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Book Review – Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking

11 May 2011

Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking By Dr Nathan Myhrvold, Chris Young and Maxime Bilet
The Cooking Lab, £395
ISBN 978-0982761007

The topics covered in Modernist Cuisine appear endless. Both simple and complex thoughts are scientifically explained in a captivating style.

The authors have put together six astonishing books: History and Fundamentals; Techniques and Equipment; Animals and Plants; Ingredients and Preparations and Plated-Dish Recipes, with the final Kitchen Manual volume grouping all the recipes together.

More than 1,500 recipes are found throughout the six volumes, many of which have been inspired by dishes from some of the word's leading restaurants such as Mugaritz's cassava root coals, Noma's milk skin and the Fat Duck's hot and cold tea. Other recipes are more homely with a nod towards North American dishes, such as the ultimate burger.

The mass of lavish photographic illustrations - over 3,000 throughout - draw your attention straight to the subject. Some of the more artistic images show movement, while the more informative photographs show fascinating attention to detail and colour representations.

While other modern gastronomic books may brilliantly showcase individual styles, concepts and techniques, they are never this extensive and only include viewpoints from specific chefs or restaurants. Nathan Myhrvold's scientific approach to writing results in a book which is minimal on opinion and high in honest factual concepts that are clearly, cleverly and concisely explained.

Of course, it is expensive for one book, but the price is reasonable considering the vast amount of knowledge within. The question on making a purchase, like any decent piece of kitchen equipment, is not how much it costs, but rather will you use it to its full potential. The answer for me is most definitely, yes.

By George Blogg, sous chef, Le Champignon Sauvage, Cheltenham

about the authors

It has arrived. The food book that has taken the USA by storm - Modernist Cuisine - has finally landed on these shores.

Whether you are in tune with molecular gastronomy or not, professional chefs and foodie geeks everywhere cannot fail to be impressed by the sheer scale and depth of knowledge produced within this 2,500-page reference set of six volumes.

Modernist Cuisine has been written by three experts of experimental cookery led by Dr Nathan Myhrvold, founder of Intellectual Ventures, a firm dedicated to creating and investing in inventions. Before turning his attention to food, Myhrvold was the first chief technology officer at Microsoft and achieved degrees in mathematics, geophysics and space physics.

Modernist Cuisine is the result of the work achieved by Myhrvold, his two collaborators and the 20-person team at the Cooking Lab, where they have created new flavours and textures through the use of water baths, homogenizers, centrifuges, and ingredients such as hydrocolloids, emulsifiers and enzymes.

Questions answered include why plunging food in ice water doesn't stop the cooking process, boiling cooks faster than steaming and why deep-fried food taste best and browns better when the oil is older.

Chris Young studied mathematics and biochemistry at the University of Washington before working as a commis chef in Seattle. He later opened the experimental kitchen at the Fat Duck, where he helped develop dishes for the restaurant's menu as well as create dishes for the BBC programme Perfection with Heston Blumenthal.

The final contributor, Maxime Bilet, studied literature before going on to study at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York. Moving to England, he worked with Blumenthal's development team before working as a sous chef at Ambassade de L'ile, London.

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