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"Modernist Cuisine" by Myhrvold, Young & Bilet (Part 1)


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We do have a very good macaron recipe, but it is not in the book, unfortunately.

We want to do a pastry book, but we need to catch our breath after this one.

wow.... that many pages WITHOUT pastry. In all the buildup to this book, I just assumed that anything this massive and extensive would include, well, everything. I can't wait to see this monstrosity!

I'll be celebrating my 40th by giving ChefG 2x the price of this set (well, I'll be eating and drinking one set's worth, and the lovely wife the other set's worth), so it will be some time before I can seriously consider springing for this. I've been tempted to start figuring out who at the Chicago Public Library I should harass to make sure they get a set for the reference collection.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Yesterday, a few Society volunteers and members got access to a "reading room" for two weeks, in which the book is available for reading over the internet.

Yes, that's right. The whole book.

I've been stuck in the storm that's closed everything around here, and for most of the last day I've been moving through it pretty cursorily, stopping to enlarge this or that. I started with volume one and I'm nearly through volume two, with a detour through the Kitchen Manual (where the recipes all are available in easy-to-follow format and no illustrations). I'm hoping to get through the rest of it today.

First reactions:

  • The structure of it is very intuitive, at least for me. The first two volumes walk you through a variety of historical, cultural, and scientific material that flows with ease, particularly given the depth of the material covered. It also doesn't feel high-falutin' or defensive: the section explaining why "modernist" was their adjective of choice, in particular, is smart and appropriate. Finally, just when you need a bit more help with concept X or technology Y, up comes a little box and picture explaining. In the small excerpts we've seen, it's impossible to appreciate the organizational and design scope these six volumes seem to travel so expertly.
  • It's not just about "modernist cuisine." It's about cooking, food, and everything related to both. Want to learn why water is "weird"? How about making your oven function at its most efficient? Need a stock recipe, or want an ideal way to purée any given vegetable? They're all here.
  • The scientific rigor apparent throughout is matched by a plain-talk commitment to clear explanation of the scientific concepts themselves. Not just PID controllers and hydrocolloids, either. Last night, after reading a single sentence, I turned to my wife and said, "Why blow on soup?" She said, "I dunno." I said, "Evaporation cools, like when you sweat; the vapor from the soup inhibits evaporation by creating a humid environment. When you blow..." "...you create a better environment for evaporation!" she said with a smile. It was one of dozens of "Of course! Cool!!" moments.

I'll stop there, for now anyway. But one last comment.

I didn't use any superlatives above for one reason: everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, about the book is astonishing. Illustrations, information design, writing... the whole nine yards. At first glance, it doesn't appear merely to be the most important event in food publishing in decades (or more). That's obvious. I just keep wondering if there has been a book of this scope, design, and importance of any kind in decades (or more).

Mindblowing.

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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Yesterday, a few Society volunteers and members got access to a "reading room" for two weeks, in which the book is available for reading over the internet.

Yes, that's right. The whole book.

I've been stuck in the storm that's closed everything around here, and for most of the last day I've been moving through it pretty cursorily, stopping to enlarge this or that. I started with volume one and I'm nearly through volume two, with a detour through the Kitchen Manual (where the recipes all are available in easy-to-follow format and no illustrations). I'm hoping to get through the rest of it today.

Why must you taunt us?

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fine, now I can blame you Mr Amirault, as you just made me click the order button! "See honey, it's not my fault that I spend an insane amount of money on some cook books, Chris made me do it!"

:laugh:

even bought it through the eG link, might as well benefit the site that made me do this :cool:

"And don't forget music - music in the kitchen is an essential ingredient!"

- Thomas Keller

Diablo Kitchen, my food blog

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I’d also like to share my first impressions of the book.

My intentions were to browse quickly through the contents, set up a framework for reading the content and then drop into some detail. Good in theory; totally impossible in practice.

As you’d expect from the previews and photos that Nathan has shared with us, the book is visually stunning. You turn the page and go “Wow” and then you just have to start reading some of the detail on the page.

Reading through Nathan’s previews, I have been tantalised by the times when he has whetted our appetites by saying “we cover that in the book.” Looking at the book in front of me, he and the other authors cover the foreshadowed topics and many, many more.

One of the first words that came to mind when reading through the first book was “encyclopaedic” but this also brings to mind a dry writing style, which is not the case with this book at all. The authors and writers here explain difficult concepts in easy to understand terms and then use the information to explain why things happen in cooking as they do. For example, salt does not dissolve in a non-polar liquid such as oil. If you coat the salt in oil before cooking it on a tomato, it doesn’t dissolve thus giving a satisfying crunch when it is eaten. This is attributed to Herve This in the book, which brings me to the next point: The authors acknowledge that they are codifying an area that was pioneered and has been worked in by many others. The sources of the ideas and methods are clearly identified and named, including when the recipes have been adapted from or based on the work of others. In saying this, I don’t mean to take away from the depth of contribution that the authors have made. They acknowledge what has gone before, synthesise it, ask what questions have yet to be answered and then go off and find these answers and give them to us.

Just a quick additional word on the writing style. It is some of the best technical writing that I’ve seen. These are people who know how to get inside a topic, understand it back to front, and then recount it in terms that are not only understandable but also memorable. The research underpinning the writing is obviously exhaustive. They’ve read the books and synthesised the information so you can use it.

A number of commentators have balked at the price because I suspect they think it is too much to pay for only one book. Saying that it is five volumes plus a kitchen manual answers this criticism to some extent. However, having looked at the content and owning well over 300 books on cooking, I’d have to say that the content covers that of at least 15-20 specialist books in an integrated, synthesised whole. Try buying them individually and see how much you would pay.

I should also mention the index. At 59 (large) pages, it is extremely comprehensive. They have also added such touches as having a separate “Parametric Recipe Table,” which provides “best bets” for key processes such as making risotto, brining, smoking, lowering pH, spherification, etc. Which brings me to a question: Nathan, if you are reading this, are there any plans for creating an electronic version of the indexes and tables so we can do smart searches to find where to look within the books for our needs?

I’m really looking forward to trying some of the recipes and getting back to you all with the results. But in the meantime, there’s a really interesting section on the physics of food and water that’s calling me…

Nick Reynolds, aka "nickrey"

"The Internet is full of false information." Plato
My eG Foodblog

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It's a remarkable work. I've completely fallen behind on everything else I had to do today. It's easily the best cooking reference I've ever seen not to mention one of the best reference works of any kind I've seen. I think it's up there with the 11th edition Britannica and the Steinsaltz Talmud. It's very difficult to do a project like this within the mainstream publishing industry. You need to go back 100 years when priorities were different, or look at religious projects where the authors are motivated by fealty to a higher power. Nathan and his team have a similar relationship, it seems, to food.

I've been trying to think of criticism of the volumes, because I don't just want to pile on with praise. I guess the only thing I can come up with is that if the food made from the recipes doesn't actually taste good then I'll consider that a failing. But having not tried any of the recipes there's no way to know yet.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I think it's up there with the 11th edition Britannica and the Steinsaltz Talmud.

I had to look that up: here's the product description at the Amazon link:

The Steinsaltz Edition makes it possible for everyone to read the Talmud because it is more than just a translation. Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz becomes your personal instructor, guiding you through the intricate paths of Talmudic logic and thought. His extensive introductions and commentaries make the text crystal clear by providing all the background information needed to follow it, while his illustrated marginal notes supply fascinating insights into daily life in Talmudic times.

If you substitute "contemporary food science and modernist technique" for "Talmud" in the above, the comparison is stunningly appropriate.

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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Amazon price right now is $467.72. It has been cold here so I guess I'll pay the gas bill and have to remain an ignorant, but warm, rube till it warms up or the price drops. It seems from all the hype that it is a herculian effort and I guess worth the price. Just not in the cards for me.

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As one of the Society's other advance readers, I've been trying to collect my thoughts on the book in order to give a coherent "first impression." Ultimately, my first impression is that there's just so much material. But, by extension, that means there's so much material there for the taking. This thing is comprehensive in every sense of the word. It seems like every question ever asked in these forums about any Modernist ingredient or technique is answered, and then some.

More than that, though, it just seems to take everything that one step further. As I was reading more this morning, this quote leaped out at me:

The goal in making a vegetable puree is usually to reduce it to a fine enough grain that the tongue perceives it as smooth. This means reducing particle sizes to less than about 7 microns, which is the limit of human perception.

(Emphasis mine.) Many cookbooks could tell you the first part; what makes this book so special is that it also includes the information I've put here in italics. And it does so consistently, about everything. It's no wonder it grew to 2,400 pages.

And despite its size, it's written with incredible lucidity. The style is so compelling, so enthusiastic that even the section on microwave ovens had me reevaluating my opinion of them, and wanting to go and use mine to "fry" herbs.

Upthread, I asked why the volumes couldn't have been released separately in order to minimize the capital outlay required. Having seen the book, I now understand: the cross-referencing is amazing. Many of the photo captions even have cross-references to techniques or preparations elsewhere in the book. Also, with so many recipes drawn from so many other Modernist cookbooks (including some that I already own), it really gives the impression of being "the only Modernist cookbook you'll ever need."

Unlike Fat Guy, however, I do have one complaint about Modernist Cuisine. This cookbook, like so many Modernist cookbooks before it, is going to end up costing me so much more than the purchase price in equipment and special ingredients! Which is not to say that there aren't plenty of recipes I can make that don't require it; it's just that the ones that do require it (oh, the onion rings!) are so fascinating.

I can't wait to get my hands on a physical copy.

Edited by mkayahara (log)

Matthew Kayahara

Kayahara.ca

@mtkayahara

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Given the critical, and even at times crabby, demeanor possessed by yours truly and some of the others reviewing this, our inability to find things to complain about besides limited budgets and recipes yet untested is damned good praise itself.

And if you're fainting from the damned praise, well, wait until you see the thing.

Edited by Chris Amirault (log)

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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Accolades pouring in. Check out this blog entry from the MC website:

Modernist Cuisine will be inducted into the Gourmand Hall of Fame of Cookbooks dur­ing the Paris Cookbook Fair on March 3, 2011. The Gourmand World Cookbook Awards, a unique inter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tion for the book sec­tor that this year drew the par­tic­i­pa­tion of pub­lish­ers in 154 coun­tries, has named Modernist Cuisine the most impor­tant cook­book of the first ten years of the 21st century. ...

“If Leonardo da Vinci was alive today, he would write a cook­book called The Codex of Cooking,” said Edouard Cointreau, the President of the Gourmand Awards. “This cook­book exists at last. It is Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking.”

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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