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