I was one of the lucky 100 or so people to attend the launch of the upcoming cookbook Modernist Cuisine in Seattle earlier this week. It was held at the Palace Ballroom in downtown Seattle. A small tasting plate was served as well as a couple of drink tickets for wine. The pastrami was fatty and tender and delicious. The Asian pear and apple chips were bright and sweet, without the nutty overtones from my batch of dragon fruit chips I made.
We were invited to take our seats.
Seattle chef (and Palace Ballroom owner) Tom Douglas was the MC for the evening. He introduced Nathan Myhrvold, who took us through a chapter by chapter review of the five volumes of the book.
He showed us a lot of interesting portions of the book: a full page photograph of E. coli; maps of regional BBQ styles from the US Southeast and curries of India that resembled battle maps with arrows going to and fro; a simple recipe for carrot soup using a pressure cooker and a blender as well. And there were slow motion films using their state of the art camera capturing liquid nitrogen floating along a surface and a water balloon exploding. The depth and breadth of the book is really staggering (you can see some of their films on YouTube).
He also tossed out little nuggets of info throughout his talk. Two stuck out in particular. One is the use of salt. They studied it, and found a very simple ratio for proper salting: 1%, or .75% if you’re sensitive. That’s it. It’s so deceptively simple that I’m sure some people will take issue with it. Cooking is generally so intuitive, that such direct explanations might make a cook feel like the magic, the artistry of cooking is being shelved for direct measurements. I think it just makes it that much easier to make delicious food and allows the cook to focus on other components of their dishes to elevate their flavor and presentation. As a matter of fact, Dr. Myhrvold pointed out that the book doesn’t go into detail about flavor pairing and that there isn’t a lot of research available on the subject. I guess they have another book to do.
Another little trick he told us about is hyperdecanting. To quickly decant a bottle of wine, pour it into a blender and blend on high for 30 seconds. He said he did this to a bottle of Spanish wine given to him by Spanish royalty in front of them. They were mortified, but after a blind taste test, they always chose the hyperdecanted wine. They quickly called their winery in Spain and in rapidfire Spanish said “blahblahblahBLENDERblahblahblahBLENDER”. That got a good laugh from the audience.
Afterwards Tom Douglas had the co-authors, Maxime Bilet and Chris Young, join Dr. Myhrvold on stage and had a Q and A session. Questions were asked about health department codes (the FDA apparently doesn’t like unsolicited advice), self publication (publishers would have only run 2000, over 3000 have already been pre-ordered), and various other things that I can’t recall. Tom Douglas wrapped it up and said he was getting a copy of Modernist Cuisine for each of his chefs. That’s a boss worth working for!
People mingled a bit more, asking questions from all the chefs who worked on the book. A couple copies of the book along with some excerpts were also out for people to page through and look at. Everyone finished their drinks, and then it was off into the rainy Seattle night.