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"Modernist Cuisine" by Myhrvold, Young & Bilet (Part 2)

Cookbook Modernist Reference

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#31 vengroff

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Posted 09 March 2011 - 10:12 AM

I read Ruhlman's review last night, and while I see the populist angle he was going for I think he could have gone another way and been much more effective. I haven't gotten my hands on a copy yet, but to me this seems like the kind of book best reviewed after a year or so, not after two weeks. That's when you a reviewer can seriously talk about how and why it has changed their life in the kitchen. But, of course, the NYT doesn't want to wait a year to publish a review. That's why Ruhlman was, or could have been, a brilliant choice. He actually has quite a bit of experience with a number of the techniques covered, and so although he had to pick them up without the benefit of the book, he could have written a good chunk of the one-year review by weaving together his own longer-term experiences with the comprehensive treatment the book offers. That's a review I would have much rather read, and I think if done right it could have played well to a mass audience as well.
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#32 RDaneel

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Posted 09 March 2011 - 10:36 AM

So yes to food science, no to taking a craft and turning it into the unreachable. No to the obsessive perfectionists who move what we should all be doing into the realm of the gods. Yes to knowing the principles, and cooking from the heart.


Burnin', I suggest checking out the book, or at least the Cooking with MC thread, before passing judgment. MC may be obsessive in the sense that certain processes and ingredients are measured carefully, but (having had the books for almost a week now) I don't see them as at all moving cooking "into the realm of the gods."

Of the 1500 recipes, I can cook most of them without spending more than $100-200 in "modernist" ingredients and tools. I am well-equipped (I have an immersion circulator, hand blender, digital scale, Thermapen, etc.), but certainly don't have any kitchen gear that costs $2k, $5k, etc. While it is perhaps disappointing that I can't cook 100% of the 1500 recipes included in the book, I can certainly do most of them. Personally, I don't see this as a reason to complain.

This book isn't written for the 30-minute-meals or "one pot" crowd (please know I'm not saying you're in that group!), and I am glad that it wasn't simplified to that level. I think if you have a chance to play with the book, you'll be surprised about how much it offers "regular" people with an interest in this hobby/profession/avocation, and how little it requires godlike capabilities. I'm trying to view the book the way I would a very nice set of golf clubs (though I don't golf). Could they help my game? Sure. Will I ever live up to their capabilities? I'm not sure, but I'll try...

#33 Burnin' It

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Posted 09 March 2011 - 10:37 AM

cost or equipment limitations be damned.


That would be my point exactly.

#34 Chris Amirault

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Posted 09 March 2011 - 10:38 AM

The book is simply too big for generalizations. Sure, there are a lot of multi-step dishes. But some are pretty simple and fast. Once you've made that cheese -- which takes about ten minutes of attention -- that mac & cheese is a 15 minute, one-pot meal.
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#35 Chris Amirault

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Posted 09 March 2011 - 10:42 AM


cost or equipment limitations be damned.


That would be my point exactly.


Which is that cookbooks shouldn't include a range of preparations, some of which exceed some people's ability to obtain the needed ingredients or tools? That would toss out some of the most important cookbooks of the last decade or two, including everything by Thomas Keller, the Alinea & Fat Duck books, all of the Chez Panisse cookbooks, and Ruhlman & Polcyn's Charcuterie.
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#36 Katie Meadow

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Posted 09 March 2011 - 10:54 AM

Speaking as someone who is very unlikely to buy the book(s), I thought the NYT review was pretty well balanced. The Times Dining section must appeal to a huge variety of cooks and readers; I venture to say there must be plenty of readers who never even heard of the eminent doctor until this morning, and many of us who have read snippets about it or see the chatter on places like eG and who (by that I mean me) greatly appreciate an actual review of the book so they don't have to admit their general ignorance about the new food science here. I'm interested in the subject, but not about to plunge in.

Ruhlman's review seemed careful and thoughtful and aimed at a broad audience. I'm glad to know that if I had a pressure cooker I could make really great stock in small batches, so when my library gets a copy (probably never) I can just get that volume, if someone tells me which one it is. Not having a pressure cooker is a minor stumbling block, to say nothing of all the other equipment. Of course the review also brought out the part of me that wants to run screaming back under the covers with a copy of Laurie Colwin. All good.

#37 Pam Brunning

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Posted 09 March 2011 - 11:08 AM

Having just read an interview with Myhrvold in the New Scientist I don't think the man knows what he is talking about. One observation he makes is that a steak that is twice the thickness needs four times longer to cook than one half the thickness - that is rubbish - you give a 1 inch steak four times longer than a half inch thick steak all you get is cremated steak.
He also says there is no point in chilling vegetables after blanching, left to cool off on the side gives the same result. Come on, the sooner you stop the cooking process by chilling the crisper the result.
If I find erroneous statements like that in any academic work I am afraid I dismiss it out of hand.
He should stick to computers and let those with years of experiance in the culinary arts do the cooking. Am I being stupid??
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#38 RWells

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Posted 09 March 2011 - 11:08 AM

I think Ruhlman is on to something. Anything that required as much research and dedication as Modernist Cuisine is going to take quite a bit of time to infiltrate our psyche fully. An early member of the legendary eGullet Sous Vide thread who knew nathanm as one of a handful of go to arbitors who could work through a problem with clarity and precision, I understand that this book has been a work in progress, one of increasing scope and incredible dedication. Once Nathan became Dr.Nathan Myhrvold, scientist, Microsoft executive and billionaire, he admited to us that he was writing the definitive Sous Vide book and that the focus was constantly changing and expanding. The New York Times waits for no review, but I think the measure of this book will be borne out over time.
Even Samantha Brown would have hard time summoning a "wow" for this. Anthony Bourdain

#39 Burnin' It

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Posted 09 March 2011 - 11:10 AM

Of the 1500 recipes, I can cook most of them without spending more than $100-200 in "modernist" ingredients and tools. I am well-equipped (I have an immersion circulator, hand blender, digital scale, Thermapen, etc.), but certainly don't have any kitchen gear that costs $2k, $5k, etc. While it is perhaps disappointing that I can't cook 100% of the 1500 recipes included in the book, I can certainly do most of them. Personally, I don't see this as a reason to complain.


I think some folks may be a little out of the spectrum when they think about what the norm is. Without spending more than $100-$200? I've never spent that much on cooking a meal, unless it was a holiday and I needed to feed a tribe. Spending $100-$200 on a weekend hobby would be way out of reach for the vast majority.

Yes, there is a place for experimental cuisine. But where's the edge? When do we say, have we stopped feeding people and are more concerned with what we can do, not why we are doing it?

Thomas Keller, Grant Achatz, are talented people. But isn't it time to move away from the over complicated and costly and back to reality? This book takes it further.

There's so much work to do, giving people access to basic cooking skills and ingredients.

#40 Paul Kierstead

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Posted 09 March 2011 - 11:15 AM

Maybe there is, but every review I've read says it advocates an obsessive sensibility, unreproducible in almost any real kitchen.


You've been reading different reviews then I have been. In the reviews I've read, "advocate" doesn't enter into it. I'm not just splitting hairs here, there is a big difference. From what I've read in excepts and reviews, it gives you the extreme, just how far you can go. It isn't telling you that you should do that, or that it is necessary, it is telling you what the outcome would be if you did it no holds barred. Anyone with "common sense" would know that you don't slavishly follow a book, you use it for inspiration and information, picking and choosing your techniques and recipes. It isn't a Bible, and isn't prescriptive. It is just information for your consideration. If the book held back and only gave you "practical" methods, it would deny the reader the choice. This way you have your choice, and it doesn't have to be all or nothing; all the excepts I've seen give plenty of information to allow you apply the general technique without the same level of obsession if you should so wish.

#41 Chris Hennes

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Posted 09 March 2011 - 11:16 AM

Am I being stupid??

Not stupid: you are just going by your gut feelings, whereas Myhrvold and Co. have actually tested these things. The book goes into considerable detail on those assertions, actually showing the temperature plots and the like. With respect to steak cooking time: if you cook the steak four times as long at the same temperature you will incinerate the outside of the steak by the time the inside is done. It's the final core temperature that takes four times as long to reach. SO the solution, as anyone cooking a thick steak already intuitively knows, is to lower the temperature you're cooking it at. With respect to "shocking" vegetables: the point is that shocking doesn't stop the cooking process! While that was always assumed to be the case, careful measurements show that it's simply false: an old wives' tale, if you will. The core temperature reached is almost identical regardless of how fast you chill.

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#42 Paul Kierstead

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Posted 09 March 2011 - 11:19 AM

Spending $100-$200 on a weekend hobby would be way out of reach for the vast majority.


What does the majority have to do with it?

Thomas Keller, Grant Achatz, are talented people. But isn't it time to move away from the over complicated and costly and back to reality?


Why? I don't understand this statement at all. This isn't public policy here. Again, it isn't prescriptive. Nobody is making you eat, make, buy or otherwise have anything to do with it. If you want to go "back to reality" I totally understand that, but why I should follow you I don't understand at all.

#43 Chris Amirault

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Posted 09 March 2011 - 11:19 AM

Having just read an interview with Myhrvold in the New Scientist I don't think the man knows what he is talking about. One observation he makes is that a steak that is twice the thickness needs four times longer to cook than one half the thickness - that is rubbish - you give a 1 inch steak four times longer than a half inch thick steak all you get is cremated steak.
He also says there is no point in chilling vegetables after blanching, left to cool off on the side gives the same result. Come on, the sooner you stop the cooking process by chilling the crisper the result.
If I find erroneous statements like that in any academic work I am afraid I dismiss it out of hand.
He should stick to computers and let those with years of experiance in the culinary arts do the cooking. Am I being stupid??


Someone's misquoting the book. It doesn't say that ice baths have no point. It says, correctly, that ice baths don't immediately halt the cooking process. The book is filled with references to ice baths, btw, so they clearly think they do something.

Just to be clear about the rest of what you're claiming: you believe that he and his team of researchers don't know what they're talking about and that their experimental measurements of temps and times are thus fraudulent? They're consistent with my experience and half-assed experiments, I should add; what did your experiments tell you?
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#44 DaleJ

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Posted 09 March 2011 - 11:20 AM

I fail to see the "either/or" aspect. Basic cooking education can surely coexist with MC in this world, to everyone's benefit.

#45 Chris Amirault

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Posted 09 March 2011 - 11:21 AM

It does in this book, for many of those who have actually read and used it.
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#46 mkayahara

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Posted 09 March 2011 - 11:37 AM

I think another thing that's being discounted by those who would dismiss this book out of hand is that - as Ruhlman points out - we have no idea yet what the spin-offs will be that can be used in every kitchen! It reminds me of the shuttle program: putting a man on the moon was a highly expensive project that was completely useless... unless you care to consider the ways it's pushed technology forward. (Not that I'm saying Modernist Cuisine is generally comparable to the shuttle program, but in this respect, I think it is.)
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#47 Burnin' It

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Posted 09 March 2011 - 11:44 AM

I think another thing that's being discounted by those who would dismiss this book out of hand is that - as Ruhlman points out - we have no idea yet what the spin-offs will be that can be used in every kitchen! It reminds me of the shuttle program: putting a man on the moon was a highly expensive project that was completely useless... unless you care to consider the ways it's pushed technology forward. (Not that I'm saying Modernist Cuisine is generally comparable to the shuttle program, but in this respect, I think it is.)


This I totally agree with. I just don't want to see everyone trying to build their own space shuttle ;)

#48 angevin

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Posted 09 March 2011 - 12:02 PM


I think that those of us reading this thread are "slightly" biased towards the book and Nathan's passion in this area[.]


I'd go one step further and say that many of us are the ideal readers for this project, and as such it feels like a dream come true. It is certainly appropriate to imagine other readers who, for perfectly legitimate reasons, don't feel the same way.


I’ve been following the modernist cuisine threads on-and-off and do find it all pretty fascinating. And such a thrill to have the author on line and engaged in discussion with us. But at the risk of coming off as a little old lady shaking her cane in the air at newfangled methods, I’ll admit to having some reservations about the whole concept of manipulating food so extensively.

I realize that many of the ingredients and techniques we think of as part of traditional gourmet cooking are ingredients that have been already highly manipulated and processed to produce something revelatory. Like bread, wine and cheese, among other things. So I get the argument that modernist cuisine is just taking that same philosophy and applying it in new and unique ways. And yeah, it looks really cool, the techniques are astoundingly interesting and I know some of it is downright delicious, delighting the eye as well as the palate.

However, I work as a product developer for a major food company, and something about it all just rubs me the wrong way. Don’t get me wrong, I know mass-produced, cost-reduced factory-made food for the masses is in an entirely different league than genius chefs turning out brilliant creations for high end restaurants. But they’re using the same tools.

For instance, I have, at my disposal, hundreds of flavors from flavor scientists who are world-renown experts in their field; some of these would knock your socks off in intensity and quality. Although I’m tempted to sneak a few of the more outstanding examples home to add to my own cooking (Trust me, I’d be a rock star in the eyes of my family if served a Thanksgiving gravy that had a cleverly concocted blend of a great caramelized onion flavor, the most perfectly intense roasted top note, a savory enhancer perhaps.), I couldn’t do it. To me, that’s not cooking. And then I realize that these flavors are tools that, with the right equipment, the highly skilled modernist cook could possibly create in their own home (or restaurant). In fact, the picture of the modernist’s kitchen looks horrifyingly similar to our pilot plant here at work!

So it feels right to use these tools as long as I invest in the equipment, learn the science and techniques and produce them myself. But not right if I take what’s already out there in the food industry, add a splash or two, and use them to elevate my own cooking to a higher level? In other words, where is the line drawn? Maybe it shouldn’t be? And what’s next? The virtual meal that has the ability to far surpass the real life experience?

I don’t want foie gras that looks like a cherry. Or olive oil gummy worms. Yeah, they’re really interesting and I can appreciate the skill it took in their creation, but it all just seems too gimmicky for me. Not to mention that many of the ingredients referenced in the book are things we’ve been using for years here at work that consumers balk at on our labels. The world is being turned upside down!

These are just some nagging thoughts regarding the intersection of technology and art and not necessarily a criticism.

A good analogy might be hand painted art vs photo shopped pictures. Both use the creative process and both might be equally pleasing to the eye. And even traditional oil painting utilizes some chemistry in the manufacture of the oil-based pigments. But I tend to have a greater appreciation for the cruder, more soulful, old-fashioned methods and the product they create. Which is ironic given my food science background. Or maybe it’s my background that has me stubbornly insist on drawing that arbitrary line that separates the culinary arts from food technology.

Edited by angevin, 09 March 2011 - 12:05 PM.


#49 FoodMan

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Posted 09 March 2011 - 12:03 PM

Having just read an interview with Myhrvold in the New Scientist I don't think the man knows what he is talking about. One observation he makes is that a steak that is twice the thickness needs four times longer to cook than one half the thickness - that is rubbish - you give a 1 inch steak four times longer than a half inch thick steak all you get is cremated steak.
He also says there is no point in chilling vegetables after blanching, left to cool off on the side gives the same result. Come on, the sooner you stop the cooking process by chilling the crisper the result.
If I find erroneous statements like that in any academic work I am afraid I dismiss it out of hand.
He should stick to computers and let those with years of experiance in the culinary arts do the cooking. Am I being stupid??


hmm...don't know about that last question of yours, but you are definitly being limited in your thinking to what you "know". The point of books like MC or McGee is to examine those long held traditions or assumptions and see if they satnd to scientific scrutiny. If you are grilling the steak, then of course you will cremate the outside, but he is probably talking about even low temperature (like SV) in order to get the core of the steak up to the proper degree of donness. It's not rubbish, it's proven science. I can prove that using my own SV setup.

Really, like DalJ said, it is not either extreme Roto-vap cuisine or cooking in a hearth in this day and age. Both can coexist quiet well.


Spending $100-$200 on a weekend hobby would be way out of reach for the vast majority.


The 100 or 200 that was mentioned was intended to mean like an initial investment, not necessarily breaking that out every time you open MC! Common sense tells me I can maker that Macaroni and Cheese that was mentioned with less than $10.



Thomas Keller, Grant Achatz, are talented people. But isn't it time to move away from the over complicated and costly and back to reality?


I am not even sure what that means. The more we can learn from the masters in any subject, the better we are!


Honestly, some comments are very illogical and defy common sense.

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#50 nathanm

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Posted 09 March 2011 - 12:08 PM

I find the NYT review to be very disappointing.

On one hand, one could excerpt sentences from it would surely rank among the most postiive things every printed in an NYT book review. On the other hand one could also excerpt sentences which are among the most mean spirited and damning ever put in an NYT book review. As a result, you can come away from the review with nearly any point of view you want ranging from dismissive and condemning to praiseworthy adulation.

If you point at the positive parts, then I have nothing to complain about. Indeed, given those comments it may seem petty that I even bring it up.

Of course if you point at the negative parts then it's quite a different story.

Part of the issue is what a book review is about. There are at least three goals that most book reviews have. The first and most direct is that it describe the book to people so it can be a guide to their purchase decision. But book reviews are themselves a kind of literature and many are written at least in part to be an entertaining piece of writing. The third goal of many book reviews are a paen to the ego of the reviewer, and the glory of the publication (The New York Times!), establishing how superior they are.

Ruhlman's review can't seem to make up its mind about the first two. It says lots of positive things, but also many negative. That may be in part an effort to make it fun to read: that's how I interpret the comment about how many thousands of milligrams of asprin are required to read the book straight through. (safety note: don't take that much asprin at once, it would be an overdose!)

Mostly the schizophrenic nature of his comments make it seem like he wants to have it both ways. To people who love the book (for example, the professional chefs that have seen it) he can point to the positive comments and talk about how miraculous our stock recipe is, or other very positive comments. To people who have a different take he can moan about how bad the text is, how expensive the equipment is, and how much asprin he had to take.

The false modesty of how Ruhlman is not qualified to review the book is quite telling. He's "just" a trained chef, food journalist, author of multiple books referenced by MC, and has written about the world's best modernist chef. That's all. But even he isn't qualified to review the book.

Oh please! If he really thinks he couldn't do the job then he shouldn't have accepted the assignment. But nobody would say he isn't qualified. Of course he is. And if he does accept the assignment why spend the text to remind us of his resume. It's often true that a book review tells us more about the reviewer, than about the book, but that is said in a figurative manner ; in this case it is literally true.

Another telling point is that in his own blog post he doesn't throw the barbs. So maybe it is some rule at the NYT that you have to do that to pass muster. Several people have told me "what do you expect from the New York Times, they always have bitchy, holier-than-thou book reviews". So maybe his editor made him do it.

Given other posts in this thread, let me be clear that Ruhlman is certainly entitled to his opinion, and the most damning things he says about the book are mostly that - opinion. It's up to him whether found the book "mindcrushingly boring", as evidently he did. Naturally, I'm disappointed because we went to a lot of effort to make the text clear and easy to read. We've gotten high marks from others on explaining difficult concepts in a simple clear manner. But hey it's his opinion. Maybe the text did crush his mind with boredom, but I take some solace that many others don't feel that way. Plus, you can always skip those parts. In fact, based on some of the rest of the review, that may be exactly what he did.

Some of his other comments are more subject to question. He says that we are "Sometimes overly proud of itself, at other times it is recklessly (and admirably) opinionated.". He then proceeds to quote sentences about food saftey, and about epidemiology studies linking saturated fat to heart disease as examples of our "reckless" opinion.

Really? In the revelant sections of the book we go WAY out of our way to support every single thing we say with both explanations, and academic references. It isn't my "reckless opinion" that there is no large study linking saturated fat - we document it. In fact, us going overboard on explaining this (because it is sure to be controversal) might be the part he found mindcrushingly boring. So, which way do you want it? Documented and through (but possibily boring if you don't find food saftey or nutritional epidemiology interesting).

I also have a problem with the "recklessly (and admirably)". It's another example of trying to have it both ways. Depending on the audience he can point at either word. The same "have it both ways" thing crops up in the faux-populism. He complains (incorrectly) that we have nothing but sous vide for meat. But he is the author of Under Pressure, a book solely about sous vide! What is up with that?

Another comment panders to the natural food movement "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?".

Well Michael, you tell me. You're the author of a book on sous vide which is precisely one of those techniques.

Of course, he knows that. He also knows we address this issue in the book. We go to great lengths to explain that this is a false dichotomy. Using unfamiliar techinques 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 techinques and ingredients are safe.

Raising this as a question lets him pander to people with those fears, and keep his credibility with them. It seems so thoughtful to pose this question, but it seems to me another way to try to have it both ways.

A post above questions Ruhlman's statement that there are no recipes for meat that don't use sous vide. Of course that is totally wrong. We have a chapter on combi-ovens, CVAP ovens and microwaves and have meat recipes for each of them. We have a big section on smoking meats that uses a smoker. We have a big section on raw meat that doesn't use heat at all. We have a big section on sausage and cured meats. Our section on cooking tough meats has pressure cooking times for all manner of tough meats - including a pressure cooked carnitas. We even have microwaved meats - including a very cook and super fast beef jerky, and a tilapia recipe from the mother of one our chefs.

I have not counted them up, but I suspect that we have more non-sous vide meat recipes in the book than a typical cookbook has recipes of any kind. We certainly have more non-sous recipes than Under Pressure does.

An odd thing about this assertion is that Ruhlman emailed me with questions EVERY DAY for the last week or so, so even if he couldn't find any of the recipes, he sure could have asked.

So anyway, those are my thoughts on the review. I hope that Ruhlman liked the book - if I average the postiive and negative comments it seems so but it is hard to be sure.

It seems that he found it useful in the ways that I most want it to be used - as a reference work that opens up new culinary vistas.
Nathan

#51 FoodMan

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Posted 09 March 2011 - 12:14 PM



I think that those of us reading this thread are "slightly" biased towards the book and Nathan's passion in this area[.]


I'd go one step further and say that many of us are the ideal readers for this project, and as such it feels like a dream come true. It is certainly appropriate to imagine other readers who, for perfectly legitimate reasons, don't feel the same way.


I’ve been following the modernist cuisine threads on-and-off and do find it all pretty fascinating. And such a thrill to have the author on line and engaged in discussion with us. But at the risk of coming off as a little old lady shaking her cane in the air at newfangled methods, I’ll admit to having some reservations about the whole concept of manipulating food so extensively.

I realize that many of the ingredients and techniques we think of as part of traditional gourmet cooking are ingredients that have been already highly manipulated and processed to produce something revelatory. Like bread, wine and cheese, among other things. So I get the argument that modernist cuisine is just taking that same philosophy and applying it in new and unique ways. And yeah, it looks really cool, the techniques are astoundingly interesting and I know some of it is downright delicious, delighting the eye as well as the palate.

However, I work as a product developer for a major food company, and something about it all just rubs me the wrong way. Don’t get me wrong, I know mass-produced, cost-reduced factory-made food for the masses is in an entirely different league than genius chefs turning out brilliant creations for high end restaurants. But they’re using the same tools.

For instance, I have, at my disposal, hundreds of flavors from flavor scientists who are world-renown experts in their field; some of these would knock your socks off in intensity and quality. Although I’m tempted to sneak a few of the more outstanding examples home to add to my own cooking (Trust me, I’d be a rock star in the eyes of my family if served a Thanksgiving gravy that had a cleverly concocted blend of a great caramelized onion flavor, the most perfectly intense roasted top note, a savory enhancer perhaps.), I couldn’t do it. To me, that’s not cooking. And then I realize that these flavors are tools that, with the right equipment, the highly skilled modernist cook could possibly create in their own home (or restaurant). In fact, the picture of the modernist’s kitchen looks horrifyingly similar to our pilot plant here at work!

So it feels right to use these tools as long as I invest in the equipment, learn the science and techniques and produce them myself. But not right if I take what’s already out there in the food industry, add a splash or two, and use them to elevate my own cooking to a higher level? In other words, where is the line drawn? Maybe it shouldn’t be? And what’s next? The virtual meal that has the ability to far surpass the real life experience?

I don’t want foie gras that looks like a cherry. Or olive oil gummy worms. Yeah, they’re really interesting and I can appreciate the skill it took in their creation, but it all just seems too gimmicky for me. Not to mention that many of the ingredients referenced in the book are things we’ve been using for years here at work that consumers balk at on our labels. The world is being turned upside down!

These are just some nagging thoughts regarding the intersection of technology and art and not necessarily a criticism.

A good analogy might be hand painted art vs photo shopped pictures. Both use the creative process and both might be equally pleasing to the eye. And even traditional oil painting utilizes some chemistry in the manufacture of the oil-based pigments. But I tend to have a greater appreciation for the cruder, more soulful, old-fashioned methods and the product they create. Which is ironic given my food science background. Or maybe it’s my background that has me stubbornly insist on drawing that arbitrary line that separates the culinary arts from food technology.



That makes a lot of sense and is a subject worth talking about and discussing. I certainly do not want virtual meals or my whole days nutrition in the form of a sheet of paper. I think the "line" needs to be drawn on a personal level and everyone will decide foro themselves. For example, I seriously doubt that cooking in my clay pots and pans actually makes that MUCH of a difference, but I love to use them and enjoy doing so. So, I am not about to chuck them all out just because MC tells me that it's all BS.

Going back to MC, it's point is to actually provide the cook/chef with all the possible information and scientific proof to make that "where to draw the line" decision. At least I hope it does. If adding meat glue to fried chicken is your "line", then skip it and just follow the rest of that technique and so on.

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#52 Jose Nieves

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Posted 09 March 2011 - 12:29 PM

Having just read an interview with Myhrvold in the New Scientist I don't think the man knows what he is talking about. One observation he makes is that a steak that is twice the thickness needs four times longer to cook than one half the thickness - that is rubbish - you give a 1 inch steak four times longer than a half inch thick steak all you get is cremated steak.
He also says there is no point in chilling vegetables after blanching, left to cool off on the side gives the same result. Come on, the sooner you stop the cooking process by chilling the crisper the result.
If I find erroneous statements like that in any academic work I am afraid I dismiss it out of hand.
He should stick to computers and let those with years of experiance in the culinary arts do the cooking. Am I being stupid??


Nathan's exact words in the article are "Suppose you're cooking a steak that's 1 inch thick and now I tell you to cook a steak that's 2 inches thick. Most people would agree that cooking the 2-inch steak will take longer, but how much longer? Intuition tells you it should be double the time. But heat conduction in things with similar geometry scales roughly as the square of the thickness. So it will take roughly four times as long. That's a simple rule, but I've never found a cookbook that says that.. it is a common cooking technique to plunge something into ice water to stop the cooking. But it turns out it doesn't stop the cooking any quicker than if you leave it out on the counter.."

As someone with years of experience in the culinary arts AND an advanced scientific degree/background, I would agree with both of these statements. Maintaining all other variables equal, a piece of steak that is twice as thick will take between three to four times longer to cook hence the reason that in situations where time becomes a constant (two different cuts of meat that need to come to the pass at the same time), a cook gets "creative" by manipulating the temperature(crank the heat or reduce the distance between the product and heat source) or the thickness (slice it in half or press down on the meat to "reduce" the thickness, flip it constantly, put a hot pan on top of the meat to double the amount of heat sources, etc).

As for the use of ice baths, I believe Nathan is not talking about product “crispness” and just addresses carryover cooking. When you pull your al dente noodles out of the hot water, should you chill them quickly by rinsing them in cold water or just leave them in the counter?

I would not say that you are “stupid” (your words, not mine..) but telling someone to “stick to computers and let those with years of experiance in the culinary arts do the cooking” is probably not the best comment to make, specially to a forum of people with different culinary backgrounds who have an interest in the science of cooking and who feel that the information in Nathan’s book is long overdue.

#53 Jenni

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Posted 09 March 2011 - 12:43 PM

The false modesty of how Ruhlman is not qualified to review the book is quite telling. He's "just" a trained chef, food journalist, author of multiple books referenced by MC, and has written about the world's best modernist chef. That's all. But even he isn't qualified to review the book.

Oh please! If he really thinks he couldn't do the job then he shouldn't have accepted the assignment. But nobody would say he isn't qualified. Of course he is. And if he does accept the assignment why spend the text to remind us of his resume. It's often true that a book review tells us more about the reviewer, than about the book, but that is said in a figurative manner ; in this case it is literally true.


I think this is very unfair of you. The way I interpreted Ruhlman's statement is that even though he knows a lot, even he cannot possibly fully verify everything you say in this book. Does that make sense? Basically he is saying you have covered so much ground that it is far beyond his knowledge - so that was a compliment of the book!

#54 Chris Amirault

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Posted 09 March 2011 - 12:46 PM

Great interactive graphic of the hamburger on the Wall St Journal website: click.
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#55 KennethT

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Posted 09 March 2011 - 01:59 PM




I think that those of us reading this thread are "slightly" biased towards the book and Nathan's passion in this area[.]


I'd go one step further and say that many of us are the ideal readers for this project, and as such it feels like a dream come true. It is certainly appropriate to imagine other readers who, for perfectly legitimate reasons, don't feel the same way.


I’ve been following the modernist cuisine threads on-and-off and do find it all pretty fascinating. And such a thrill to have the author on line and engaged in discussion with us. But at the risk of coming off as a little old lady shaking her cane in the air at newfangled methods, I’ll admit to having some reservations about the whole concept of manipulating food so extensively.

I realize that many of the ingredients and techniques we think of as part of traditional gourmet cooking are ingredients that have been already highly manipulated and processed to produce something revelatory. Like bread, wine and cheese, among other things. So I get the argument that modernist cuisine is just taking that same philosophy and applying it in new and unique ways. And yeah, it looks really cool, the techniques are astoundingly interesting and I know some of it is downright delicious, delighting the eye as well as the palate.

However, I work as a product developer for a major food company, and something about it all just rubs me the wrong way. Don’t get me wrong, I know mass-produced, cost-reduced factory-made food for the masses is in an entirely different league than genius chefs turning out brilliant creations for high end restaurants. But they’re using the same tools.

For instance, I have, at my disposal, hundreds of flavors from flavor scientists who are world-renown experts in their field; some of these would knock your socks off in intensity and quality. Although I’m tempted to sneak a few of the more outstanding examples home to add to my own cooking (Trust me, I’d be a rock star in the eyes of my family if served a Thanksgiving gravy that had a cleverly concocted blend of a great caramelized onion flavor, the most perfectly intense roasted top note, a savory enhancer perhaps.), I couldn’t do it. To me, that’s not cooking. And then I realize that these flavors are tools that, with the right equipment, the highly skilled modernist cook could possibly create in their own home (or restaurant). In fact, the picture of the modernist’s kitchen looks horrifyingly similar to our pilot plant here at work!

So it feels right to use these tools as long as I invest in the equipment, learn the science and techniques and produce them myself. But not right if I take what’s already out there in the food industry, add a splash or two, and use them to elevate my own cooking to a higher level? In other words, where is the line drawn? Maybe it shouldn’t be? And what’s next? The virtual meal that has the ability to far surpass the real life experience?

I don’t want foie gras that looks like a cherry. Or olive oil gummy worms. Yeah, they’re really interesting and I can appreciate the skill it took in their creation, but it all just seems too gimmicky for me. Not to mention that many of the ingredients referenced in the book are things we’ve been using for years here at work that consumers balk at on our labels. The world is being turned upside down!

These are just some nagging thoughts regarding the intersection of technology and art and not necessarily a criticism.

A good analogy might be hand painted art vs photo shopped pictures. Both use the creative process and both might be equally pleasing to the eye. And even traditional oil painting utilizes some chemistry in the manufacture of the oil-based pigments. But I tend to have a greater appreciation for the cruder, more soulful, old-fashioned methods and the product they create. Which is ironic given my food science background. Or maybe it’s my background that has me stubbornly insist on drawing that arbitrary line that separates the culinary arts from food technology.



That makes a lot of sense and is a subject worth talking about and discussing. I certainly do not want virtual meals or my whole days nutrition in the form of a sheet of paper. I think the "line" needs to be drawn on a personal level and everyone will decide foro themselves. For example, I seriously doubt that cooking in my clay pots and pans actually makes that MUCH of a difference, but I love to use them and enjoy doing so. So, I am not about to chuck them all out just because MC tells me that it's all BS.

Going back to MC, it's point is to actually provide the cook/chef with all the possible information and scientific proof to make that "where to draw the line" decision. At least I hope it does. If adding meat glue to fried chicken is your "line", then skip it and just follow the rest of that technique and so on.


I've been avoiding jumping in on this topic - partly because I've been living it in real life as my friends learn that I have been a proud owner for the past few days. I actually get a bit of ribbing from some people who bought it for me as a gift! From the little experience I have so far with the book - I've literally just scratched the surface - it seems that many of the recipes are examples to prove a theory, or illustrate a point. Like the hamburger that's been referenced quite a few times. A friend forwarded the NY Post article to me, which made me a little sick. Obviously, the writer of that article has not read the entire book, or even the small amount that I or anyone who's been active on this and the cooking with forum have... It seems to me that the point of the hamburger is to show a variety of possible techniques in relation to a "humble", relatable product - as opposed to a "frou frou" plated dish. To me, using the hamburger as an example is brilliant because it makes it that much more accessible and tangible. One of the things many of us have found so far with the book is its remarkable ability to clarify a rather complicated topic and make it tangible/understandable to those without PhDs.... Plus, the book makes no opinion that you must do all of the techniques to do the recipe. Rather, it is showing the extent of how far is possible - but surely not necessary. While vertically grinding the beef may make it as juicy as possible, I'm sure it'd be just fine without using that technique - maybe 95% as juicy? But isn't it great to know how to make it EVEN better???? Whatever... the point is there's nothing wrong with showing all the possibilities of technology - people can decide for themselves how much they want to use for their end result. But you can't make the best decision without all the facts, which is what this book is all about - giving us all the facts from a very well thought out/researched perspective.

#56 Paul Kierstead

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Posted 09 March 2011 - 02:07 PM

I found the NYT review to be very positive. To me, most of the negative was applicability (which will be an issue for some people) and breadth. Those seem like possibly fair issues: it is a somewhat specialized volume, even if purely due to its size. The review's view of the actual content seemed positive, the negative was more meta.

I'd agree with the false modesty comment, but on the other hand, I think that false modesty in this context is a sort of dance or ritual; its expected he would say it.

Edited by Paul Kierstead, 09 March 2011 - 02:08 PM.


#57 runwestierun

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Posted 09 March 2011 - 02:18 PM

Oh the last couple days have been so interesting! The release of Modernist Cuisine has ruffled some feathers. First Alton Brown. Why was he so dismissive? Was he worried that he'd be toppled from his food science throne? Or was it something else? We have all encountered people with a very narrow point of view. They are distainful of people with less skill/education/wealth than them and fiercly suspicious of people with more skill/education/wealth than them. I usually think of them as late majority, but I would never think of Alton Brown or Michael Ruhlman as late majority. Here is an explanation of the diffusion of innovations in a society, explaining that term:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diffusion_of_innovations

America definitely has a cult of mediocrity. And this book (best book ever) and it's author (wealthiest/most educated/most skilled man ever) are certainly superlatively exceptional. Maybe Alton Brown and Michael Ruhlman are a little afraid of being associated with the book, of being perceived as geeks, not "regular", and they are willing to feign ignorance (MR) or poverty (AB) to maintain that perception. If that's true, how infinitely disappointing, in them and our culture in general. I was completely taken by surprise that a book about cooking could be so threatening to so many people. There is so much pressure in our culture not to stand out. You see school children make fun of dumb kids AND smart kids. There is so much pressure to be regular and Modernist Cuisine is not regular!

Having said all that, I must say that I am still peeing-in-my-pants excited about getting my copy, which tragically has been delayed until all my modernist chemicals expire. :wink: I think of this book like I do my new husband's impending back surgery. We can pay some guy a few thousand dollars and he will go to school for about 20 years, train for maybe 8, buy millions of dollars worth of equipment and fix my new husband's spine. The return on the investment so so so outweighs the individual cost. For $500 I can get THIS BOOK! I am the luckiest girl alive.

#58 nathanm

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Posted 09 March 2011 - 02:21 PM

I think this is very unfair of you. The way I interpreted Ruhlman's statement is that even though he knows a lot, even he cannot possibly fully verify everything you say in this book. Does that make sense? Basically he is saying you have covered so much ground that it is far beyond his knowledge - so that was a compliment of the book!

Perhaps I was being unfair. It is hard to say.

One way to view is as you suggest, that he was genuinely stating how advanced the book is and that he can't personally vouch for all of it.

Another way to view is as I suggested - a way to estabish his credentials. His supposed inability to review it didn't stop him from being very critical.

A third way to view it, which some folks have suggested to me is that it is damning with faint praise - i.e. a way to say that the book is so complicated that even somebody with a degree from cullinary instute of America who has written lots of books can't understand it.

I am sure there are other interpretations. The tenor of the rest of the piece makes me think my interpretation is correct. He didn't really need to trot out all of his credentials the way he did. Given that Ruhlman is a professional writer, edited by a professional editor at NYT, I am not that inclined to think that the nuance and direction is something that they shape actively. A professional's prose isn't supposed to accicentally make a point.

But hey, maybe I am wrong.
Nathan

#59 Jose Nieves

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Posted 09 March 2011 - 02:31 PM

A third way to view it, which some folks have suggested to me is that it is damning with faint praise - i.e. a way to say that the book is so complicated that even somebody with a degree from cullinary instute of America who has written lots of books can't understand it.. But hey, maybe I am wrong.


OOoOoOo No, no, no, no.. You are very very very wrong Nathan. So wrong I don't even know where to start.. Soooo wrong..

Ruhlman never received a degree from The Culinary Institute of America :huh: Just saying...

#60 IndyRob

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Posted 09 March 2011 - 02:44 PM

I was a little surprised to see a story on MC posted on slashdot.org. I was more surprised to read the comments and not find any flamewars. That's quite an accomplishment for a personality associated with Microsoft (slashdot is a very Linux oriented nerd news site).





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