Modernist Cuisine
  • Has anyone else been tempted by this $500 tome? I can't really afford it, but I keep being drawn to coverage of the book, which has just been published and is drawing a huge amount of attention. 2400 pages, 43 pounds (4 pounds of which is ink!), a number of recipes that I won't be able to cook since I don't have a rotary evaporator or a sous vide (though to be fair, there are 'regular' recipes too... It does sound crazy to covet this, but if you've had a look at the pictures of the book, or read any reviews, you may just be tempted too. It promises to be the definitive book on modernist cooking methods, including sous vide but also simply applying scientific principles to cooking.

    The book's website has a lot of information:

    It's here on Amazon (with a couple of months shipping delay as the 6,000 copies they initially printed have apparently sold out and they're trying to decide whether to print 20,000 or 25,000 for the second printing!): Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking

    There's a great Q&A with the team on the food forum eGullet:
  • This book sounds so interesting. Don't remember where I first heard about it, but I loved this morning's coverage on NPR.

    I'm tempted. I'm also intrigued by what I perceive as a divide -- the slow food, locavore movement (what I think of as real food) versus the technologically inclined "foams" and I don't get why someone would make a fake egg (see the link and check out the parmesan egg). Are these things opposites or are they compatible?
  • As much as I love cookbooks this one doesn't even tempt me. I can't see paying $500 for it. I was wondering how in the world anyone would be able to use it weighing so much and being so many pages and then I saw in the picture it looks like it's actually a set of books. I could buy a lot of books and ingredients for $500 since I usually buy used books anyway. It is interesting to read about but I'll leave this one to others.
  • I forgot to say thanks to LL for posting the link to the NPR interview. Very interesting.
  • @LazyLurker - the question of a divide is interesting. In his NYTimes review this week, Michael Rhulman wrote something about this, saying "Much of this revolutionary cooking is based on ingredients and techniques long fundamental to the processed food industry. 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?".

    Over at the foodie forums eGullet, Nathan Mhyrvold, the man behind the book(s), responded with what I thought was a very reasonable answer: "We go to great lengths to explain that this is a false dichotomy. Using unfamiliar techniques and ingredients is not the cause of our health problems. We are no friends of the processed food industry, we condemn it for falsely advertising dubious health benefits, among other things. We explain that the techniques and ingredients are safe."

    I myself am a big proponent of local ingredients and the slow food ideal. I make my own bread and yogurt and only eat out once a month, never at chain restaurants etc. I tend to agree with Nathan, in that what this book looks to be doing is to advance the science of food preparation and technique, as well as push the envelope of gastronomic art. The important things to consider still remain; the source of your food, the ethics of how it was produced, when and where you eat it.

    I can't see myself actually buying this, but I'm very interested in learning more about some of the things it explores and I'm going to suggest to my library that they get a reference copy to peruse.

    This sort of thing is what intrigues me (from a review on here:

    'There’s one chart that shows how concentration and temperature affect the final texture of a cooked custard. “If you break it down, a custard is really just a liquid—any liquid—with a certain percentage of egg white and egg yolk in it, cooked to a certain temperature. Those are the two factors that affect its texture,” says Myhrvold. So he put a cook to work making hundreds of custards with various ratios of egg yolk and white (from 10 to 250 percent) and cooked to different temperatures, and he tabulated the results. The result is a color-coded, easy-to-read continuum of custard textures. “Did we invent the custard?” asks Myhrvold. “No, of course not. But I don’t think I’ve ever seen the information tabulated with this kind of detail or presented in such a useful way.” Recipes of this sort are presented as ratios rather than specific volumes or masses. “With a custard, the important thing is not ‘how many eggs to a cup of milk,’ but ‘what is the ratio of eggs to milk.’ Once you realize that, you can make as much or as little as you’d like.”'
  • As a scientist, I embrace a scientific perspective - it cannot help but make us better cooks. I guess that for me, when the approach comes to transforming one food item into something else its crossed some sort of line. I sure hope my library gets it, I'd love to look at it. As a lover of custards, I want that table!
  • This particular book doesn't really appeal to me, but I did shell out big bucks for the CIA's "Professional Chef". In the long run, it was probably a waste of money and I don't ever use it for recipes. But I do occasionally refer to it to verify a technique...especially when I am reading a recipe and my gut tells me something is incorrect.

    Ahhh...another justification for bulging bookshelves. :)
  • I am not really interested at all in cooking from this book although I suppose I might have been if I'd ever eaten at WD-50 or Alinea or E Bulli. I am interested in it as an artifact however -- I think, as books go (and I am a book person), it is beautifully designed and photographed and the text explains in detail both a type of cooking and an array of techniques I don't have much interest in trying at home. At least not yet.

    To make an analogy -- it is as if as a cook/artist I feel at home in the Impressionist period where I create my version of a dish using the local views and landscapes and tools and ingredients readily at hand. And the book is this visually beautiful and theoretical/philosophical explanation of the impulses behind cubism. I admire it and can even understand it thanks to the book. I can recognize that it is the wave of the future even in the home kitchen. I have heard how incredible the end product is. And yet ... making foams and using chemical powders is just not the kind of cooking I want to do. Although I read every single post by Carol Blymire, currently cooking every recipe in the Alinea cookbook (and making them gluten free which boggles the mind even more).

    Carol at Alinea at home posted her thoughts on the book -- thought others might find it interesting.
  • Thanks @aj - it's encouraging (well, if you want to be tempted even more) that she says "much of it is doable in your very own kitchen. I swear. There are workarounds for gear you don't want to, or can't, buy. But, trust me: you can cook this food. "

    It also sounds like there are less powders and foams than you might think; there are some more conventional, if unusual, things too.
  • I just had my first browse through the book--books really. A friend has taken the plunge and received his copy. A few brief moments and I'm hooked. For all my hesitation/misgivings about all those chemicals, etc, the book is a knockout--full of amazing information, magnificent illustrations and fascinating recipes. I know what I'll be doing when I visit my friend...
  • The few pictures I've seen from the book have been jaw-dropping. Its great to hear your reaction to it, @kateq.

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