“Modernist Cuisine” is not for most home cooks.
– Michael Ruhlman
“[Modernist Cuisine] looks cool and would be fun to flip through,” he said. “But I don’t need to spend six hundred dollars on a cookbook — I already know how to cook.” This led to my next question — in his opinion, were these techniques even appropriate for the home cook? “Sous vide is great for cooking vegetables and meat,” he replied. “But home-cooked meals are home-cooked for a reason. They’re meant for the home.”
– Domestic Divas
The truth is that this stuff is for the pros.
– New Yorker
Man, do these people bore me. How uninspired. How defeatist. How sad, pathetic, and totally lame.
0 To 60 in 90 Days
I started to cook in December 2009 – about 18 months ago. I had no knife skills, didn’t know anything about Anthony Bourdain or Iron Chef, much less Mugaritz. My refrigerator was empty save for old condiments. I didn’t even notice the front right burner on my stove was larger than the others because I had never used it.
But once I started, I got way into it. Within weeks, I had discovered avant-garde food. By February 2010, I had ordered my first ‘molecular gastronomy’ kit and contacted Scott and Eric to form Jet City Gastrophysics. By March, I spherified my first liquids. By August, I made the red cabbage gazpacho from The Fat Duck. And in October, just 10 months later, I began cooking from Modernist Cuisine, which wasn’t to be published for another five months. I used their PDF excerpt.
The point is that this kind of cooking can be done at home by non-professionals. It’s not like I have a thousand more taste buds than the average person, or a storied history flipping burgers in local fast food joints. I just decided to do it. And it’s not boring and soulless. It’s fun! It’s delicious! It’s awesome.
Getting The Gear
“But I can’t afford it!”, you say. Granted, like any hobby, you need to invest in the equipment, whether it’s guitars, yarn, or car parts. The tools needed aren’t necessarily out of reach – they can be bought for much cheaper than you might think. So in this first of three posts I’m going to show you some of the things you need to create the most cutting-edge food on the planet, what it costs, and how to find it for cheaper. First up, the tools and gadgets (in alphabetical order).
If you end up with a centrifuge in your house, you’re committed to the New Cookery. Or, to your friends and family, you should probably just be committed. Clear consommés, tomato water, and pea butter await. You’ll need one with large buckets instead of just for test tubes so you can make decent size portions of food. Prices can vary from $500 to many thousands of dollars.
Using steam to control the humidity allows for precise cooking control to get great results every time. You can also make terrines and custards without having them sit in a baking dish full of water.
- Viking Professional Series VCSO244SS Combi Steam/Convect Oven – $2,393.15
- Gaggenau ED220-630 Series 200 Combi Oven – $2,887.37
Without this, you can’t make the famous savory espumas, or foams, that are the hallmark (and cliché) of Molecular Gastronomy.
- iSi Thermo Whip Plus – $135.95
This has a thermos-like container, so you can keep hot foams hot, and cool foams cool.
- iSi Easy Whip – $54.99
Amaze your guests as you crisp up their perfectly cooked meat to get that delicious maillard reaction going. Also good for crème brûlées.
- Sterno ST06003 Professional Culinary Torch – $22.04
- Messermeister FT-912 Cheflamme Culinary Torch -$ 45.00
Commonly made for beef jerky, you can also make fruit leathers, and really dehydrate anything. For example, I took some Sriracha sauce, dehydrated it, and ground it in my coffee grinder. Sriracha powder. Do you understand?
- Ronco FD1005WHGEN 5-Tray Electric Food Dehydrator – $32.70
- Excalibur 3500 Deluxe Series 5 Tray Food Dehydrator – $189.95
The New Cookery is all about applying the same precision in baking to savory cooking. Therefore you must know your ratios. A digital scale is a must. And they’re everywhere. The one pictured above? I bought it at Ross Dress For Less.
- Pronto Digital Multifunction Kitchen and Food Scale – $17.95
- Cuisinart KML-10 PerfectWeight Digital Kitchen Scale – $42.85
Sometimes you need to blend things thoroughly in a bowl – enter the immersion blender. Also the way to make light foams – or airs – with juice and a little bit of lethicin.
- KitchenAid KHB300OB Hand Blender – 89.99
With nine speed settings, it’s the best one out there
- Cuisinart CSB-76BC SmartStick 200-Watt Immersion Hand Blender – 29.95
When it comes to sous vide, it’s all about low and slow, and for that you need an immersion circulator. This will keep your water bath at a precise temperature so you can make things like creamy yolks and perfectly cooked steaks. They start at around $400 and go up from there. But, if you’re industrious, or have a friend that is, you can make one for $75, thanks to Scott’s infamous DIY immersion circulator.
- SousVide Supreme SVS-10LS SousVide Supreme Water Oven 10-L. – $399.00
An easy to use all in one circulator and water bath.
- Polyscience Sous Vide Professional Immersion Circulator – $799.95
Probably the best sous vide machine currently on the market.
- DIY Sous Vide Heating Immersion Circulator – $75
Go Scott Go!
- Max Burton 6000 1800-Watt Portable Induction Cooktop – $68.49
- Cooktek MC-1800 120V Single Burner Free Standing Induction Cooktop- 1800 Watts – $760.91
Why so much? Most cooktops jump by level with 30 degrees between. This cooktop allows degree by degree control.
Liquid Nitrogen Dewar
You aren’t cooking Modernist Cuisine if you’re not freezing it. Getting a dewar will allow you to safely bring liquid nitrogen into your home for some seriously
Well, how else are you going to know how if your constructed cheese pH is balanced? And it also works for beer!
Cook things quicker by increasing the pressure than what is usually found in this planet’s atmosphere. Modernist Cuisine, man. Cool.
- Fagor 2-by-1 Splendid 5-Piece Pressure Cooker Set – 119.99
- Kuhn Rikon 3916 Duromatic Top Pressure Cooker, 5-Quart – $219.00
The Rolls Royce of pressure cookers. Quiet and durable.
You need to seal your food up to throw it in the water bath for sous vide (French for “under pressure”), so a vacuum sealer is at the top of your list. A Foodsaver will work fine, but with a chamber vacuum sealer, you can also seal liquids and have more control over the vacuum pressure.
- FoodSaver V3835 Vacuum Food Sealer with SmartSeal Technology – $158.95
- VacMaster VP210C Dry Piston Pump Chamber Machine, Metallic – $1033.04
Even if you never cook one contemporary dish in your life, you should still get this. The Vitamix is amazing. You won’t go back.
- Vita-Mix 1300 TurboBlend 4500 – $378.95
- Vitamix CIA Professional Countertop Blender with 2+ HP Motor – $498.95
And Your Total Comes To…
So, if you add up the averaged total for all these things, it’s going to set you back around $6630. Holy cow! No thanks. That’s WAY too much. But here’s the thing: you don’t have to pay full price. For all the stuff above, I paid around $3600. That’s a 46% discount. Of course I didn’t buy it all at once. It was collected over the course of many months. Still, a hefty monthly bill. I had to cut corners elsewhere. No more Sounders FC tickets. No more premium cable. No going out to weekly movie or restaurant outings, etc. But hey, when it’s a passion, you gotta go with it (it didn’t hurt that I got a couple of pay raises as well).
So how do you get a similar deal? This is what you do: Google, eBay, Craigslist. Always buy used if possible. Google things like “used immersion blender for sale seattle” or “centrifuge site:craigslist.org”. Scour eBay for what you’re looking for, including misspellings like “circulater”. Make sure to check the box “include descriptions” when using multiple keywords on eBay.
Besides that, post on message boards and talk with friends. Go to thrift stores and garage sales. Find used laboratory equipment warehouses or auctions at your local university. Seek and you shall find a bargain.