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Renn

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

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I don't want to speak as if I know the man, or to suggest that I defend him for any other reason than to dispel an obvious mistruth. But Nathan founded Microsoft Reserch, ran it for several years, studied cosmology under Stephen Hawking, holds patents in several fields, and etc. To say he has a background in science is like saying Joe Montana played a couple of games of football. But I choose to digress at this point. My feelings on the subject have been aired.


Edited by nextguy (log)

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... there is no justification (obviously this is MY opinion, which many fail to realize) to this over-inflated price tag.

I don't think anyone fails to realize that. What else could it be?

The problem is you are saying it without reviewing the book *or* its authors (you do realize it isn't just one guy, right?). When you obtain the book (library's are good places, as are friends) and see what is actually in it, then your opinion counts. Until then you opinion has no basis whatsoever. You can't even claim it is based on previous books like this (as weak as that would be) since there aren't really any predecessors.

So before you assert that it is overpriced, it would be nice for you to actually have some information to go on beyond the price. It might very well be overpriced (but at least I'll actually have first hand knowledge when the time comes....)

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It's a legitimate criticism: the team involved has no established reputation as experimentalists. I'm interested in the data and techniques in the book, not the recipes, so I couldn't care less about their reputation as chefs (and we certainly have seen many truly awful books from well-regarded chefs, so I'm not convinced it would matter anyway). It's a testament to Nathan's clearly demonstrated intelligence and drive that so many of us are willing to bet such a substantial sum of money on this book. Yes, he has a background in science, but experiments are HARD. REALLY HARD. I don't think most people appreciate how difficult it is to set up an experiment properly. I'm betting Nathan does.

(As an aside, there is value in even just collecting all of this disparate data into a single compendium, even if we were to accept the dubious notion that it's all already available elsewhere)

I realize you have to be a bit nice here Chris, but I will have to disagree. Stick's comments are not a legitimate criticism. They are "bashing", that's all. He (or could be she I guess) essentially is calling everyone who chooses to buy the book a moron and likens that to buying a ficticious bridge in FL. He calls such purchases "frivolous". He also says that the price of the book is "inflated" even though he has no clue, NO CLUE at all about the actual cost and expense that went into creating it (none of us really do). He also ascertains that the contents are all available online which is bullshit to say the least. Then he hides behind the 'well it is my opinion' catch-all phrase.

I have seen people critisize books like Fat Duck and French Laundry for being "coffee table" books after buying them and while I completely disagree, I understand their critcism and they are in a sense "correct". It is one thing to say "It's not worth it for me to spend $600 on a bunch of books" and a total different thing to attempt to bash a scientific piece of work without actually assessing the contents. Hell, things could change between now and March and I might decide that I need to spend my $$ on something else at this time, but I would not go around calling people idiots for choosing to buy it. It's the same syndrome that afflicts those people who think I am nuts for spending $200 per person once or twice a year on a nice fine dining meal since for that much cash I can eat for a month at McD. This really will get you no respect or agreement.


E. Nassar
Houston, TX

My Blog
contact: enassar(AT)gmail(DOT)com

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... experiments are HARD. REALLY HARD. I don't think most people appreciate how difficult it is to set up an experiment properly.

Chris, I think you would be surprised to find out how many contributors to both this thread and the sous vide thread have completed experimental research-based PhDs. The type of cooking attracts us. As a corollary we also have very strong search and research skills on the Internet. When we suggest that much of what is being produced in the book, as indicated by the index and the snippets we have seen from Nathan, is not available on the Internet, our opinions tend to be fact- rather than emotion- based.


Nick Reynolds, aka "nickrey"

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

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Purchasing 1 book, for say $500, or 5 equally well thought out, potentially more highly acclaimed authored books, of equal or higher caliber.....hmmmmmmm........

You know that Modernist Cuisine isn't just one book, right? I assume that's why you edited the word "single" out of your post above. It is 5 books.

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... experiments are HARD. REALLY HARD. I don't think most people appreciate how difficult it is to set up an experiment properly.

Chris, I think you would be surprised to find out how many contributors to both this thread and the sous vide thread have completed experimental research-based PhDs.

I would not be surprised at all... but I hardly lump the SV-topic-contributors in with "most people" :wink:. My point is simply that sadistick is quite within his or her rights to question the backgrounds of the authors of the book: they are not "world-renowned experimentalists." And being a good scientist does not necessarily result in being a good experimentalist (I have read an awful lot of poor experimental results from otherwise-capable researchers). Sadistick seems unwilling to trust that Nathan and his team are competent experimentalists: I say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating; as Nathan and company have already demonstrated several of their new results, I personally am quite convinced they know what they are doing! Therefore, the question of price tag is not, for me, a question of whether I trust the correctness of the results, but simply, whether a collection of those results is worth $500. At $100 per volume it's not even close to the most expensive textbook most scientists own, so it doesn't seem unreasonable in the least.


Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

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I don't want to speak as if I know the man, or to suggest that I defend him for any other reason than to dispel an obvious mistruth. But Nathan founded Microsoft Reserch, ran it for several years, studied cosmology under Stephen Hawking, holds patents in several fields, and etc. To say he has a background in science is like saying Joe Montana played a couple of games of football. But I choose to digress at this point. My feelings on the subject have been aired.

A bit OT and not talking specifically about the authors but being an accomplished scientists in one field doesn't mean anybody is an accomplished (or even reasonable) scientist in any other field of science.

And even more OT, you are aware of how patents and the USPTO/WIPO work and that having a patent doesn't mean anything about the quality of the science behind it. The USPTO has nothing to do with peer-review but just evaluating novelty, non-obviousness etc.

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Thanks for the spirited defense that some of you have mounted on my behalf. For some reason the eGullet notification service stopped sending me email, and I have been so busy on the book that I didn't notice until now.

The team has worked hard to earn the trust (at least most of you) have placed in us. I think that you'll pleased when you see the final product.

Here are a few statistics that may help. We have more than 1500 recipes in the book. Many of these we developed, but we also had contributions from 72 chefs around the world, including Ferran Adria, Heston Blumenthal, Grant Achatz, Wylie Dusfrense and David Chang. We also have some recipes based on original creations by people like Thomas Keller, Daniel Boulud, Eric Ripert and many others.


Nathan

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The book and the team will be featured in a segment on the Martha Stewart show on November 3. It airs on the Hallmark channel in the US. This link announces it.


Nathan

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Over $600 for a (cook)book!?

What is this world coming to......

Anyone willing to shell out this much money for information (readily available online) printed with some (most likely beautiful) pictures on paper and bound, I have a bridge in FL that I will sell ya....

Why drive a nice car when a crappy one will get you from A to B? There are a million value judgments people make every day. Aside from the price not being $600, I can see from reading the whole thread (did you?) that there's HUGE amounts of original research going into these books (plural). Not exactly mass market material, so I doubt I will see it in my local B&N though, next to the latest Sandra Lee masterpiece, but I will wager that many Michelin starred chefs amongst others will be buying it.
How much was that bridge in FL for and where does it go? It might be worth it to some.

Bear in mind, if he sold the bridge, he'd have to move from under it.

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Book looks amazing...if I ever win the lottery, I promise to buy it :)

In all seriousness, I'm not having a dig. It looks worth the money, but I'm not sure it's money I have right now!

On a related note, I'm not sure why sadistick is so surprised that people on eGullet are willing to spend a large amount of money on this book. I'm pretty sure I spotted a thread on eGullet about using Ipads in the kitchen! The point is, eGullet is a forum where many of the users have a significant disposable income. And these people chose to spend this disposable income on food/cooking-related products. That's their priority, it's really not surprising! I spend most of my disposable income on travel to India (including research on food and cooking...see there's still the same core reason!), that's my priority. I say, let people spend their money where they will!

By the way, when people get the book, can they post loving close-ups of the covers, and shots of dishes they have cooked from the book? I want to live vicariously through you!

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Thank you NathanM.

I have a laboratory vacuum pump which I have been using in my shop for many things. It never occured to me to use it in the kitchen to reduce food.

Reducing food, sauce, stock by cooking changes the taste, but using vacuum does not. This is worth $1,000 to me that I can make sauces, juices, better than anyone else can.

dcarch

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By the way, when people get the book, can they post loving close-ups of the covers, and shots of dishes they have cooked from the book? I want to live vicariously through you!

This is precisely what I wish to see and do.

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Pre-ordered my copy today from amazon.ca 402 CAD, 420 with taxes, quite a good deal!

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I've lusted after this book (books) ever since I first heard of it. Just now, when I saw the price at amazon.ca, I bought. It seems a reasonable price, even if not cheap. I would say to sadistick that not every worthwhile thing will be cheap.

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My christmas request for sure, at least to match the pre-order price. I am going to geek out so hard come March!


Sleep, bike, cook, feed, repeat...

Chef Facebook HQ Menlo Park, CA

My eGullet Foodblog

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I just have to have this, simple as that. I might never ever cook from it, I might just page through and look at the stunning photos, read a bit here and there, but this is going to be a spectacular mini library of food porn awesomeness with a ton of hard to otherwise collect information and the above mentioned incredible photos. I'll have to get rid of some other books to even make room for this, but there are some candidates catching dust on my shelf, so that should not be too much of a problem.

I'm actually glad it got delayed until 2011, more time to save up for it :biggrin:


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

- Thomas Keller

Diablo Kitchen, my food blog

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This morning I had the opportunity to spend some time with Nathan M. for a preview of the book(s). He had pages of the book, videos and a PowerPoint presentation loaded up on his laptop. By the way he has shaved his beard:

P1010198.JPG

Modernist Cuisine is a staggeringly impressive accomplishment. It is not hyperbole to say that it is the most significant culinary book project of our generation. It is far more comprehensive than I'd have imagined, with chapters or sections on food safety, nutrition, regional barbecue styles, food history, wine, coffee, thickeners, the truth about the invention of molten-center chocolate cake... it covers just about every conceivable aspect of culinary modernism save for a full treatment of pastry, which has been left for a potential future project.

Not only is the material comprehensive but also it is beautiful. The photography is, as I imagined it would be, absolutely first rate. But the camera is only the beginning. To illustrate several key points of technique and process, they cut pots, food and machines in half in order to photograph their cross sections. They've done many charts, graphs, maps, timelines and other illustrations, all at the highest standards.

Here's one example of the photo work Nathan M. and his team have done. This the ultimate cheeseburger:

nathanmhamburger.jpg

I definitely recommend that you explore the Modernist Cuisine website. It contains quite a lot of information about the book. In particular, the "About the Book" downloadable .pdf is definitely worth grabbing. I believe it is the first few pages of the book, consisting of Nathan M. telling the story of the book and addressing several of the most common comments about it.

[Edited to add: the first photo was taken by me, the second was posted with permission of Nathan M.]


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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Do you know, Steven, if Nathan will be doing a book tour?


Edited by docsconz (log)

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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I know from the book's PR person that there are some events and appearances planned for March, but I don't know that it's a book tour as such.


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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      Jamaican Peppercorn
      Vanilla Bean
      The steps required to comprise each dish are, as one might imagine, intricate and numerous. For the Poached Broccoli Stem, Chef Grant begins by separating the broccoli stems from the florets. The stems are stripped of their fibrous exteriors and pared down until they are uniform in size. Grant comments on the use of the second hand part of the vegetable: “This dish started with the roe. Every year we receive the most amazing Brook Trout Roe from Steve Stallard, my friend and owner of Blis. Typically, we serve the eggs with an element of sweetness. I find it goes very well with the ultra fresh salinity of the week-old roe. This time around we wanted to take a savory approach so I began looking into complimenting flavors in the vegetal category. About the same time, our group had a discussion about secondary parts of vegetables and the stem of broccoli came up. I had a past experience with the stem and found it to be very reminiscent of cabbage. Knowing that cabbage and caviar are essentially a classic pairing, I felt confident that we could work the dish out. Now I'm struggling to decide if this is a broccoli dish or in fact a roe dish, I think they really battle for the top position and that helps makes the dish very complex."

      Chef Grant processing the broccoli

      The stems are placed in a polyethylene bag, along with butter, salt and granulated cane juice. The bag is sealed with a cryovac machine

      The sealed stems are placed in a 170 degree F water to cook, sous vide, until extremely tender; about three hours

      Broccoli stems after cooking
      The crisp bread element is fabricated via the use of an industrial deli slicer. Chef Grant then brushes the sectioned pieces of poached broccoli stem with eggwash, affixes them to the thin planks of brioche and places them in a fry pan with butter.

      Grant's mise...not your ordinary cutting board

      Poached Broccoli Stem and Crisp Bread cooking

      Ready for plating

      A bright green broccoli puree is made with a vita-prep blender. Here, Chef Grant "mohawks" it onto china given to him by Thomas Keller

      Smoked Coho roe has arrived via Fed-Ex, courtesy of Steve Stallard

      Chef Grant devises a plating scheme for the Poached Broccoli Stem while Curtis looks on

      Chef Grant ponders one potential plating of the dish. He called this incarnation 'predictable' and started over.

      Another plating idea. This version is garnished with broccoli petals and ultra-thin slices of connected grapefruit pulp cells. The yellow petals are stand-ins for what will ultimately be broccoli blossoms
      Grant is still displeased at the dish's appearance. "The dish tastes as I envisioned it....texturally complex, with the crispness of the bread, the soft elements of the floret puree and stem, and the pop of the eggs. The buttery richness from the bread gives the stem the flavor of the melted cabbage I loved at the [French] Laundry. And the hot and cold contrasts from the roe and broccoli …I like it…..I just don’t like the way it looks.” Another attempt and the group agrees, it is better but not “the one.” The use of the thinly sliced cross sections of peeled grapefruit energizes the group. In the next rendition, they make small packets with the ultra thinly-sliced grapefruit containing the roe...

      A third plating configuration for Poached Broccoli Stems; this one featuring the packets of roe wrapped in ultra thin sheets of grapefruit pulp cells
      At this point the team decides to move on and come back to it next week. After some conversation they decide that in the final dish, broccoli will appear in at least 5 forms: poached stems, floret puree, some raw form of the stem, the tiny individual sprouts of broccoli florets, and the blooms. Grant feels that Poached Broccoli Stem could be ready for service, although he still envisions some changes for the dish that will make it even more emblematic of his personal style. “Our dishes continue to evolve after they hit the menu. It is important for us to get to know them better before we can clearly see their weaknesses.”
      The thought for the dried crème brulee originated over a year ago when a regular customer jokingly asked for a crème brulee for dessert. “He said it as joke, I took it as a challenge,” says Grant. "Of course, we never intended to give him a regular crème brulee.” The team tried various techniques to create the powder-filled caramel bubble while at Trio to no avail. An acceptable filling for the Dried Crème Brulee has been developed by the Chef and his team but several different methods, attempted today, to create the orb from caramelized sugar have been less than 100% successful.

      Caramel blob awaiting formation. Chef Curtis kept this pliable by leaving it in a low oven throughout the day

      Chef Grant’s initial idea to use a metal bubble ring and heat gun (normally used for stripping paint) to form the bubbles does not work as hoped. Attempts to fashion them by hand also come up short.
      Says Grant, “At Trio we tried a hair-dryer. When Martin told me about these heat guns which get up to 900 degrees F, I thought we had it for sure. If it was easy everyone would do it I guess.” Eventually, Alinea partner Nick Kokonas garners the task’s best result by positioning a small, warm blob of sugar onto the end of a drinking straw and blowing into the other end. The results are promising. Curtis suggests using a sugar pump to inflate the orbs. That adjustment will be attempted on another day.
      “We intentionally position whimsical bite in the amuse slot, it tends to break the ice and make people laugh. It is a deliberate attempt to craft the experience by positioning the courses in a very pre-meditated order. A great deal of thought goes into the order of the courses, a misalignment may really take away from the meal as a whole.” For PB&J, the grapes are peeled while still on the vine and then dipped into unsweetened peanut butter. They are allowed to set–up, and then they are wrapped with a thin sheet of bread and lightly toasted. When the peeled grapes warm, they become so soft they mimic jelly. The composition is strangely unfamiliar in appearance but instantly reminiscent on the palate. PB&J is, according to Grant, virtually ready for service. There are a couple of aesthetic elements, which need minor tweaks but the Chef feels very good about today’s prototype.

      Chef John peels grapes while still on their stems

      Peeled grapes on their stems with peanut butter coating

      Chef Grant studies the completed PB&J in the Crucial Detail designed piece

      PB&J
      Often, creative impulses come by way of Alinea’s special purveyors. “Terra Spice’s support over the past couple of years has been unprecedented, and it has accelerated with the start of the food lab,” says Grant. “It is great to have relationships with people that think like we do, it can make the creative process so much easier. Often Phil, our contact at Terra, would come into the kitchen at Trio and encourage us to try and stump him on obscure ingredients. We always lost, but not from lack of trying. He even brought in two live chufa plants into the kitchen one day.” The relationship has developed and Terra team has really made an effort to not only search out products that the chefs ask for but also keep an eye out for new ingredients and innovations. In August, Phil brought by some samples of products that he thought the Alinea team might be interested in trying.

      Phil of Terra Spice showing the team some samples

      Coconut powder and other samples
      Grant recalls “the most surprising item to me was the dried coconut powder. When I put a spoonful in my mouth I could not believe the intense flavor and instant creamy texture, it was awesome.” That was the inspiration for what is now Instant Tropical Pudding. The guest is presented with a glass filled with dried ingredients. A member of the service team pours a measured amount of coconut water into the glass and instructs the guest to stir the pudding until a creamy consistency is formed.

      The rum-spiked coconut water being added to the powders
      At the end of the day, the Chefs assess their overall effort as having gone “fairly well.” It’s a mixed bag of results. Clearly, the fact that things have not gone perfectly on Day 1 has not dampened anyone’s spirits. The team has purposely attempted dishes of varying degrees of difficultly in order to maximize their productivity. Says Grant, “Making a bubble of caramel filled with powder…I have devoted the better part of fifteen years to this craft, I have trained with the best chefs alive. I have a good grasp of known technique. The lab's purpose is to create technique based on our vision. Sometimes we will succeed, and sometimes we will fail, but trying is what make us who we are." The team's measured evaluations of their day’s work reflect that philosophy.
      According to Chef Grant, “The purpose of the lab is to create the un-creatable. I know the level at which we can cook. I know the level of technique we already possess. What I am interested in is what we don't know...making a daydream reality.” With little more than 100 days on the calendar between now and Alinea’s opening, the Chef and his team will have their work cut out for them.
      =R=
      A special thanks to eGullet member yellow truffle, who contributed greatly to this piece
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