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Q&A with the Modernist Cuisine Team


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In glancing at the Parametric Risotto page, I did not see a farro (emmer). Granted, it is a grain which yields similar characteristics. My understanding has been that farro is not spelt and spelt is not farro, but the two are oft confused. When I do prepare farro, I have previously followed how I prepare risotto, although I discovered farro did not need as much stirring to take on rich and creamy textures. Or have I been the one duped into thinking what is labeled farro is actually another grain product?

"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

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A couple of questions regarding the design of the book. 1. What is the typeface. 2. How did you handle references (to scientific research or earlier books) without clogging up the text.

I'm also intrigued by the technical aspects of the book production.

There seems to be a lot of black backgrounds such as the Parametric Recipe for Risottos. Why did you make this choice? Does this account for much of the heavy amount of ink used? It does look nice and stark for some of the photos but for the recipes it seems unnecessary.

About the color gamut of the inks, are the inks able to produce a total amount of colors greater than the 16.7 million colors available on a typical 24-bit computer screen? Though I see that purples are not so great. This is the first I've heard about this ink and printing technology; is it only beginning to be taken up by the publishing industry?

Three type families are used throughout the book. We used Arno Pro from Adobe as our serif face. Optima Nova from Linotype is our primary san serif face. Whitney and Whitney Condensed from Hoefler & Frere-Jones are used as secondary san serif faces for captions and labels. We arrived at these choices after examining literally hundreds of other options, both old and new.

The only way to judge the colors in Modernist Cuisine is to look at a printed copy. Digital images of the book cannot faithfully recreate the experience because printing produces colors in a fundamentally different way than computer monitors do: by subtraction rather than addition. The range (aka gamut) of colors for printing and digital displays overlap to a great extent, but not completely. On bright, coated paper like that used in Modernist Cuisine, photos printed with cyan, magenta, yellow, and black inks can be richer in reds, yellows, and light blues than digital displays can show; but monitors reproduce more of the deep blue and green areas of the spectrum. Type is much easier to read in printed form both because it is much sharper (the resolution is far higher) and because the contrast between black and white is much greater.

One of the reasons we selected Artron as a printer is that they were one of the first printers in Asia to offer both Chroma Centric inks, which expand the gamut of colors achievable, and stochastic screening, which uses a sophisticated algorithm to determine the pattern of colored dots that make up each photo and effectively increases the sharpness and detail of the images.

We took a very thoughtful and careful approach to the design of the book; legibility and ease of navigation were two of our highest priorities. Black backgrounds do appear on many pages. Sometimes that is because the photographs would not be as clear or compelling on white (it's hard to see fog above a steaming pot on a white background!). But more frequently we used black as a way to signal that a group of pages belong together as a unit and/or a page is not part of the running body text. The main narrative of each chapter always runs on white pages.

To ensure legibility, any text that appears on black is set one weight heavier than it normally would: body text is set in semibold rather than medium, heads in bold rather than demi, etc. For each in navigation, each chapter in the book has a unique highlight color, all of which were selected with legibility as well as aesthetic appeal in mind.

Edited by Wayt Gibbs (log)

Wayt Gibbs

Editor in chief, Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking and Modernist Cuisine at Home

The Cooking Lab, LLC

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It seems to me that for all the advantages that many modernist techniques bring in contrast to traditional cooking, inevitably there are unintended consequences that the modernist approach yields. An obvious example would be the fact that one cannot make a classic pan sauce in the traditional way if one is sous videing the meat. Yes, the meat comes out immaculate, but I know I have a hard time getting the sauce to be anywhere near as good as I used to when pan-frying or simmering the meat in the same pan the sauce was made in.

Does the book suggest strategies for dealing with these sort of side-effects (if not this particular example) one encounters when making the switch from a traditional dish or technique?

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It seems to me that their strategy when cooking sous vide is to simply make an entirely different class of sauces for those dishes that are protein+sauce focused. Though truth be told, the "protein plus sauce on a plate" style of dish is definitely not the focus here! They have a couple (like the BBQ, or the aged rare roast beef jus), but the vast majority of the plated dishes are not like that at all.

Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

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A few different questions here:

I've seen comments about Modernist Cuisine that state that much of what is commonly "known" about food safety is incorrect. Can you give some examples of that?

Along those lines, I believe I saw Nathan say in an interview that nutritional guidelines are often incorrect giving the example of olive oil being healthier than lard. How much does the book delve into nutrition? Nutrition is highly contentious and certainly seems to have contradicting research and studies... how did you approach the topic?

Finally, does Modernist Cuisine cover dry curing at all?

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Almost all of the discussions relating to this book, and "modernist cuisine" in general, relate to the creation of food/dishes. However, little regarding the characterization of such creations is discussed. How did your team marry perception, which is very qualitative, which quantitative measurements?

One example is in trying to determine when something is "done." For steak, maybe you can use a temperature measurement. But if you cook using sous vide, what counts as "done?" Similarly, when cooking something like risotto, what is "done," and how do you evaluate the differences in the "sauce" characteristics to validate your methods--taste, viscosity, density, uv/vis, mass spec, etc? Which of these methods are useful in recreating a recipe, and which are useful in creating a new recipe?

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Just a comment I guess. Looking at that parametric table for risottos, the cooking times seem remarkably short, for example 9 minutes total for boiled stovetop arborio/carnaroli rice. Some of the other grains seem short too. Is there something I am missing that is addressed elsewhere in the book or am I misinterpreting the table?

Edited by rickster (log)
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Just a comment I guess. Looking at that parametric table for risottos, the cooking times seem remarkably short, for example 9 minutes total for boiled stovetop arborio/carnaroli rice. Some of the other grains seem short too. Is there something I am missing that is addressed elsewhere in the book or am I misinterpreting the table?

I think what you are seeing there is a "parboiling" not a completed dish.

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Just a comment I guess. Looking at that parametric table for risottos, the cooking times seem remarkably short, for example 9 minutes total for boiled stovetop arborio/carnaroli rice. Some of the other grains seem short too. Is there something I am missing that is addressed elsewhere in the book or am I misinterpreting the table?

I think what you are seeing there is a "parboiling" not a completed dish.

No, taking the arborio rice example, it looks like it says parboil for 6 minutes, and then finish on the stove for 3 minutes (unless I'm reading that page wrong). And in the instructions, it says that you can hold the parboiled rice, or you can continue straight to the stovetop finishing, with no mention of any associated changes in time or technique.

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Looking at the parametric recipe for risotto the photos show certain options that are not listed in the chart, specifically carrot "rice".

Is that recipe somewhere in the book?

Yes, we include a recipe for Root Vegetable Risotto on page 3•309.

Wayt Gibbs

Editor in chief, Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking and Modernist Cuisine at Home

The Cooking Lab, LLC

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It seems to me that for all the advantages that many modernist techniques bring in contrast to traditional cooking, inevitably there are unintended consequences that the modernist approach yields. An obvious example would be the fact that one cannot make a classic pan sauce in the traditional way if one is sous videing the meat. Yes, the meat comes out immaculate, but I know I have a hard time getting the sauce to be anywhere near as good as I used to when pan-frying or simmering the meat in the same pan the sauce was made in.

Does the book suggest strategies for dealing with these sort of side-effects (if not this particular example) one encounters when making the switch from a traditional dish or technique?

Modernist Cuisine includes an 88-page chapter on Cooking Sous Vide that is the most comprehensive guide yet published to this remarkably useful technique. You'll also find hundreds of sous vide recipes and tips throughout various chapters in the book. The sous vide chapter includes an invaluable two-page troubleshooting table and covers in detail various ways to compensate for some of the limitations of low-temperature cooking, such as blanching and searing strategies, the use of inert gas to avoid off-flavors when cooking certain foods sous vide, and sous vide infusion and extraction techniques that are useful for making sauces.

Wayt Gibbs

Editor in chief, Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking and Modernist Cuisine at Home

The Cooking Lab, LLC

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Just a comment I guess. Looking at that parametric table for risottos, the cooking times seem remarkably short, for example 9 minutes total for boiled stovetop arborio/carnaroli rice. Some of the other grains seem short too. Is there something I am missing that is addressed elsewhere in the book or am I misinterpreting the table?

I think what you are seeing there is a "parboiling" not a completed dish.

No, taking the arborio rice example, it looks like it says parboil for 6 minutes, and then finish on the stove for 3 minutes (unless I'm reading that page wrong). And in the instructions, it says that you can hold the parboiled rice, or you can continue straight to the stovetop finishing, with no mention of any associated changes in time or technique.

I'd encourage you to try the recipe and let us know how it works for you. Step 6 refers to finishing steps that are spelled out in an adjacent example recipe for Risotto Milanese. After draining the parcooked rice (step 3), cool the rice, return it to the pan, add 150 g of vegetable stock for every 100 g rice, and cook for another 3 min for al dente or until desired texture is achieved. Then remove from heat, and fold in any additional ingredients, such as cheese, butter, saffron, and/or pepper. Season with salt.

Wayt Gibbs

Editor in chief, Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking and Modernist Cuisine at Home

The Cooking Lab, LLC

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A few different questions here:

I've seen comments about Modernist Cuisine that state that much of what is commonly "known" about food safety is incorrect. Can you give some examples of that?

Along those lines, I believe I saw Nathan say in an interview that nutritional guidelines are often incorrect giving the example of olive oil being healthier than lard. How much does the book delve into nutrition? Nutrition is highly contentious and certainly seems to have contradicting research and studies... how did you approach the topic?

Finally, does Modernist Cuisine cover dry curing at all?

Taking your last question first: yes, the book devotes about a dozen pages to a comprehensive discussion of curing, both wet and dry. It also offers recipes for cure mixes and for dishes that include cured meats or seafood.

More generally, if you're curious about whether a particular topic is covered in Modernist Cuisine, the quickest path to an answer is to search the index, which can be downloaded from modernistcuisine.com.

Food safety is such an important and widely misunderstood topic that we devoted two chapters to it in volume 1: chapter 2 on Microbiology for Cooks and chapter 3 on Food Safety Rules. These chapters survey the latest and best scientific research on the major sources of foodborne illness and examine the (often surprisingly thin) scientific support for official cooking guidelines promulgated by the FDA, USDA, and other authorities. In cases where the official guidelines simply cannot be squared with the science, such as recommended cooking temperatures and times for chicken, the authors boldly propose a simplified set of cooking standards that are based on the scientific literature.

We may soon release an excerpt of this chapter, and if we do I will post a link to that here.

Widespread misconceptions about nutrition are tackled in chapter 4 on Food and Health. That chapter explains why it has been so common for notions about nutrition to gain wide belief (even government support) despite little or no evidence to support them. To help readers understand which of these connections between "bad" foods and health have been proved and which have not, we reviewed the results of nearly all the large-scale, well-designed clinical trials that have put long-held conventional wisdom about fat, fiber, cholesterol, and salt to the test. The conclusions were very surprising. The Food and Health chapter not only reports the results of these rigorously controlled trials, but also explains why medical researchers have such a hard time reaching reliable conclusions on these questions. And it teaches readers how to evaluate for themselves whether the outcome of a particular study is trustworthy or not.

Wayt Gibbs

Editor in chief, Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking and Modernist Cuisine at Home

The Cooking Lab, LLC

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In glancing at the Parametric Risotto page, I did not see a farro (emmer). Granted, it is a grain which yields similar characteristics. My understanding has been that farro is not spelt and spelt is not farro, but the two are oft confused. When I do prepare farro, I have previously followed how I prepare risotto, although I discovered farro did not need as much stirring to take on rich and creamy textures. Or have I been the one duped into thinking what is labeled farro is actually another grain product?

Anjana Shanker, one of our research cooks, suggests cooking farro like you would pearl barley. See the instructions in the Ragout of Grains recipe excerpted above and the row for pearl barley in the parametric recipe.

Wayt Gibbs

Editor in chief, Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking and Modernist Cuisine at Home

The Cooking Lab, LLC

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Almost all of the discussions relating to this book, and "modernist cuisine" in general, relate to the creation of food/dishes. However, little regarding the characterization of such creations is discussed. How did your team marry perception, which is very qualitative, which quantitative measurements?

One example is in trying to determine when something is "done." For steak, maybe you can use a temperature measurement. But if you cook using sous vide, what counts as "done?" Similarly, when cooking something like risotto, what is "done," and how do you evaluate the differences in the "sauce" characteristics to validate your methods--taste, viscosity, density, uv/vis, mass spec, etc? Which of these methods are useful in recreating a recipe, and which are useful in creating a new recipe?

Chris Young, one of the authors of Modernist Cuisine, wrote a recent blog post on "doneness" that addresses part of your question. You can find that at http://modernistcuisine.com/blog

More generally, throughout the book the authors advocate cooking in ways that are highly reproducible. One of the biggest advantages offered by modern equipment, from water baths and combi ovens to homogenizers and centrifuges, is the ability of these machines to transform food in precise, highly repeatable ways. There will always be a highly subjective component to cooking, and we wouldn't have it any other way--that is what creates the freedom for chefs to express their ideas and aesthetics through food. But once a cook has refined a dish to (her idea of) perfection, she should be able to hit that target every time. Doing that means putting every variable that matters under control where you can, and understanding which other variables (e.g. air pressure and ambient humidity) do matter but aren't always under control. Modernist Cuisine is the first cookbook that really explains all of this in a detailed, clear, and useful way.

Wayt Gibbs

Editor in chief, Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking and Modernist Cuisine at Home

The Cooking Lab, LLC

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On the "doneness" question, I'd add that the parametric charts usually offer a variety of doneness levels, particularly for meats and fish but also for eggs and other items. In those charts, the temps and times preferred by the team are highlighted, but others are included, allowing you to make your own decision. Many have been spot-on for me, but I'll dial back the brisket recommendation as I found it a bit too "done." That's the point, of course: to give you enough information to make your own decision.

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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In regards to the food safety issue, we've been having an interesting discussion on pressure canning here. I see from the index that you cover pressure canning somewhat. In what depth is that covered? The National Center for Home Food Preservation has some contradictory (it seems to me) instructions in their canning section. Were you guys able to instrument jars of food while pressure canning to see what the thermodynamics was like?

Tracy

Lenexa, KS, USA

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Despite the "old-school" reputation of canning, I'm pretty confident in asserting that Modernist Cuisine covers this technique in greater detail than any other recent general cookbook does. You'll find discussions:

  • in chapter 2 on Microbiology about the biology of the pathogens that are of special concern in canning;
  • in an 18-page section of chapter 7 on Traditional Cooking that includes step-by-step procedures for safely packing food, pasteurizing food with boiling water, and pasteurizing food using a pressure canner;
  • in chapter 9 on Cooking Sous Vide, in a section on pasteurizing food for storage;
  • in the 30-page Preserving section of chapter 12 on Plant Foods, which includes recipes for salting, pickling, and fermenting fruits and vegetables.

We did indeed run experiments in which we instrumented jars of food with thermal probes and recorded temperature profiles as cooking proceeded. We even constructed a custom pressure canner that passes multiple probe leads through the lid without letting the steam escape. We ran experiments with jars varying in capacity from 8 oz to 32 oz, and a table in the book presents the cooking times we found necessary to reach sterilizing temperature for foods packed hot or cold. (The times vary by food type; we give times both for convecting foods and for conducting foods.)

The book also offers general cooking guidelines for those cooks who aren't able to make an instrumented canner. :smile:

Appropriate cooking times depend on many variables, and the authors explain the role that each of those plays.

Wayt Gibbs

Editor in chief, Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking and Modernist Cuisine at Home

The Cooking Lab, LLC

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I know there is a bunch of space dedicated to the ultrasonic french fry technique but are other french fry techniques examined and improved? What I'm most interested in is a variation of the Robuchon technique of placing the fries in cold oil, turning on the heat and removing when done. I've been trying variations, like adding cornstarch for extra crispness, and having some pretty good success but wonder if there are better ways to make fries using this or similar "quick" methods that don't sacrifice too much compared to the longer, multi-stage methods.

rg

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Despite the "old-school" reputation of canning, I'm pretty confident in asserting that Modernist Cuisine covers this technique in greater detail than any other recent general cookbook does. You'll find discussions:

  • in chapter 2 on Microbiology about the biology of the pathogens that are of special concern in canning;
  • in an 18-page section of chapter 7 on Traditional Cooking that includes step-by-step procedures for safely packing food, pasteurizing food with boiling water, and pasteurizing food using a pressure canner;
  • in chapter 9 on Cooking Sous Vide, in a section on pasteurizing food for storage;
  • in the 30-page Preserving section of chapter 12 on Plant Foods, which includes recipes for salting, pickling, and fermenting fruits and vegetables.

We did indeed run experiments in which we instrumented jars of food with thermal probes and recorded temperature profiles as cooking proceeded. We even constructed a custom pressure canner that passes multiple probe leads through the lid without letting the steam escape. We ran experiments with jars varying in capacity from 8 oz to 32 oz, and a table in the book presents the cooking times we found necessary to reach sterilizing temperature for foods packed hot or cold. (The times vary by food type; we give times both for convecting foods and for conducting foods.)

The book also offers general cooking guidelines for those cooks who aren't able to make an instrumented canner. :smile:

Appropriate cooking times depend on many variables, and the authors explain the role that each of those plays.

AWESOME! Did you include pictures of your set-up, too, the nerdy engineer wants to know?!?

I have felt that there wasn't enough research being done (or at least not enough being shared with the public) about canning, so I'm very excited that you all took the time to do this.

Tracy

Lenexa, KS, USA

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In my following of the development of the Modernist Cuisine Project, I don't believe I've come across the answer to a few equipment related questions:

1 - Is there a list of all the tools and "toys" that the MC kitchen has? If not could one be provided?

2 - There was a short video with NathanM where he spoke about the tools necessary in order to undertake the recipes in the book. If I recall, he mentions that if one can be persuaded to get an Immersion Circulator that a great many recipes become possible. Would you be willing to provide a list of the equipment that we should have in terms of most necessary to most esoteric?

Thanks to the Whole MC Team.

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