Tuesday night was the official book launch party for Modernist Cuisine, the 2400+ page epic that can only be defined loosely by the term “cookbook”. Although it doesn’t begin shipping until March 7th (and you may have to wait longer than that), the book has already sold over 3400 copies in pre-order and has entered Amazon.com’s Top 100 for books, not just cookbooks.
The launch party, hosted at the Palace Ballroom, was a sold out but still intimate evening. Admission included a small plate of samples from the book – dehydrated pear, a cube of pastrami with a rye cracker, fried chicken, and a dehydrated corn chowder that blasts into existence only once inside your mouth.
Tom Douglas introduced Nathan Myhrvold, the book’s creator, with obvious reverence and respect. Apparently, on Monday night, and a handful of renowned chefs, including Tom, gathered at the Intellectual Ventures kitchen lab in Bellevue and were treated to a 30-something course dinner of a lifetime. One of the ironies in the way this book was made was that there is no restaurant associated with their kitchen – they have no customers, so until recently, nobody knew what the food tasted like, exactly. Luckily for a handful of world-class chefs and prominent journalists (and on a separate occasion, one extremely fortunate food blogger, me), the Modernist Cuisine team has been throwing a series of dinner events to prove just how good these dishes taste.
Nathan spoke to the crowd, armed with a PowerPoint to show off spreads from the book, and talked with his usual candor about the process of creating the book. He commented on the risk-averse nature of both the US Department of Health and the world of book publishing – the former being a politically-driven machine full of inconsistency, and the latter being a least-common-denominator-driven machine full of compromise and devoid of flexibility. He seems to have set both of those industries straight, likely to their embarrassment.
The audience oohed and aahed when Nathan showed footage captured by his super-high speed camera – a corn kernel popping, oil drips hitting a a hot coal, droplets of liquid nitrogen dancing on the surface of a counter. At one point, he showed an extremely slow motion shot of a champagne cork popping from the neck of a bottle. It was the stuff rap videos are made of, minus the spinning rims.
During the Q&A, Nathan made the themes of the book very clear: they refused to compromise on quality, nothing should be “dumbed down”, and the vast majority of the book really was accessible to anyone with some basic kitchen gear. However, it was near his closing remarks that Nathan really explained his motivation. “I wanted to write this book as a way to give back to the world of cuisine, which has given me so much.” Indeed, I hope the world of food can continue to find benefactors as generous and as genius as Dr. Myhrvold.
Modernist Cuisine [Amazon]