Microsoft CTO Turns Cooking Expert

Discussion
Mar 22, 2011
Bernice Hurst

Nathan Myhrvold, Microsoft’s
former first chief technology officer, is making headlines with his new venture,
a six-volume cookbook containing some 2,400 pages and weighing nearly 50 pounds. Modernist
Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking
,
examines cuisine "through the lenses of science and innovation" according
to cnet.com. Eric Mack of CNET goes on to say the book "attempts
to fuse the worlds of the geek and the gastronome."

Susie
Mesure in The Independent claims Mr. Myhrvold left Microsoft "because
he felt working there impinged on his cooking time." Advised by "72
of the world’s best chefs" who contributed some of the 1,500 recipes,
plus a team working in what is described as a "multimillion-dollar Seattle
food lab," the book "investigates the physics — and maths — behind
a plethora of cooking techniques from making the ultimate cheeseburger to how
to make Neapolitan-style pizza without investing in a brick oven, offering
cooks inventive new ways of cooking old favorites."

Forewords have been
written by two celebrated proponents of molecular gastronomy, Heston Blumenthal
of The Fat Duck in England and Ferran Adria of El Bulli in Spain. Like their
methods, however, not all of those in the book are likely to be tackled by
home cooks. Amongst equipment used for recipe testing were homogenizers, centrifuges
and ingredients such as hydrocolloids and enzymes.

To illustrate, cnet.com’s Mr.
Mack quotes instructions for the ultimate cheeseburger: "We infuse smoke
flavor into the lettuce; we make a special cheese slice. When the cheese melts,
it doesn’t separate out and get greasy. We grind the meat in a particular way
so that we align all the grains of meat; we cook it in a very specific way
using liquid nitrogen …" Photos of
those microscopic meat fibers are included.

More down to earth advice includes
adding more oil if fried food is soggy and not wasting money on expensive pans
or organic food.

Defending the cover price of $625 (or $461.62 on discount on
Amazon.com), Mr. Myhrvold apparently observes that an equivalent weight of
other cookbooks would come in at an equivalent price.

Discussion Questions: How will a scientific approach to cooking change the ways Americans prepare dishes? How influential are cookbooks and celebrity chefs when it comes to shopping and cooking at home?

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14 Comments on "Microsoft CTO Turns Cooking Expert"


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John Boccuzzi, Jr.
Guest
John Boccuzzi, Jr.
10 years 1 month ago

As a foodie I am interested in reading some of the recipes in this 50 pound book. That said, I am very happy with my monthly issue of Fine Cooking.

Fabien Tiburce
Guest
Fabien Tiburce
10 years 1 month ago

How will this change people’s cooking habits? It won’t whatsoever. Why? Because very few will buy the book and those who do will do because a) they are very affluent and b) are “foodies” and want to own it for bragging rights. How many people would actually bother to infuse taste in lettuce to make a burger? This is the same as asking how a 1 million dollar exotic car will change your daily commute. Impressive, yes. Influential on a large scale, no.

Ryan Mathews
Guest
10 years 1 month ago

This may be an example of just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Molecular cooking is probably a bit past the average supermarket chef and a 50 pound cookbook shows what money (without the filter of needing to have a purpose) can buy.

As for celebrity chefs, I think people like to watch THEM cook and are intrigued by the idea of food as game show.

Will it change the eating practices of America? I sincerely doubt it.

Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
10 years 1 month ago

Cooking is an art not a science. Art is usually fun, science is more demanding. So give until science that which requires science but leave hamburging alone.

Len Lewis
Guest
Len Lewis
10 years 1 month ago

People will buy the book because it will look good sitting on a shelf in the gourmet kitchen they never use. I’m going to read some of it myself. I’m fascinated.

But baking is science–cooking is art. There’s a reason that Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking is in its 50th or so printing.

Ben Ball
Guest
10 years 1 month ago

My initial reaction is “not at all.” Both my wife and I like to cook, a lot, much to the benefit of treadmill manufacturers and cholesterol medication producers. And we have a decent kitchen. But “centrifuges and hydrocolloids?”–not that I know of anyway.

But it occurs to me that this entire effort may be less about “teaching us how to cook differently” and more about “teaching us to think about cooking differently.” Food scientists in our food manufacturer labs probably understand and apply much of Mr. Myhrvold’s thinking every day. Maybe this will help the general public to understand that there is a science to food and that “processed” isn’t all bad and “organic” isn’t necessarily all good.

Cathy Hotka
Guest
10 years 1 month ago

This is the first $400 cookbook I’ve ever seen, and I’m tempted to purchase it. Instead of listing ingredients and showing how to mix them, Myhrvold explains the culinary process. His research and techniques will make us all better cooks…but I probably won’t have liquid nitrogen in my kitchen any time soon.

Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
10 years 1 month ago

Let’s see here. What is my dilemma? I can read a 50 pound scientific approach to cooking before going to sleep. Or, I could watch the Food Channel and Bobby Flay. Food Channel wins every time. What we do have is an expensive, heavy new cook book going to market. I hope he has a large family willing to buy it. I don’t foresee the person looking for their first cook book buying it.

Jesse Rooney
Guest
Jesse Rooney
10 years 1 month ago

Americans do need to start looking at food differently, or else our rising obesity rates will cause a national health pandemic. Myhrvold’s book certainly helps to contribute to redefining our relationship with food, but I think Jamie Oliver’s recent attempts to reform school lunch programs will be more effective at reaching the general population.

What’s more, who wants to bring a spiffy-looking six hundred dollar cookbook into the kitchen where it will get splattered upon?

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
Guest
10 years 1 month ago

50 pounds and 5 volumes is overkill! People may be interested in glancing through the book and reading some of the recipes. Using it as a guide for their individual cooking is probably not going to happen. Smoke infused lettuce is more than the person who only spends 20 minutes fixing dinner wants to tackle.

James Tenser
Guest
10 years 1 month ago

Every field of interest has a deeply involved group who revel in the fine minutiae of the subject matter. This is true for model railroad hobbyists, hydroponic gardeners, and antique car restorers. Why should cooks be any different in this regard?

Myhrvold evidently possesses both the obsessive interest and the means to indulge his interest in molecular gastronomy. Good for him and for others who share his level of passion. His books will no doubt find a narrow audience; and he may even wind up with a TV series–on the Science Channel.

Jonathan Marek
Guest
10 years 1 month ago

Do you recall that scene in The Devil Wears Prada in which the Meryl Streep character explains to the Anne Hathaway character why she’s wearing one exact shade of purple? That’s how this book, and the related ideas, will affect home cooks. There are elements of the scientific approach to food that will become standard in a few years. I’m not sure that will go as far as sous vide (though it may, given how great sous vide really is!). But on simpler things — the right way to flip a hamburger or steak when you cook it, the best way to wash mushrooms and saute them, etc. — I think we’ll start to see scientifically-proven ideas make their way into home cooking.

Kai Clarke
Guest
10 years 1 month ago

If we all purchased books by their weight, and not by their written value, we would be reading dictionaries and encyclopedias instead of great books!

Odonna Mathews
Guest
Odonna Mathews
10 years 1 month ago

Too much detail, too many volumes and too expensive for most people.

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