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


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. . . . Where’s the soul in modernist cuisine?

I think that's an important question: A lot of people don't warm to the gadgetry, measuring, and chemistry of MC, and, like anything else, an interest in it is something you cannot fake--fake definitely has no soul--but I think that in the hands of anyone who is legitimately drawn to it (as opposed to those who are 'doing MS' because it's the thing of the moment), it has as much soul as the dishes that come from the hands of those who prefer to work intuitively, in pinches and handfuls, improvising as they go.

If I become deeply absorbed in the math/chemistry of a recipe, prep. a leg of lamb with a scalpel (or decide that I'd prefer to present it as cubes of diced meat and thyme held together with transglutaminase, for that matter), or mix citric acid into my truffles along with the lime zest, I think that ultimately, what gives it soul is the fact that, to a large extent, the pleasure of those who eat the things matters as much as my own pleasure in creating it.

. . . . It is probably why modernism has been so late in arriving in cuisine. (I fault academia for the lag: food scientists have had access to the technology and the research for a long time, but never put it together in a way useful to anyone outside of the big food companies.)

Incidentally, wonderful as Nathan Myhrvold's work may be, don't let's forget that Harold McGee, among others, began bringing hard science into the kitchen several decades ago.

Edited by Mjx (log)

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

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. . . . Where’s the soul in modernist cuisine?

I think that's an important question: A lot of people don't warm to the gadgetry, measuring, and chemistry of MC

While I realize you're not espousing this point of view yourself, Mjx, I truly don't understand anyone who does: I mean, chocolate chip cookies involve measuring and chemistry (sodium bicarbonate), and good grief! What in the world has more soul than chocolate chip cookies?

Matthew Kayahara

Kayahara.ca

@mtkayahara

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This soul thing seems so strange to me, as if precision and care are somehow anathema to love.

Do people feel that their biscuits lack soul because they're measuring out baking powder using teaspoons, paying close attention to the temperature of the dough, and carefully avoiding overworking the dough?

ETA: The soulless Kayahara and I posted at the same time.

Edited by Chris Amirault (log)

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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I feel that when traditionalists talk about the "soul of cooking", they really mean the human element. I get it. I turned my nose up at SV for years while lurking on eG. I thought it was crazy to cook that way. But then I actually tried it. Now I own an Sous Vide Supreme and use it pretty regularly.

Yes, I can get similar results by just plain grilling a steak as opposed to dropping it into a water bath and then hitting it with a blowtorch, but I have overcooked many more steaks on a grill than I have using the "modern technique." That does not mean that I cook every steak this way. There will always be the running late, hit the grocery, get home and dinner on the table fast, nights that most modern techniques are not suited for. But if I know I am cooking steaks ahead of time, my SVS is coming out of the cabinet.

I think one of the missing points is, that even with modern cooking there is always human element. It is very rare that I serve anything right "out of the bag." I have seasoned the protein, and frequently finished it with a sear, and there is always a sauce and accompanying side dishes. I am still cooking. Really when I braise something, it is in the oven for hours where I am imparting "zero" soul.

I expect to use my copy of MC (when I can afford it) like I do other books, for ideas and inspiration.

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I just got an email saying mine shipped, so it looks like Amazon either got some of the next shipment already or found a few more. Good news for those of us who thought we'd be waiting a few more weeks.

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I think one of the missing points is, that even with modern cooking there is always human element. It is very rare that I serve anything right "out of the bag." I have seasoned the protein, and frequently finished it with a sear, and there is always a sauce and accompanying side dishes. I am still cooking. Really when I braise something, it is in the oven for hours where I am imparting "zero" soul.

I expect to use my copy of MC (when I can afford it) like I do other books, for ideas and inspiration.

Bingo! Cooking techniques, old or modern, are really just tools at the cook's disposal. It is the cook's creative use of these tools and techniques that imparts soul to the final dish. Is Thomas Keller a brillant chef because of the knives or ovens he uses? Of course not. By the same token, you can have all the modern equipment in the world and still not create a decent dish.

I can certainly understand that not all techniques are for everyone, and many cooks will have no use for MC -- fair enough. But what I don't understand is extrapolating a personal preference against modernist techniques to somehow claim that it is a souless way to cooking.

Last, as others have mentioned, the reliance on chemical additives and precise measurements that some folks object to in modernist cooking is hardly foreign to traditional cooking techniques -- I'm think of baking and charcuterie in particular. I see no difference between using Iota Carrageenan to make a great mac & cheese and using baking soda or cream of tartar in baked goods.

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I just got an email saying mine shipped, so it looks like Amazon either got some of the next shipment already or found a few more. Good news for those of us who thought we'd be waiting a few more weeks.

When did you place your order? Just curious how far back in the queue they are.

John Deragon

foodblog 1 / 2

--

I feel sorry for people that don't drink. When they wake up in the morning, that's as good as they're going to feel all day -- Dean Martin

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I ordered August 15th and got the dreaded April 15th delay notice earlier this week. However, I just checked my Amazon account and the status has changed to "Shipping Soon: These items are being prepared for shipment, and this portion of your order cannot be canceled or changed."

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I just got an email saying mine shipped, so it looks like Amazon either got some of the next shipment already or found a few more. Good news for those of us who thought we'd be waiting a few more weeks.

When did you place your order? Just curious how far back in the queue they are.

August 13th.

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My husband ordered mine for Christmas last year, in November. It arrived early this week. I'm in Canada.

Edited by Marlene (log)

Marlene

cookskorner

Practice. Do it over. Get it right.

Mostly, I want people to be as happy eating my food as I am cooking it.

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Amazon.ca. And now that I think about it, he might have ordered in January for my birthday in May. I'll have to ask him. But I do have it!

Marlene

cookskorner

Practice. Do it over. Get it right.

Mostly, I want people to be as happy eating my food as I am cooking it.

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My husband ordered mine for Christmas last year, in November. It arrived early this week. I'm in Canada.

Weird - I ordered in October from .ca and don't have it yet. Don must have connections!

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Ha ha! I just now ordered one from .com and I am racing them against each other. My .ca says it will be delivered between April 20-May 4th. My .com says one day later. But the .ca says it's not released yet, so if they keep fulfilling the .com orders maybe I'll get one.

Note to self: you don't need two.

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