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


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

Dave Scantland
Executive director
dscantland@eGstaff.org
eG Ethics signatory

Eat more chicken skin.

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

Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

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

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

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

Michaela, aka "Mjx"
Manager, eG Forums
mscioscia@egstaff.org

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peter.

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I agree about this originally being most fascinating to me as a large sous vide resource. Then came the hints it would explain the proper use of other kitchen equipment items. Now seeing the book and all the information has helped me re-think how I have used my kithen to produce even the most simple of dishes. Just the flipping of hamburgers was a great insight.

I am learning so much about food safety, different times for all the meat and vegetables discussed, how to successfully make gels, make me more adventurous about foams, properly use specialized ingredients and open my eyes to what others do and can do. It is a bit like when I was a kid and opened our World Book Encylopedia on one subject and then being drawn into another. For the most part, I probably will not replicate the recipes. However, I will use hints, strategies along with portions of recipes and further modify my own dishes by the best practices given.

"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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I have to say that I don't think the book is as easy to read as everyone else has claimed.

I have started reading the book from Volume 1. Page 1. The language itself is absolutely fine and clear and I have no problems at all understanding or intrpeting what has been written. What I find difficult is the layout. The prose is so often interspersed with histories and biographies that occupy two thirds of each page. These text boxes actually occupy more space on the page than the continuous prose that I had intended to read. A lot of the time the histories and biographies are not relevant to the other text on that page. It's a bit like a book with ADD.

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I have to say that I don't think the book is as easy to read as everyone else has claimed.

I have started reading the book from Volume 1. Page 1. The language itself is absolutely fine and clear and I have no problems at all understanding or intrpeting what has been written. What I find difficult is the layout. The prose is so often interspersed with histories and biographies that occupy two thirds of each page. These text boxes actually occupy more space on the page than the continuous prose that I had intended to read. A lot of the time the histories and biographies are not relevant to the other text on that page. It's a bit like a book with ADD.

I know exactly what you mean with this, and I think the key to dealing with it is to accept that you're going to end up reading the book more than once. When I had access to the review copy, I read through the first chapter looking only at the main text, ignoring the text boxes and such. I think that's the only way to do it if you're going to read it linearly. Since getting my physical copy, though, I've been reading individual sections on specific topics, and the text boxes become more useful at that point. But they can be very distracting if you're trying to take everything in at once.

Matthew Kayahara

Kayahara.ca

@mtkayahara

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That to me is the true beauty of MC, with another cookbook you might have a recipe that contains a hot orange gel component to it.

Well if you want to make a hot apple gel, or a hot banana gel you can try it, but its going to take a ton of experimentation because you might not have a great scientific explanation of whats going on.

With MC they have a whole chart, with multiple fruits, and an explanation of the science and the Ph and the option to use different gelling agents, so it frees you to really create exactly what you want.

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I have to say that I don't think the book is as easy to read as everyone else has claimed.

I have started reading the book from Volume 1. Page 1. The language itself is absolutely fine and clear and I have no problems at all understanding or intrpeting what has been written. What I find difficult is the layout. The prose is so often interspersed with histories and biographies that occupy two thirds of each page. These text boxes actually occupy more space on the page than the continuous prose that I had intended to read. A lot of the time the histories and biographies are not relevant to the other text on that page. It's a bit like a book with ADD.

I know what you are saying and initially I had a bit of the same reaction but the more I dove into the book the more I realized that the journey was so much more interesting than the final destination. The side bars, the text boxes are so often even more interesting than the linear text. It's a bit like I pursue a google search. I know what I want but often learn a whole lot more as I take the circuitous route there. Follow the super hiways or the much more intereting rural routes. It all depends on you. Now I just relax and let the book be my guide - sort of like colouring outside the lines. :laugh:

Anna Nielsen aka "Anna N"

...I just let people know about something I made for supper that they might enjoy, too. That's all it is. (Nigel Slater)

"Cooking is about doing the best with what you have . . . and succeeding." John Thorne

Our 2012 (Kerry Beal and me) Blog

My 2004 eG Blog

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I have to say that I don't think the book is as easy to read as everyone else has claimed.

I have started reading the book from Volume 1. Page 1. The language itself is absolutely fine and clear and I have no problems at all understanding or intrpeting what has been written. What I find difficult is the layout. The prose is so often interspersed with histories and biographies that occupy two thirds of each page. These text boxes actually occupy more space on the page than the continuous prose that I had intended to read. A lot of the time the histories and biographies are not relevant to the other text on that page. It's a bit like a book with ADD.

I actually like this style of book quite a bit. Both me and my husband were giggling because Modernist Cuisine reminded us both of the World Book/National Geographic/Encyclopedias we both liked reading as kids. Lots of pictures! Interesting sidebars! Graphs and charts! The only thing missing are series of transparent pages that you can peel back to see various layers of things, like skin-muscles-organs-skeleton. I'm a bit disappointed Nathan didn't include anything like that, though the cutaways make up for it.

(and yeah, we're nerds. He wooed me over our shared childhood love of encyclopedias.)

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Yes another encyclopedia nerd! :rolleyes:

My best friend and I used to read them and quiz eachother on facts we found in there...sort of like trivial pursuit but we were in junior high. Now I liken this book to that same experience as I share facts and such with him though via the phone now. He doesn't cook but bought the books just for sheer nerdiness....but I think he'll start cooking soon!

Science tastes yummy!

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I ordered my book from Barnes & Noble back in mid February. My order kept getting delayed and today after emailing customer service they responded by saying that the shipment isn't expected until July 1st and so they canceled my order. I FURIOUSLY called B&N headquarters and asked why they cancelled my order without first consulting me. The women on the phone didn't have much information but she seemed to believe that everyone's order from B&N had been canceled. Does anyone know anything about this. Is this true? I have a feeling B&N messed up and is now trying to cover their tracks.

Did anyone else order their copy of MC from B&N, and if so, what is your current status?

If I have to reorder my book and wait another 3-4 months for this, I am going to be so upset!

Thanks,

Charlie

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I understand but if you look at Volume 1. Pages 62-71, you will see the amount of interspersed text boxes and the difficulty encountered upon trying to read the linear prose. This is just within a few hours of reading. Furthermore, this is Volume 1.

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You are correct, 24 weeks is too long. We are missing a hyphen between the 2 and the 4. The actual time is 2-4 weeks. We are preparing a complete list of corrections and clarifications, and will post that on modernistcuisine.com as soon as it is ready, probably later this week.

Johnny Zhu

Culinary Research Assistant

Modernist Cuisine

Johnny Zhu
Research and Development Chef for Modernist Cuisine
johnny@modernistcuisine.com

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It's quite readable with a Scotch instead (though I've already spilled on it once...)

Yikes! I'm keeping my books a safe distance from all beverages and food.

I'm skipping around in the book, using the index PDF as a means of finding areas of interest. I'll sit down and read through most of it at length, but right now I'm just getting a feel for it.

I like the terse, compact format for the recipes. (shades of Le Guide Culinaire...) But when I try to cook from them I wind up puzzling over some of the instructions, and I hit snags in the execution. There's such a staggering amount of information in these books that it will take me , quite literally, years to begin to absorb it all.

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Well, I finally caught up with DHL today. Pictured below is my copy of Modernist Cuisine, at least according to Amazon.ca. I haven't even bothered to open it, because I already know what's inside. Yes, they charged me full price, and yes, this is the only shipment listed as part of my "closed" order. Question for others who received $400 kitchen manuals -- has Amazon.ca managed to find the missing portions of our orders yet? Trying to understand my options here.

modernistfail.jpg

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Michael Ruhlman was interviewed about Modernist Cuisine on a local NPR show today. He clarifies his statements in the NY Times a bit. It seems to me that he has immense respect for MC.

Ruhlman also plugs MC in his review of Achatz's Life, On the Line:

If you want more details on how the food is actually created, buy the Alinea cookbook and also invest in Modernist Cuisine, the awe-inspiring new multi-volume cookbook and manifesto detailing its every aspect).

It's also interesting to note that he uses "Modernist cuisine" as a generic term several times in the article -- an amazingly rapid transition from the title of a book to the label for a movement. How many years did it take Xerox or Kleenex (or Hoover for you folks in the UK) take to reach this status? MC has done it in less than a month!

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It's also interesting to note that he uses "Modernist cuisine" as a generic term several times in the article -- an amazingly rapid transition from the title of a book to the label for a movement. How many years did it take Xerox or Kleenex (or Hoover for you folks in the UK) take to reach this status? MC has done it in less than a month!

It helps that more or less everyone hated the other terms available ("molecular gastronomy", "technoemotional cuisine", etc.) And the book makes a very compelling case for the term "Modernist cuisine" in volume one: I suspect the uptake of the new terminology will be rapid indeed.

Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

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I've enjoyed my sessions reading the book, so far distressingly few of them, with food nearby, and while I haven't spilled on it yet, that will surely come in time. But if I wait for food-free time to read it, away from the kitchen, dining room, or midnight snacks, it will take years to get through at present rates--not due to readability issues, it's more readable than most of my trade journals, but simply due to time constraints. And I want to get through that first reading ASAP, so I can start incorporating new ideas and techniques into my cooking. Just this weekend, I made some filled cookies, that might have benefited from a better knowledge of thickening agents to help solidify the filling a bit and preserve their shape better without the inevitable flavor dilution of cornstarch.

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Well, I finally caught up with DHL today. Pictured below is my copy of Modernist Cuisine, at least according to Amazon.ca. I haven't even bothered to open it, because I already know what's inside. Yes, they charged me full price, and yes, this is the only shipment listed as part of my "closed" order. Question for others who received $400 kitchen manuals -- has Amazon.ca managed to find the missing portions of our orders yet? Trying to understand my options here.

Well, since there have apparently been reports of shipments without a kitchen manual (anyone here?), it seems likely the slipcases that were supporting our kitchen manuals were sent out to others and aren't just gathering dust in the warehouse. So, resolving it through Amazon.ca will probably mean waiting for them to get another shipment (are they even due to get another in the first printing?). I'm not sure if it will be faster, but you can e-mail info@modernistcuisine.com as per Wayt's post on missing kitchen manuals. Although that post relates to the inverse situation, they seem to be willing to help me out (though I don't know what form this will take yet - maybe just assistance dealing with Amazon.ca). In any case, getting help from the publisher can't hurt and could end up putting pressure on Amazon.ca from both ends.

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