Tomorrow, I review Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking for The New York Times, the heavily hyped and praised 6 volume, 2400-page romp through the whole world of cooking, a manifesto pronouncing the arrival of a new cultural movement. I’ll be happy to answer questions here tomorrow about the book or the review and I’ll look in on the Times food blog as well where I describe my first attempt at cooking from the book (photo below).
I confess this was an incredibly daunting assignment. It’s an honor to be able to hold forth on what some are calling, accurately, the most important cookbook in years (seven, by my count, since McGee’s revised On Food and Cooking was published), in The Times, no less. A huge responsibility. I’d need as many degrees as its lead author, instigator and bankroller of the years-long project, Nathan Myhrvold, has (the guy worked with Stephen Hawking in quantum cosmology and has discovered more T. rex bones than anyone in history!; see Malcom Gladwell’s NYer story).
One of the reasons the review stoked so much anxiety in me is that there’s so much in this book, it will take years before we know how revolutionary, or not, this book is; years before the treasure trove of information that’s in here filters through the professional cooking world and then down into all kitchens generally and we can know what sticks and what doesn’t.
I finished the review at my friends Ann and Richard’s apartment in Manhattan. Annie read an early draft and said, “What I wanna know is should I buy it?”
Richard, very much not a foodie, couldn’t stop thumbing through the volume I’d brought with me. Check out the most excellent slide show at nytimes.com, examples of the forward thinking photography throughout this monster.
So, Annie. Is Modern Cuisine, $463 at Amazon, worth the price? Who should buy it? I’m supposed to give my review copy back so I’m going to have to make the decision—and yes, sigh, I don’t see how I can not have it around, if only for those parametric recipes and sous vide tables. (And please, those of you with pressure cookers, try their stock, recipe in The Times—it’s a miracle, I have some on the stove right now using the carcass of tonight’s roasted chicken).
Any chef with a positive cash flow: buy it for yourself and to educate your staff. Parents of kids in culinary school who have the cash, your kids will bow down to you with gratitude. Cooking geeks who don’t blink at the bill at any decent high end restaurant in NYC, you won’t be able to stop yourselves, no matter what I say. Mom—I know you love to cook and are pretty good at it, but this one ain’t for you.
Chefs Chris Young, formerly of Fat Duck and culinary leader of the project, and Maxime Bilet oversaw the culinary workings. Congrats. You two and Nathan, and the others, you don’t think small, do you!
If you liked this post on Modernist Cuisine, check out these other posts:
- Watch the Harvard food & science lecture series that is taught by living culinary masters.
- Ideas in Food’s Aki Kamozawa & Alexander Talbot are always questioning and pushing cuisine to it’s limits (they and their work are referenced prominently in Modernist Cuisine).
- Check out my post on Soulcraft: The Real Reason We Love To Cook.
© 2011 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2011 Donna Turner-Ruhlman. All rights reserved.