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Category: Food and Drink

A 2,400-page modern cooking opus

Myhrvold What do you get when you combine a brilliant computer scientist, a love of food, a multimillionaire's stash of personal wealth, a fascination with cutting-edge cooking technologies and the desire to share that knowledge?

Easy: Nathan Myhrvold, former chief technology officer of Microsoft, and his upcoming, self-published, six volume, 2,400-page cookbook, "Modernist Cuisine." Among the tools in Myhrvold's cooking lab are a centrifuge, a rotary evaporator, homogenizers, a spray dryer and a $250,000 freeze dryer. In an article in Thursday's paper, Betty Hallock calls the cookbook "'The Joy of Cooking' for the Ferran Adrià set."

Myhrvold, a polymath and inventor with a background in space physics and fascinations including paleontology and photography, formed his own publishing company in the midst of writing the book — a tome too daunting for other publishers to tackle. What started as 150 pages or so on sous-vide (cooking vacuum-packed food in water at a relatively low, very stable temperature) snowballed into a magnum opus, the culmination of Myhrvold's obsession with cooking.

A year ago Myhrvold described the book as three volumes and 1,500 pages, but it obviously continued to grow. "If you talk about sous-vide, then you have to talk about food safety, and microbiology, and heat ... ," says Myhrvold, whose co-authors are chefs Chris Young and Maxime Bilet. "Now we laugh that we once thought 800 pages was big.... There are a hundred more things I wish we could have had time to cover."

What it does cover are topics such as (but not limited to) culinary history, the physics of food and water, modern ovens, thickeners, gels, emulsions, foams, plants, starches, fish, poultry and cuts of meat both tender and tough. There is sous-vide, and there is barbecue. More than 600 pages are devoted to recipes, including the "ultimate burger," Indian curries and elaborate plated dishes inspired by or adapted from chefs such as Adrià, Heston Blumenthal and Wylie Dufresne.

The aim "was to explain how cooking actually works, the science behind it," says Myhrvold, who is professorial and inclined to crack wonky jokes.

The book set, which will weigh more than 43 pounds, is currently slated for a Spring 2011 release. "After a lot of soul-searching we decided there was no better way to deliver high-resolution images than print," Myhrvold says. "Why ink? Why paper? Even though I love digital images … it's still better to have paper." His six-volume, printed-on-paper cookbook will retail for $625. 

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Dr. Nathan Myhrvold explains the use of a superspeed centrifuge. Credit : Mike Kane / For the Times

Au revoir, Bon Appetit

Surviving foodie magazine Bon Appétit, which has been located in Los Angeles since its founding in 1975, will be moving its operations to New York, it announced today. Editor Barbara Fairchild will bow out rather than make the move.

“I just couldn’t wrap my head around the whole concept of me moving to New York," Fairchild told our sibling blog The Daily Dish. "I really like living bi-coastally and when I started thinking about it, there are a lot of different things I can do besides edit the magazine. So I may just take some time to do some of those different things. And who knows, maybe some of them will be things I really want to do, like live in Paris for two months.” Fairchild continued:

“I don’t intend to sit in either home -- New York or Los Angeles -- and let grass grow under my feet. I could teach journalism, I could write, I could edit, I could help chefs with their books...  basically everything that I’m doing now, but without having to worry about the next month’s budget.

“At some point after the holidays, I’m sure I’ll wake up one morning and realize that I don’t have to go in to work. Maybe I’ll go to Palm Springs and visit my sister for a couple of weeks. Or go to Monterey and visit my family there. Or maybe I’ll go to a villa in Tuscany.”

The economic downturn and availability of content on the Internet have been hard on magazines. In October 2009, parent company Condé Nast announced the closure of Gourmet Magazine, Bon Appétit's chief rival. Bon Appétit had a larger readership, and Condé Nast owned both.

The details of Bon Appétit's move to New York, where Condé Nast is based, are still being worked out.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Barbara Fairchild in the Bon Appétit test kitchen in Los Angeles, November 2009. Credit: Ann Johansson / For the Los Angeles Times

How to find the best dive bars in L.A.

LabestdivebarsWhen Jonathan Gold began telling us where to eat, he didn't start at the top with AOC and Providence. OK, neither was open back then, but if they had been, he wouldn't have been eating there. Writing his Counter Intelligence column for LA Weekly, Gold dined in restaurants with cheap prices and humble storefronts, in mini-malls, with unglamorous waitstaff and clientele.

Now, Lina Lecaro delivers the drinker's correlative with "Los Angeles's Best Dive Bars: Drinking and Diving in the City of Angels." This is not a guide to the latest Hollywood hot spots, and you won't find valet parking stands anywhere near. 

But Lecaro has a clear sense of the gentrification cycle of dive bars: What makes them interesting is the balance between rheumy morning-drinkers and hipsters looking for an empty booth. Eventually, many L.A. dive bars get popular -- friends bring other friends who bring other friends, and next thing you know there's a line outside for the crappy karaoke (The Smog Cutter, The Brass Monkey). This forces he gentrifiers to an exasperated hunt for the next place with free popcorn and an empty booth (The Roost), which also goes through the cycle. With any luck, a dive bar might become so hip as to become yesterday's news, in which case, it's headed down toward genuine diviness again.

There are about eighty bars listed in the book, organized by neighborhood, and I've been to more than half of them. Included in the list are some new-ownership places that took over dive bars and spiffed them up (Footsie's) as well as a few that likely will never get that treatment (downtown's King Eddy Saloon). Lecaro's cobbled together an admirably comprehensive list; if she missed a few, all the better for those of us who like our dive bars pre-trendy.

When Lecaro sent me a copy of her book, the pages were puffed and wrinkled, as though someone had accidentally spilled a beer on it. Was it because the book had been soaked at her recent reading? Or just a clever marketing ploy?

Lecaro reads and signs "Los Angeles's Best Dive Bars" Sunday night at Book Soup at 7 p.m. Where to go after she's finished? Ask her.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

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English pubs in literature -- can America compete?


British author Richard Francis is a novelist and a scholar -- this fall, Yale University press will publish his book "Fruitlands: The Alcott Family, the Englishmen, and Utopia" about the Transcendentalists, particularly Bronson Alcott (father of Louisa May, who grew up to write "Little Women"). It promises to be an engaging literary and cultural history, one that's thoroughly and carefully researched. So for now, before things get too heady, Francis has published a novel in England, "The Old Spring," about the day in the life of a pub.

"All my life I’ve loved pubs. My non-fiction is concerned with utopian theories and experiments, and pubs can be seen in the same light -- they are communities devised to make people feel happy, though of course they don’t necessarily succeed," Francis writes on his blog. "Neither do utopian communities, and my guess is that pubs have a higher success rate."

At the Guardian, Francis lists his top 10 pubs in literature, beginning with Chaucer's "The Canterbury Tales" and ending with Graham Swift's "Last Orders," with suitable helpings of Charles Dickens, H.G. Wells, Thomas Hardy, William Shakespeare and even T.S. Eliot along the way.

His list is, sadly, very British. Aren't there some great pubs in American literature? What would you nominate for the top 10 American pubs -- make that bars -- memorialized in literature?

-- Carolyn Kellogg


Photo: Beer taps at the Lucky Baldwin Pub in Pasadena. Credit: Courtney Hergesheimer / Los Angeles Times

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Anthony Bourdain's cooking on the June 27 L.A. Times bestseller list

Because Anthony Bourdain often says the kind of things people aren't used to hearing in polite conversation, he has become, as he writes in his new book, a "professional traveler, writer and TV guy," one who knows food from all angles. Bourdain first made a splash with "Kitchen Confidential," a tell-all about his years as a chef, and on his TV show he'll try anything -- and he's willing to say what's good and what isn't. Bourdain's strong voice carries from the camera directly to the page -- he's sarcastic, profane, bombastic, unapologetic. In Bourdain's world, Jonathan Gold, Fergus Henderson and Jamie Oliver are heroes; Alice Waters, Wolfgang Puck and Gael Greene are villains. Exactly why is explained in his new book, "Medium Raw: A bloody valentine to the world of food and the people who cook." Bourdain's "Medium Raw" enters our bestseller list this week -- it's No. 3 on the hardcover nonfiction list. See the complete L.A. Times Bestseller List for June 27 after the jump.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

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It's 5 o'clock somewhere: Bukowski exhibit on the way

Charles BukowskiexhibitHuntington Library

Bukowski_drinkingFans of poet Charles Bukowski should begin planning trips to Southern California for an upcoming exhibit of his papers at the Huntington Library. Located on the former estate of railroad mogul Henry Huntington in San Marino (near Los Angeles but with a much tonier ZIP Code), the Huntington Library is known for its significant rare books collection, which includes a Gutenberg Bible. It also now holds the collection of the notoriously hard-drinking, hard-living Bukowski, who died in 1994.

"He wrote about blue-collar workers and about pimps, prostitutes, drunks, gamblers and layabouts," Sue Hodson, the Huntington's curator of literary manuscripts, told our blog Culture Monster. "He talked about sex and bodily functions and used all those words our mothers don't want us to use because he said this was part of life and he was just being honest."

Organized in cooperation with widow Linda Lee Bukowski, the exhibit "Charles Bukowski: Poet on the Edge," will run from Oct. 9 to Feb. 14, 2011. Linda Lee Bukowski has loaned the library personal items to display, to complement the literary collection she donated to the library. The Huntington owns more than 2,700 Bukowski items, including more than 500 books, drafts of poems, a draft of the 1982 novel "Ham on Rye" and a script from the mostly autobiographical film "Barfly." Fewer than 100 of those items will be on display in the exhibit, but they have all been available to scholars since last summer.

True Bukowski devotees will be able to find his annotated racing forms at the exhibit and then head to the nearby Santa Anita racing track to try his betting system firsthand. And if it fails? Never fear: Santa Anita doesn't just have horses -- it also has a bar.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Charles Bukowski in 1980. Credit: Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens

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Chef Alice Waters keeps it simple for fans

Alice Watersfestival of booksIn the Green Kitchen


“If you’ve come for a fancy cooking lesson, you’ve come to the wrong place,” said Alice Waters at the Festival of Books cooking stage. Dwarfed by her friend and collaborator, who held a pink parasol aloft to keep her shaded, Waters held an avid audience transfixed on Sunday.

Fans didn't mind braving the sun for Waters, the famed chef behind Chez Panisse and advocate for eating organic and local. They had snatched and saved all the seats more than 40 minutes before her demonstration began.

Waters began with only an empty counter and a compost bucket for peelings. She carefully unpacked cloth bags filled with fresh radishes, organic cage-free eggs, pomelos, cara cara oranges, Meyer lemons, garlic, fresh herbs, chard and mixed greens.

On the menu for the day’s demonstration was a fresh mixed green salad with vinaigrette, fava bean paste, and homemade aioli. 

Simplicity is the key ingredient for Waters’ recipes. Her collaborator, who was playing sous-chef, pointed out that a piece of hot grilled bread elevates a soup to another level.

The spotlight of the demonstration fell on one of the most basic kitchen tools: a mortar and pestle. Although it is old, they agreed it's one of the best. Grinding together garlic, salt, pepper and vinegar, Waters blended a vinaigrette in a few minutes while the sous-chef quickly mashed up fava beans into a hummus-like paste.

Waters was not afraid to get her hands dirty: Her sous-chef stressed that it's a great way to ensure that each of the leaves of lettuce is well coated with dressing. A perfect balance between sweetness, tartness and saltiness is essential in a dressing for Waters, and hers delivered -- she dipped her finger in her finished dressing and let out a delicate “mmm.”

Two other simple brunch meals that Waters confessed she couldn’t get enough of right now are a garden salad taco on an organic tortilla and grilled bread with slices of avocado.

Ten percent of Sunday's sales of Waters’ new book “In the Green Kitchen” went toward the Chez Panisse Foundation.

-- Casey Chan

Photo: Alice Waters, in purple, unloads her ingredients at the Festival of Books on Sunday. Credit: Casey Chan

Cheerios and children's books

Families buying boxes of Cheerios will find a prize inside -- not a plastic whirligig or sticker set, but a brand-new children's book.

More than 2 million copies of "1 Zany Zoo," published by Simon & Schuster, will be found in boxes nationwide. The book is by first-time author Lori Degman, a Chicago mother who won the 2008 Cheerios New Author Contest. The company has just announced the winner of its 2009 contest -- Laurie Isop's "How Do You Hug a Porcupine?" -- which will appear in cereal boxes next year.

The cereal company has opened up the contest again. Unpublished authors can enter their children's book using an online form; the deadline is July 15. Winners get $5,000 -- and, in 2012, wide, breakfast-time distribution.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Bowl of Cheerios. Credit: yaybiscuit123 via Flickr./

Getting lit, two ways: The Goodreads bar crawl [Updated]


This Saturday, Aimee Bender, Joseph Mattson and Martin Pousson will read, kicking off a celebration of literature -- and getting lit. It's an L.A. literary bar crawl, organized by Goodreads, PEN Center USA and Book Soup.

The whole thing is taking place along a walkable stretch of Sunset Boulevard, in Silverlakeish. At 7 p.m., the authors will read upstairs at the restaurant Malo. Listeners are welcome to begin drinking, and, I would recommend, snacking (the green salsa is quite tasty). 

After that, there are three other bars on the list: the Tiki-Ti, pictured, which is a five-minute walk up the street; the Good Luck Bar, another five minutes away continuing in the same direction; and the 4100 Bar,  just around the corner from Malo in the opposite direction. Oh, at the most, it's a 15-minute walk between the 4100 Bar and the Good Luck, but that's a long way for Angelenos. Maybe we should find somebody to shuttle.

Patrick Brown, who has earned a reputation for writing smart commentary doing the social networking for Pasadena's Vroman's Bookstore, will also be in attendance. He's leaving bookselling to become the community manager for Goodreads, and while he officially starts next week, he promises to come along for some literary bar crawling.

No need to sign up -- just show up and join in. Expect toasts to writers who were also champion drinkers, such as Ernest Hemingway, Dorothy Parker and L.A.'s own down-and-dirty Charles Bukowski, who never met a free boilermaker he didn't like.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

[Updated 4:22 p.m., 2/17/10: an earlier version of this post said that Gary Phillips would be among the authors reading at the event. He cannot attend; Martin Pousson will appear instead.]

Photo: the interior of the Tiki-Ti. Credit: Perry C. Riddle / Los Angeles Times

Cereal books

booksHughes and HughesIrelandRice Krispies

Irish children will be getting something more than plastic doodads with their breakfast cereal. Publisher the O'Brien Press has teamed up with Hughes and Hughes Bookstore and American cereal maker Kellogg's to give away books to kids who collect vouchers from Rice Krispies boxes. Instead of the old-style mail-in for the prize, eager readers can walk into Hughes and Hughes stores to order or pick up their books.

The O'Brien Press, a leading independent publisher in Ireland, publishes books for adults and children, but this program focuses on reading for kids. The books it has selected are for various ages: "Boo and Bear" by Edna Wyley and "Bertie Rooster" by Maddie Stewart are appropriate for children ages 4 and older; "Granny's Teeth" by Brianóg Brady Dawson is for kids 5 and up; "Mad Grandad and the Mutant River" by Oisín McGann,  for those 6 and up; and "Hazel Wood Girl" by Judy May and "Epic" by Conor Kostick are for older kids, 10 and older.

The program, which will include author events at Hughes and Hughes stores around the country, will be promoted as "Storytime." It doesn't kick off until February, but cereal boxes with the vouchers are showing up on grocery shelves now.

-- Carolyn Kellogg (no relation)

Photo by Paulidin via Flickr


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