A revolution is underway in the art of cooking. Just as French Impressionists upended centuries of tradition, Modern cuisine has in recent years blown through the boundaries of the culinary arts.
Borrowing techniques from the laboratory, pioneering chefs at world-renowned restaurants such as elBulli, The Fat Duck, Alinea, and wd~50 have incorporated a deeper understanding of science and advances in cooking technology into their culinary art.
In Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking, Nathan Myhrvold, Chris Young, and Maxime Bilet -- scientists, inventors, and accomplished cooks in their own right -- have created a compendium of science-inspired techniques for preparing food that ranges from the otherworldly to the sublime. The authors and their team at The Cooking Lab have achieved astounding new flavors and textures by using tools such as water baths, homogenizers, centrifuges, and ingredients such as hydrocolloids, emulsifiers, and enzymes. It is a work destined to reinvent cooking.
Last we met in Volume 1, we learned about the History and Fundamentals of food and cooking. Now the authors begin our journey into the nitty-gritty of preparing food and all the equipment used, from cave men harnessing fire to the latest cryogenic freezers, homogenizers and carbonators. This set is read and revered on a world-wide stage and our very own Robb Walsh was cited as a source for his book Legends of Texas Barbecue Cookbook: Recipes and Recollections from the Pit Bosses. Way to represent, Robb!
"Cooking is as old as humanity itself - it may even have shaped our anatomy. Our large brains, small mouths, dull teeth and narrow pelvises can all be traced to Homo sapiens's taming of fire as a tool to convert raw food to cooked." Our three authors, Nathan Myhrvold, Chris Young, and Maxime Bilet take us on a journey of traditional cooking techniques, cooking in modern ovens, cooking sous vide and the modernist kitchen in Volume 2. This is the most technically, scientifically rich volume and can become tedious unless you are a serious science nerd in addition to a major foodie. The photographs continue to be breathtaking, artistic and incredibly visually descriptive. At any given time you might think you are reading a chemistry textbook or a NASA Hubble Telescope book or a Fundamentals of Gardening book by just looking at the pictures.
How do you make an omelet light and tender on the outside, but rich and creamy inside? Or French fries with a light and fluffy interior and a delicate, crisp crust that doesn't go soggy? Imagine being able to encase a mussel in a gelled sphere of its own sweet and briny juice. Or to create a silky-smooth pistachio cream made from nothing more than the nuts themselves?
MC offers you step-by-step, illustrated instructions, as well as clear explanations of how these techniques work. The stunning photographic techniques take the reader inside the food to see cooking in action all the way from microscopic meat fibers to an entire Weber grill in cross-section. You will view cooking and eating in a whole new light. A sampling of what you'll discover just in Volume 2 alone:
• Why plunging food in ice water doesn't stop the cooking process • When boiling cooks faster than steaming • Why raising the grill doesn't lower the heat • How low-cost pots and pans can perform better than expensive ones • Why baking is mostly a drying process • Why deep-fried food tastes best and browns better when the oil is older • How modern cooking techniques can achieve ideal results without the perfect timing or good luck that traditional methods demand
It's been said that from Volume 2 forward, the home cook might feel neglected and in over their head. In fact, this collection has been hyped as the molecular gastronomes' guide, but that is misguided information. MC reaches way past its core audience to include all us foodies. Seventy percent of the recipes are very doable at home and can be achieved with basic kitchen equipment. And then there is that other plane of cooking that is simply fascinating to read about -- and then make a reservation at a restaurant and have someone else cook it for you.
Next up is Volume 3: Animals and Plants. Vegetarians be warned: cooked animal pictures coming.
Follow Eating Our Words on Facebook and on Twitter @EatingOurWords