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"Modernist Cuisine" by Myhrvold, Young & Bilet (Part 3)

Modernist Cookbook Reference

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#1 ShaneH

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Posted 10 April 2011 - 06:29 AM

[Moderator note: The original "Modernist Cuisine" by Myhrvold, Young & Bilet topic became too large for our servers to handle efficiently, so we've divided it up; the preceding part of this discussion is here: "Modernist Cuisine" by Myhrvold, Young & Bilet (Part 2)]

 

 

 

 

Since I've received mine I've had little time until this weekend to actually read through it in depth. I've been starting with the history in volume 1, which I find fascinating as I love history. I even looked up some of the original recipe books it references and downloaded them to my kindle through gutenberg as it is a wonderful addition to the whole and its history. Second to that I started sifting tbrough the equipment. Then yesterday I drove three hours north to share the volumes with my family. I don't think their mouths ever closed after seeing them for the first time. We each grabbed a volume, from my 16 year olde nephew to my 70 year olde father and for five straight hours we were consumed and shared with eachother ideas and "finds". In my family cooking and meals are a big part of us "coming together"...this truly added to a family moment for us.

Now I've got to find a weekend to bring my 16 year olde nephew down to Massachusetts to cook with me. He wants to get into spherification and I want to experiment with the fish paper. I have a crazy idea to use the paper for and can't wait to start experimenting.

...after that I think the mac and cheese, since everyone has been talking about that on here I can't wait to try it as it brings back fond childhood memories for me.


Edited by Mjx, 21 February 2014 - 08:51 AM.
Moderator note added.

Science tastes yummy!

#2 bmdaniel

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Posted 10 April 2011 - 06:47 AM

I can confirm that the polycarbonate case does a good job protecting the books. My set did a gainer off the dining room table and none of the volumes were harmed. Unfortunately I have several pieces of case now.

#3 Paul Kierstead

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Posted 10 April 2011 - 09:13 AM

Now Kerry, if you're going to be making food worth eating, you are absolutely going to have to get rid of that Lakeport and replace it with something resembling beer. OMG.

#4 Chris Hennes

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Posted 10 April 2011 - 09:39 AM

I can confirm that the polycarbonate case does a good job protecting the books. My set did a gainer off the dining room table and none of the volumes were harmed. Unfortunately I have several pieces of case now.

Yeah, but how is the floor?!

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#5 Anna N

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Posted 10 April 2011 - 10:21 AM

Now Kerry, if you're going to be making food worth eating, you are absolutely going to have to get rid of that Lakeport and replace it with something resembling beer. OMG.


Please, please don't blame Kerry for the Lakeport. The photos are taken at my house. AND PLEASE, PLEASE DON'T BLAME ME. That's my "adult" kids (in their 40s) who buy that. Both Kerry and I have better taste.
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#6 Anna N

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Posted 10 April 2011 - 10:23 AM

I have moved to Volume 3, Animals and Plants, and I want to rush out and buy a lamb so I can follow along and butcher it.
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#7 JBailey

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Posted 10 April 2011 - 11:21 AM

I have been looking at The Cooking Lab's list of equipement with lust!
"A cloud o' dust! Could be most anything. Even a whirling dervish.
That, gentlemen, is the whirlingest dervish of them all." - The Professionals by Richard Brooks

#8 Chris Hennes

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Posted 10 April 2011 - 11:23 AM

Not just the equipment list, did you see the photo of their kitchen?! Holy hell. I want.

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#9 Brianemone

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Posted 10 April 2011 - 12:52 PM

Has anyone else that ordered back in October from Amazon.ca not had theirs sent yet?

#10 runwestierun

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Posted 10 April 2011 - 01:03 PM

Has anyone else that ordered back in October from Amazon.ca not had theirs sent yet?


I got mine, I ordered it Oct 16th. It came April 6th.

#11 johnder

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Posted 10 April 2011 - 02:54 PM

Somewhat odd article about the book, again from someone who hasn't seen the book except for other press clippings.

What is odd is she claims she prefers "good old fashioned kitchen wisdom" and "Bringing science and systematic thinking to bear can ruin the fun."

While it by no means is a negative article about the book, it is interesting because to me it seems all over the place, especially in this passage:

I have good old-fashioned kitchen wisdom to thank for knowing to rest gnocchi dough before rolling it, never to crowd a sauté pan, and always to use ice-cold butter for pie crusts. I'm sure some of my techniques and beliefs could be disproven with an appeal to the scientific method, but you know what? I'm okay with that. I'm willing to be a slightly less good cook in return for not having my brain hurt during this particular part of my day


She mentions 3 actions she knows that have a better result that if she did it another way, but doesn't seem to care why or how it is, or even it there is a better way. All for the purpose of it being romantic.

Anyway, I will give her props for she did manage to get Rocky and Snooki mentioned in the same article
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#12 Chris Hennes

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Posted 10 April 2011 - 02:59 PM

Nathan and team are far more gracious individuals than I: this sort of thinking makes me want to tear my hair out. I'd be off getting myself into flame wars with every one of them...

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#13 Kerry Beal

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Posted 10 April 2011 - 03:33 PM

Now Kerry, if you're going to be making food worth eating, you are absolutely going to have to get rid of that Lakeport and replace it with something resembling beer. OMG.

Not my beer!!! Anna's kid's beer. Not much of a beer drinker myself - my taste runs to Guinness.

Oops - see that Anna's already beat me to it.

Edited by Kerry Beal, 10 April 2011 - 03:34 PM.


#14 IndyRob

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Posted 10 April 2011 - 04:32 PM

Nathan and team are far more gracious individuals than I: this sort of thinking makes me want to tear my hair out. I'd be off getting myself into flame wars with every one of them...


I think it's a reasonable and fair expression of a point of view and goes back to something I posted earlier. To put that in a different way, if you are simply following admirably detailed and eminently reproducible directions, are you showing your own talents?

When I want some traditional brownies, I'll buy a box of Betty Crocker mix. The Betty Crocker boffins have already worked out all of the science. The result is very good and, perhaps more importantly, have pretty much defined for me what a brownie is.

On the other hand, I once saw Jacques Pepin make a flourless chocolate cake with brownie-like qualities. He didn't give any measurements, but I worked it out, added my own touches, and was successful. I'm much more proud of that. Although I stole it from JP (well, OK, he gave it to us), there was a lot of me in there. It wasn't a brownie though.

That's not to say that one can't adapt what's taught by MC, or grow themselves into being better cooks through it. But perhaps too much book learnin' has the effect of making you like every other MC customer.

We all have recipes passed down by our mothers. Perhaps a 'one correct mother' approach isn't appropriate for all.

This is not meant as anything against MC. The time is not right for me, but I will own this set of books. But, given the price alone, I think some level of dissent is to be expected.

#15 Chris Hennes

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Posted 10 April 2011 - 04:57 PM

I think it's a reasonable and fair expression of a point of view and goes back to something I posted earlier. To put that in a different way, if you are simply following admirably detailed and eminently reproducible directions, are you showing your own talents?

Except that, to me anyway, following a set of instructions is precisely what Modernist Cuisine is not about. This is nowhere more evident than in their naming of the recipes: the recipes scattered throughout the books are all explicitly called "Example recipes." Each of them is designed to highlight a particular aspect of the chapter, but these books are emphatically not a collection of recipes, they are a collection of techniques. They are designed to enable cooks to imagine a dish and then figure out how to create it. Just because I have to look up the ratios for gelling a particular fruit puree doesn't mean that I've drained the dish I create using that component of its creativity. Modernist Cuisine has enabled creativity, not stomped on it.

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#16 IndyRob

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Posted 10 April 2011 - 05:19 PM


I think it's a reasonable and fair expression of a point of view and goes back to something I posted earlier. To put that in a different way, if you are simply following admirably detailed and eminently reproducible directions, are you showing your own talents?

Except that, to me anyway, following a set of instructions is precisely what Modernist Cuisine is not about. This is nowhere more evident than in their naming of the recipes: the recipes scattered throughout the books are all explicitly called "Example recipes." Each of them is designed to highlight a particular aspect of the chapter, but these books are emphatically not a collection of recipes, they are a collection of techniques. They are designed to enable cooks to imagine a dish and then figure out how to create it. Just because I have to look up the ratios for gelling a particular fruit puree doesn't mean that I've drained the dish I create using that component of its creativity. Modernist Cuisine has enabled creativity, not stomped on it.


I'll accept that. I'm at a disadvantage, not having seen the collection. Or, at an advantage in judging the perception of the book. And I think a big perception is "Forget everything you've ever known. This is how to cook."

I think that raises some hackles.

#17 Chris Hennes

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Posted 10 April 2011 - 05:26 PM

And I think a big perception is "Forget everything you've ever known. This is how to cook."

I think that raises some hackles.

Understood. And you are indeed at an advantage there, because every time I hear someone across the internet spouting off about how these books are soulless, or destroy cooking, or whatever other opinions they have without ever laying eyes on them I can't rationally evaluate their impressions: my hackles are already raised by the seeming-idiocy of judging a book they've never seen. It's that, more than their opinion itself, that really grates on me. They are judging a book by someone else's description of a sketch of its cover!

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#18 IndyRob

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Posted 10 April 2011 - 05:43 PM

YeahBut (<--I think that should be a word), the thing is that the review was quite conflicted. The whole romantic idea was that Rocky could overcome the Ruskie science project by force of good ol' American will.

Silly? Yes, perhaps. But do we want to make our victories our own? I think so.

#19 AaronM

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Posted 10 April 2011 - 06:05 PM

I have no formal training as a chef, and I have no problem putting myself and my family in danger in the name of culinary exploration. Every time I uncover something, I think of how it could change other things I do. For example, there's a recipe for a milkshake in the dry ice section of MC that comes from Arzak. I literally made that same thing 2 weeks ago without knowing anything about the Arzak dish - or anything similar. Just seemed like a good idea. Will I serve something similar knowing Arzak does it? Hell yes I will! So, no, I don't think having something shown to you necessarily takes the creativity out of cooking. You just have to take the ball and make it your own.

#20 lesliec

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Posted 10 April 2011 - 06:28 PM

Modernist Cuisine has enabled creativity, not stomped on it.

Nicely put, Mr Hennes.

I was party to a conversation a few weeks ago in which the image of the Italian grandmother was invoked as knowing all she needs to know about how to make good pasta. And the only response is 'Yeahbut (yes, it should be a word) if she'd had the benefit of the time to experiment and the luxury of being able to throw away the failures, maybe she'd have hit on the MC recipe and be making better pasta. As it is, she's making the best she can given the time/money/handed-down recipe she has'.

This of course is based on a belief that Modernist pasta is better. From my experience of making both it and 'traditional' pasta, it is (by 'better' I refer to its laudable properties of not sticking to itself while it's being rolled, and its mouthfeel/taste).

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#21 Todd in Chicago

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Posted 10 April 2011 - 08:46 PM

Just a random thought.....

Hmmm..From when I first heard about the set, and finally decided to put in my pre-order in July (I figured I could save up the money in 6 months and honestly thought it might be delayed even further - as it actually ended up being), I didn't really think of this as a cookbook. That's just a matter of semantics I suppose and my opinion on what a cookbook usually is. I saw this (based on my reading of these forums, zine articles, etc) really as more of a treatise on cooking, the "how and why" of cooking as viewed scientifically, with a focus on Modernist ingredients, techniques, and equipment. Recipes to be provided as illustrative examples of those items. So I never in my mind categorized it as a cookbook.

Cheers...

Todd in Chicago

#22 Chris Hennes

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Posted 10 April 2011 - 08:58 PM

I agree, Todd, insofar as we think of a "cookbook" as a listing of recipes, with maybe some side info about them if we are lucky. This certainly isn't like that!

I went right to the Plated Dishes volume and wasn't as impressed as I thought I'd be. A lot of the dishes (most?) I just didn't find interesting.


I think this is an interesting observation. I wouldn't characterize my reaction quite like that: I looked at those recipes and said (with respect to most of them) "oh, that's got some cool components/techniques"... I guess it didn't bother me that I wasn't that interested in wholly reproducing their exact dishes. That's sort of a central theme of Modernism, isn't it? You take inspiration from another chef's work, but going your own way is a critical component. This isn't Escoffier anymore, where the goal is exact reproduction of another chef's dish. Now the goal is, learn from that chef, and make your own dish. So to me, the fact that Volume Five is inspirational, and still not really a "cookbook" per se, is just fine.

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#23 AaronM

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Posted 10 April 2011 - 09:08 PM

That's how I tend to use cookbooks anyway. It's just a jumping off point till you create something of your own. I don't know if I've ever followed a recipe exactly. Especially being self-taught. Chef'ing is theft. It's why I don't believe in 'secret' ingredients. If someone wants to know, I'll tell them exactly how to make one of my dishes. I think back to watching East Meets West, Yan Can Cook, etc after I dropped out of high school (medical thing) and how I wouldn't know how to cook anything if people hadn't shared with me.

Really, it's the least I can do.

#24 AaronM

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Posted 10 April 2011 - 09:11 PM

I'm in the same boat as you though, "well, that's a neat idea - that's a cool technique" rather than "That's an awesome Dish."

I guess the cookbook/reference I really want just doesn't exist. I'm interested in things people have never seen before, and most of MC is things I'm at least peripherally aware of. This isn't meant as a dig on MC. It's a very nice set - and will prove valuable to me, but I guess I expected something more radical out of it.

Which is my fault, not theirs.



Edit: Let me be clear on this. There is some of that in there. Just not as much as I'd have hoped. Some of this is down to the really interesting techniques being buried in with a huge amount of info I'm very aware of. I was just hoping the ratio would have been skewed the other way. But the book wasn't written for me personally.

Edited by AaronM, 10 April 2011 - 09:19 PM.


#25 Chris Hennes

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Posted 10 April 2011 - 09:28 PM

Well, I think it's important to remember that (contrary to virtually every other cookbook out there) the MC team did in fact develop many new techniques; still, the majority of what they were doing in the more Modernist sections was to document techniques that were already out there. So naturally you are going to recognize them, if you are familiar with the Modernist canon. It would be pretty astonishing for someone to pop out of nowhere with a book of techniques no one has ever seen before.

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#26 AaronM

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Posted 10 April 2011 - 09:33 PM

I know, but you get caught up in your own wants/desires.

And the media blitz didn't help.

"THEY'RE CENTRIFUGING FOOD" and all.

#27 Dave the Cook

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Posted 10 April 2011 - 09:37 PM

A number of people have asked for advice on how to "read" Modernist Cuisine. For the most part, I think you can jump in anywhere, with the exception of volume five. It's like looking in the back of the textbook to find the answers: it might be a temporarily helpful shortcut, but you don't learn a lot.

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#28 Chris Hennes

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Posted 10 April 2011 - 09:44 PM

I know we keep saying that, and it seems very friendly and all. But still, in my opinion your best bet is to start at page 1•1, and just read. You're going to need to read a lot of it a second or even third time (in my experience), but really: the team did a superb job of organizing the book so that you learn the things you need to know for each successive chapter as you read through. Yes, you can start anywhere. But I think you should start at the beginning. It's a very good place to start.

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#29 Mjx

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Posted 11 April 2011 - 12:40 AM


I think it's a reasonable and fair expression of a point of view and goes back to something I posted earlier. To put that in a different way, if you are simply following admirably detailed and eminently reproducible directions, are you showing your own talents?

Except that, to me anyway, following a set of instructions is precisely what Modernist Cuisine is not about. This is nowhere more evident than in their naming of the recipes: the recipes scattered throughout the books are all explicitly called "Example recipes." Each of them is designed to highlight a particular aspect of the chapter, but these books are emphatically not a collection of recipes, they are a collection of techniques. They are designed to enable cooks to imagine a dish and then figure out how to create it. Just because I have to look up the ratios for gelling a particular fruit puree doesn't mean that I've drained the dish I create using that component of its creativity. Modernist Cuisine has enabled creativity, not stomped on it.


Definitely agree: The more I understand the chemistry, physiology, and physics of what happens in the kitchen, the less I rely on recipes for anything more than a starting point (sometimes, I'm just inspired to try something suggested their titles): The more I cook, the more what I put produce is 'me' (although frankly, I think a lot of so-called 'individualism'/'self-expression' are not actually unique, though we like to think they are.)

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#30 blackp

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Posted 11 April 2011 - 01:19 AM

Definitely agree: The more I understand the chemistry, physiology, and physics of what happens in the kitchen, the less I rely on recipes for anything more than a starting point (sometimes, I'm just inspired to try something suggested their titles): The more I cook, the more what I put produce is 'me' (although frankly, I think a lot of so-called 'individualism'/'self-expression' are not actually unique, though we like to think they are.)

Couldn't agree more. Understanding the how what and why of as yet untried techniques makes me much more likely to attempt them. When I first became aware of Nathan's sous vide book I wanted one - primarily because there were very few books on the subject and some (most?) of those had information which was suspect and at the very least the books didn't agree with one another. Thomas Keller's Under Pressure for instance suggests cooking temps much higher than I have found acceptable from my own cooking experiments. I gained much more useful information from the SV thread here on eG particularly those from Nathan and Douglas Baldwin.

Once the SV book morphed into the MC opus I became even more interested as snippets of its content were revealed. I've now had my copy for a few days and after browsing all the volumes I've decided to go back and start from page 1.1. There is too much information to miss if you only randomly access it - serial processing is called for :smile: . That said the book(s) is(are) set up very well for random access if you are looking for something specific.

I have printed a copy of the .pdf index (after a small hack) and have that with me so I can easily cross reference as I am reading. It is also good to scribble on - something I cannot bring myself to do to the original work.

I never really expected MC to be a cook book with recipes to slavishly follow. I expected a work which explained and displayed the science behind the various techniques and I have not been disappointed. In my opinion MC is like a post graduate course in cookery. Nearly every method (pastry chef magic aside) is explained and I have learned things about subjects I thought I knew well just from my initial browse.

I'm now just trying to manufacture enough spare time to get through the 2.5K pages!

Note to Nathan - It's better than I expected even given high expectations.

Peter.





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