I’m always quite interested in learning about the science involved in our everyday lives. Take, for example, cooking. There’s a lot of interesting physics, chemistry and biology involved in how food tastes, how cooking changes its taste, and why we like some tastes and not others. So, for me, Nathan Myhrvold’s new book, Modernist Cuisine, is fantastic.
I’ve known Nathan for more than 25 years. He’s a brilliant guy, a physicist. At Microsoft, he did an amazing job of launching our research group. Later he created Intellectual Ventures. IV is a company built around inventions in many different fields, like using lasers to kill mosquitoes and fight malaria. Nathan has always been interested in cooking, and right next to the IV laboratory where they build prototypes of their inventions, there’s a cooking lab where Modernist Cuisine was developed and tested.
The book is really more like an encyclopedia than a cookbook, although it has some incredible recipes. It explains a lot about the science of cooking, and explores new food-preparation techniques that bring out amazing new flavors. A lot of the recipes involve preparation techniques that probably wouldn’t have been possible a decade ago, like using liquid nitrogen to rapidly cool food to very low temperatures, which dramatically changes its texture and taste.
Nathan brought a bunch of great chefs together to work on the book, and he hired a great photographer and designers to illustrate it. Gradually the book got bigger and bigger. The final result is six volumes, weighs 40 pounds, and has 1,500 recipes and 3,200 photos. The pictures alone make the book a masterpiece. You can see how food changes as it cooks, and understand how different flavors come together to make something really great.
When Nathan gets involved in something, he goes all out, and in this case he’s really dived deep into the science and technology of cooking, explaining things like why we like meat so much, and why cream-based sauces are so good. Which leads to interesting questions, like could we create those tastes in ways that are less expensive, less fattening, and less work? At almost $500, Modernist Cuisine will be out of reach for many people, but for aficionados who want to understand everything there is to know about what they’re cooking and eating, it is a huge contribution.