya about baking for beginners, deconstructing wheat bread, and what it’s like to have your dream job.

Explore Parts Unknown: I understand that you began your career as an art student. How did you come to food?

Francisco Migoya: I was debating in my younger years—much younger years—if I wanted to go to art school or cooking school. I was strongly leaning towards art school. It was a bit of a family conversation, [in] which I ended up being convinced that it would be best to go to cooking school and eventually be able to dedicate some of my time to artistic endeavors. And that’s what I’m doing now—I’m a chef, but in my free time I have a studio in my house and I paint and draw and sculpt.

That’s great.

I’m happy to be able to do both things—one of them pays the bills and one of them is more … personal.

I know that you spent some time teaching at the CIA [Culinary Institute of America], and I was wondering how that affected your approach to recipe development.

It definitely has. To give you more context for that, when I was teaching at the CIA, for eight of the nine years I was there I was in charge of a bakery/cafe that is open to the public in which the students are producing everything that is sold to real guests. In this bakery and cafe we would do not just pastry, we also did artisan breads and savory food—and we even did wedding cakes, we did ice cream, we did chocolates and confections. Pretty much everything. The challenge was that every three weeks I had a new group of students to do all these things. And any business’ nightmare is to lose all of your staff in one day and start with a brand-new staff. I got to do that every three weeks for eight years.

In order to survive that, I had to make sure that all of my systems and recipes were supertight … so that the customers had no idea whether it was a brand-new staff or if our staff had been there for a while. It really positively influenced my recipe writing to put myself in the position of somebody who really has no idea how to make whatever it is that the recipe is about.

As you know, most recipes, most cookbooks, are written for best-case scenario: when you’re able to procure the ingredients, the exact weight and the exact amount of stuff, all the equipment necessary, it’s a perfect 70 degrees in your kitchen, and you have a fantastic oven that never breaks down. But that’s not life. Life is everything but perfect. So the way I learned to write recipes is to also consider the worst-case scenario.

There are points where once you [make a mistake and] you can’t go back, that’s when it’s a complete loss. But there are ways of preventing those mistakes from happening. I build a lot on that whole prevention side of things. I would say that [teaching] really made me pay attention to the details that people need to know.

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It’s nice to know you’ve got our backs. Chef, can you tell me what brought you to Modernist Cuisine and how you got involved?

There was a point during my time at the CIA where I had already written three books, and I had read the Modernist Cuisine books. It was the sort of thing that I always fantasized about, being a co-author or helping to write in some regard if they ever thought about doing a baking and pastry book. So it was always one of those wishful-thinking moments that you think about while you’re sitting in traffic.

So I started to create an exit plan from my time at the CIA because I feel like nine years was enough. So I opened a little chocolate shop. If it was sustainable enough, that would provide for me to make a living off of it, and then I would leave the CIA.

However, plans changed because not even a year after I opened, I got a phone call from a recruiter from Modernist Cuisine. …I didn’t pick up the phone they left a message. They asked, “We don’t know if you’ve heard of Modernist Cuisine, but Nathan is interested in talking to you about joining the team. If you’re interested, please call me back.”

And I could not believe that that had just happened, because it was everything I wanted to happen as far as employment went. I had this situation where I had invested a bunch of my money into this chocolate shop. But in my mind I knew that I had to make this work. So that same night I went to talk to my wife about it, and she said, “Of course the answer is yes.”

So then when I actually spoke to the recruiter on the phone, I just wanted to say, “Yes. Absolutely. When do I start?” But of course you have to do the dance, right? So that was the initial conversation. I met with Nathan in New York City. And a couple of months later I received an offer to come work as head chef for Modernist Cuisine. That was a glorious moment for me, because, like I said, it was one of those things that I had always wanted to happen, but … it didn’t seem like it was ever going to happen. And four years later this is the best job I have ever had. I don’t think it gets any better than this, to be honest.

What a great story. Moving on a little bit more specifically to the book—it is beautiful, by the way. Congratulations.

You did some 1,600 experiments during your time working on the book. Could you talk about one of your favorite successful experiments?

There’s a couple of them. … Let me pick maybe a technique that we developed for making light and open-crumb whole wheat breads. Typically if you use whole wheat flour in any bread, it’s typically going to be a very dense bread. All that bran and germ, they just weigh everything down. You have the delicious taste of the wheat bran and the germ and the flour, but it’s superdense. It’s not what you would consider a light and crusty loaf of bread.

So we took many paths to see if we could achieve it. It almost seemed unattainable. And then the one, the final path that we took that made it successful was actually separating everything. So if we had the flour, we would separate the bran and germ out, we would toast the bran and germ, we would soak that in a certain amount of water, and then we would incorporate that into the dough once the dough had developed. So we were basically bypassing all of the bad things that bran and germ does to dough—it is a volume killer, it is a water hoarder, it doesn’t work harmoniously with the flour, the endosperm part of the wheat. If you give it all it needs to stop doing that beforehand and you mix it into the dough once the dough has had a chance to develop itself, then you can have 100 percent whole wheat bread with a nice open-crumb structure.

So it’s pretty remarkable, because it’s not something we’ve ever seen done with bread before. It’s kind of like reverse engineering the grain to get it to behave like you want it to behave.

That’s amazing. I was going to ask you—and you don’t have to answer if you don’t want to—were there any experiments that didn’t work out so well?

Yes. I mean, if you have 1,600, there’s going to be some failures there.

That’s true. Any notable ones?

The failures occur because there’s a point where you have to think about whether something is worth pursuing further or not, whether it’s worth the time and money to find an answer to something.

But one of the ones that we are still mystified by is that when dough is fermenting, there’s a point where the yeast has fermented to its peak and so the dough is what is called officially “proofed” at this point.

That’s the moment where you put it into the oven. This is a very challenging aspect for most bakers, especially new bakers, which is to determine when this moment is. We had wanted from the beginning to develop either a technique or a piece of equipment, some sort of artifact, whether manual or electronic or digital, that would tell us, “OK, your dough is now ready to go into the oven.” It would kind of take that thinking or the expertise out of determining when this moment was. Because people worry, “Is it underproofed, is it overproofed, or is it just right?” We had so many different ideas, and we tested so many different things. Ultimately, what it came down to is that we weren’t able to resolve this.

It’s remarkable to me and humbling at the same time, because there are so many things in the science of bread that we have machines for that measure density, elasticity, all of these things … but still we haven’t been able to invent this machine that’s going to help determine proof.

I would say that that was one of the ones that I wish we would have had. I bet with enough money, we would be able to come up with something—with enough money and enough time.

Do you have any general advice for a beginning baker? Someone who’s kind of scared, like me, to make a loaf of bread for the first time?

Yes, I do. And I love that you ask that question because we do have answers for that, but I’m going to give you the short answer for it. … You’re going to need four things to successfully make bread in your home.

The first is get a scale, so you can weigh your ingredients. And then right after that, take all of your volume measures and throw them in the garbage or recycle them or give them to Goodwill. They serve no purpose—they are so imprecise. You want to have precision. That is your first wildcard there that could make everything fail. Volume measures—there’s no standard for volume measures. So buy a $20 scale. They’re cheap.

The second thing is get a thermometer … a digital thermometer. They’re also about $20. But a thermometer is going to be important for making bread because you need to know, when you’re mixing your water to your dough, that you do not have very cold water or very hot water. You want the water to be a certain temperature because that’s going to determine fermentation time and hydration and all of these things. But then the thermometer is something that you can use for everything else that you cook in your house. It’s multipurpose.

And then—this is something that is really going to help you make a good loaf of bread at home—it’s called a cast-iron combination cooker. … It has a skillet bottom and a deep pot, which is the top, although you can flip them over and then one is the top and the other one is the bottom. But we found that even if you have the worst home oven and you put this cast-iron combination cooker in it while it’s preheating, the cast iron is one of the best materials for absorbing heat but also radiating heat. It’s black, so that blackness really helps with radiation of heat but also absorption. We bake our breads inside these combination cookers.

So it’s the bottom part and the top part that seals the bread, the dough, into place, which also has another purpose: The dough creates its own steam. So you don’t have to spray water into your oven—you don’t have to do this thing that seems like sorcery to me. You just need to put your dough into the skillet, score it with a sharp blade, put the top on, and then just put it back into the oven. Set a timer. And once the timer goes off and you open the lid, you’re going to see this beautiful, crusty, deep, rich brown loaf of bread. And all you had to do was use a little bit of knowledge and technology and spend a little bit of money. These cast-iron combination cookers are around $40. [And] these cast-iron combination cookers, they can be used for everything else. You can make soup in them, you can cook eggs, sear your steaks—it’s multipurpose.

[And] you’re going to use the scale for everything else because you’ve committed to not using your volume measures anymore. So now you can have precision, and you can have consistent temperature radiating into your dough. Those are the things that are going to make for a successful loaf of bread.

We give in the different chapters … suggestions of what are the easier breads versus more advanced. So start with the easier ones. I would say, for example, our farmers bread is supereasy to make, and it’s delicious. There are many [recipes] in that realm, so start with those. And once you start getting comfortable and you start getting the feel for the dough and how it should feel and proofing, then you can get into the more advanced doughs. But take the time to read the recipe and start with the easier ones. Then you can up your game after you’ve made a few loaves and you feel more comfortable handling the dough.

I just had one last question for you. I know you love your job, but do you have a favorite thing? Is there something that you love the most about what you do?

I love the process. Not that I don’t love the finished product, but I think the process— It’s important to have that emotional attachment to getting through something. Because if you just want to hash things out, that’s how it’s going to look like in the end.

It’s almost a disappointment when the things are done and completed, because it means that that’s it for the process. But that is where I find the most amount of excitement and joy, from when things are getting done and happening. Because it all ends when you take the bread out of the oven and it cools down. That’s the end of the process. When you finish the recipe, it’s done. Then you have to move on to whatever’s next.

That’s really beautiful. I think people are too focused on just a ten-minute meal or getting things done—

Yeah. Even more so with bread. Because if you’re impatient with bread, it’s going to come out in the bread. That’s the way it is. It’s a living thing.


WEST SEATTLE CRIME WATCH: Help solve a building-garage burglary

May 20, 2021 11:02 am
| 3 COMMENTS
| Crime | West Seattle news | West Seattle police

Building-garage burglaries have been on the rise. These security-camera images are being circulated by Southwest Precinct police in hopes of identifying the person caught on camera during one in The Junction earlier this month:

On 5/4/21, the above-pictured male entered the secure parking garage at 4752 41st Av SW. He went through the garage and into the mailroom, where he opened several packages. He then broke into a utility room and stole a trombone and bike.

If you can identify this suspect, please email [email protected]

Refer to incident number 21-110446.


The Secret to the Creamiest Cheese Sauce

Making creamy-smooth cheese sauces can be frustrating, particularly if you want to use quality cheeses such as aged cheddars or blue cheeses. This is because as cheese melts, it tends to separate into a gloopy mess of fat and water.

Classic solutions involve adding starchy flour or cornstarch to bind the proteins together, yet those same starches can muddle flavors. Processed cheeses melt smoothly thanks to added emulsifiers, usually sodium salt, which keeps the proteins together.

But as we learned in Nathan Myhrvold’s “Modernist Cuisine at Home,” this trick is easily replicated by the home cook.

The secret is sodium citrate, an inexpensive and widely available salt made from fruit-derived citric acid. A few grams added to warm milk allows almost any cheese (aside from hard cheeses like Parmesan) to melt smoothly, creating the perfect creamy sauce for pasta, vegetables or even just dunking hunks of bread.

We like a mix of sharp cheddar and Gruyère, but nearly any combination of strongly flavored cheeses works.

To make the sauce, in a large saucepan over medium, whisk together 11⁄4 cups whole milk and 10 grams sodium citrate (about 11⁄2 teaspoons) and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low and slowly whisk in 4 cups grated cheese until smooth. Taste and season with kosher salt and ground black pepper. ModernistPantry.com sells 50-gram packets of sodium citrate for about $6.

For more quick tips and product spotlights like this, read the rest of our Small Bites column from the November-December 2020 issue of Milk Street Magazine. Check out past issues here.


Saint-honoré

My name is Francisco Migoya, and I am the head chef at Modernist Cuisine, in Seattle, Washington. Many years ago I had a blog that I named The Quenelle, and in it were many years of ideas, thoughts, concepts and techniques focused on the world of baking and pastry. Towards the end I neglected it and unfortunately lost the name and all the content for a reason I still don’t quite understand. I named it The Quenelle because of the importance I had placed to have achieved the ability to evenly shape an ice cream, sorbet or whipped cream quenelle with a single spoon. While I still value this shape and scooping method, it’s not as important to me and I am a little over it to be honest.

I have wanted to re-start a blog for a few years now, but wasn’t sure what the content would be or its purpose. And so I realized I could do whatever I wanted to do because any sort of limitation would become frustrating to me eventually and this is my space to do as I please. So expect to see recipes, photos, videos, techniques and so forth. This is all in the spirit of sharing and providing ideas and inspiration to others, so all the content is free. If you do use any of it, which you are welcome to, just let me know how it worked out for you. Know that these recipes and ideas are merely to inspire you and while you are welcome to replicate them verbatim, try and see what you can do with them. After all, for me the most fun part of being in pastry is the creative aspect, otherwise I would have been a lawyer or accountant (nothing wrong with being one, there just ins’t much art to these professions).

Finally, I named this Saint-Honoré, because to me it is the ultimate test for a pastry chef to execute to prove him or herself. It is made up of many complex components: puff pastry, pate a choux, pastry cream, caramelized sugar, creme Chantilly (not difficult in and of itself, but its proper and even piping require high skill). If I had to hire a pastry cook or pastry chef, I would ask them to make one of these for me, and however it turned out it would show me everything I need to know about them.

there’s a good chance you have no idea who I am. Here is a brief bio (apologies in advance as it is written in the third person):

Francisco Migoya is the head chef of Modernist Cuisine in Seattle, WA. and co-author of the 2018 James Beard Award winning Modernist Bread: The Art and Science.

His first job in a pastry kitchen was in 1998 at The River Café in Brooklyn, NY, where he connected deeply with the world of sweets. He then went on to work as the pastry chef at Veritas in NYC, executive pastry chef at both The French Laundry and Bouchon Bakery in the Napa Valley, and from 2005 to 2013 as a professor of baking and pastry at The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY.

While teaching at the CIA, Migoya opened Hudson Chocolates in 2013, offering an array of high-end artisan chocolates and confections. The shop closed when the opportunity came to move to Seattle, WA to join the Modernist Cuisine team.

Chef Migoya has also authored three pastry books: Frozen Desserts (2008), The Modern Café (2010), and The Elements of Dessert (2012), which won the 2014 International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) cookbook award in the Professional Kitchens category.

As head chef he leads the Modernist Cuisine culinary team and directs culinary research, including the development of new techniques and recipes for Modernist Bread (2017) and currently Modernist Pizza, due for publication in 2021.


Share All sharing options for: Here's a Massive Preview of Modernist Cuisine at Home

Here now, a 28-page booklet that gives a look inside Nathan Myhrvold's recently released Modernist Cuisine at Home, the follow-up to last year's mind-blowing Modernist Cuisine (Amazon). Beyond what was revealed in a sneak preview back in June, the brochure pulls back the curtain on this new book for home cooks. Part One includes tutorials on "how to use (and not to use) a blowtorch" and "how to make fruit leather that doesn't stick to your teeth," plus it explains why pressure cookers work and ways to use a microwave oven that go beyond your standard steaming, reheating, defrosting and melting.

Part Two is where you'll find all the recipes — 145 of them, plus more than 260 variations. There's a whole series on eggs and different ways to make them, but also cheeseburgers, steaks, risotto, a "showstopping" mac and cheese recipe, and tips on how to get oven-made pizzas to turn out "as crispy as you would get from a wood-fired brick oven." Take a look:


Watch the video: UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN: Rassistischer Stein - Uni entfernt Felsbrocken auf Wunsch von Studenten (October 2021).