Today is my last day at Modernist Cuisine. After three and a half years serving as the Director of Applied Research, it’s time for me to turn my attention to Sansaire full-time.
To call this decision “bittersweet” is a gross understatement. This has been my Dream Job, and every moment of my time at MC lived up to the fantasy I conjured when I first heard about the place. I’ve had the most incredible opportunities and the most unimaginable experiences here. I’ve worked alongside ridiculously talented people and learned from the best culinary minds in the world. And, for my part, I’ve made a contribution to books that will forever mark the period in history when the science of cooking became accessible to the world.
My first visit to the Modernist Cuisine lab was five years ago. I visited as part of an open house thrown in honor of the International Food Blogger’s Conference, and although I had spoken with Nathan on the phone once previously, it was our first time meeting in person. He was as effusive and smart as I expected, and way less stuffy. I soaked in every detail of the lab tour (with my jaw dragging on the ground), and I wore a stupid grin for a week after that.
It was crystal clear that this is where I was meant to work. Although he never said it in exactly these words, I think Nathan recognized that I was the right kind of crazy to be at Modernist Cuisine. (Note: Nathan has, on many other documented occasions, pointed out that I am plenty of other kinds of crazy.) When he created an opportunity for me to graduate from “unofficial fan club president” to full-time employee, Nathan was taking a risk that some guy from the Excel team at Microsoft with no culinary training and (I mean this pejoratively) a blog would be a good addition to his team.
Less than two months into my job, I was on a plane to Los Angeles with a steamed omelet laser-etched with Jimmy Kimmel’s face packed in my suitcase. A few weeks later, I was sitting for lunch with the Top Chef judges, designing our new website, and reviewing chapters for the upcoming Modernist Cuisine at Home release. When I opened my eyes next, I was writing code for a motorized microscope mount to shoot focus-stacked photography, designing a museum exhibit, mastering CNC-milled slip-cast ceramics, introducing Ferran Adria at Seattle Town Hall, 3D printing a mold for bean-to-bar chocolate, making liquid nitrogen ice cream on Irish TV, building a robot, laser-cutting a gingerbread house, and convincing Andrew Zimmern to drink dinosaur broth.
Through all of those experiences – and too many others to list – I had the time of my life. The Modernist Cuisine team has grown and matured, and their capabilities, creativity, and energy now are the best I’ve ever witnessed. My team specifically – Melissa, Caren and Gabbie – are individually the kind of people I may spend the rest of my career trying to find and hire; as a team, they’re an unmatched force in the industry. The editorial team is turning the largest bread book project in history into a printed reality, and with Head Chef Francisco Migoya at the helm, the culinary team is cranking out delicious, beautiful, and uniquely Modernist bread that [I believe] will hugely disrupt the world of baking. I’m very thankful to all of these people for allowing me to play alongside you.
Most of all, I want to thank Nathan. Nathan, you have given me my Dream Job, and extended to me the trust, encouragement, and resources to make this the most incredible period of my life. The lessons that I’ve learned from you – some of which I know, some of which I don’t yet realize – will resonate with me for the rest of my career. I am indebted for the opportunity to apply my brand of crazy to your vision for Modernist Cuisine, and I will remember these years (and all that sous vide pastrami) with great fondness.
All the while, during my fantastic voyage at Modernist cuisine, a team of incredible folks have been hard at work bringing Sansaire to life, growing the business, and creating new opportunities to change the way the world cooks. My nights and weekends at Sansaire won’t cut it anymore – we have big plans and hard work ahead, and it’s time for me to be with my Sansaire family full time.
So here we go…
A few weeks ago, I had the honor of telling my story at the Business Innovation Factory, a TED-inspired conference in which innovators from a variety of fields share the personal experiences that transformed their businesses and their lives. The conference was overwhelmingly powerful – I was in awe of so many of the storytellers who, in very real and tangible ways, are changing the world.
The story I told was my own. It describes the sequence of events between posting my first crappy recipe online to landing my dream job at Modernist Cuisine, to launching a very successful Kickstarter for Sansaire. Anybody who proclaims, “follow these steps and you can do it, too!” is lying. The truth is, I got really lucky several times over. But, in retrospect, there are a number of things that I just happened to do right, and they allowed me to capture the opportunities that came my way. Being boldly passionate was at the top of that list.
Ironically, this was the most difficult presentation I’ve ever had to give. Not because of stage fright, or because I needed to do a bunch of research, or because it was difficult to condense into the time I had a available (I went over my time. Oops.). It was difficult because I was telling my own story, but I had rarely stopped to put it in perspective. In fact, it was my wife, Rachel, who ultimately crafted the narrative I presented at BIF. After floundering my way through a fuzzy set of bullet points for the fourth time, she finally said, “Why don’t you let me tell you your story? I know it better than anyone.” She was right. I took out my notepad, and Rachel proceeded to connect the dots with far more insight than I ever had.
It’s highly worth your time to check out the other storytellers in the Business Innovation Factory series. They’re pretty badass.
I am very proud to announce the Sansaire sous vide immersion circulator. It’s the only tool you need to cook sous vide, and it only costs $199. This morning, my team and I launched a campaign on Kickstarter to raise funds for the initial production run of the Sansaire, and we have 30 days to reach our goal of $100,000.
If you’re a reader of Seattle Food Geek, you know that it has been my dream to create a high-quality, low-cost sous vide machine for the last three years. My $75 DIY Sous Vide Machine post is still the most popular article on this site, and is evidence of the growing audience for sous vide cooking. As rewarding as it’s been to help people build their own immersion circulators, there’s a much larger group of people who aren’t ready to pick up a soldering iron and don’t want to spend $400+ on a commercial device. The Sansaire is the result of three years of work designing, testing and constructing a sous vide machine that is reliable, good looking, and affordable. It’s an evolution of the original DIY device, engineered by my team here in Seattle, and [we hope] poised to make sous vide more accessible than ever!
Funding this project on Kickstarter will give us the money we need to pay for the initial production run, and will give you an opportunity to be one of the first to own the device! So, if you’ve enjoyed reading Seattle Food Geek in the past, if you’ve built your own DIY circulator, or if you’ve always wanted to try sous vide but were waiting for the right machine, please consider supporting our Kickstarter campaign by making a donation, or by helping us spread the word!!
It’s been a long time coming, but I finally got “sous vide” tattooed across my knuckles! This might turn out to be a career limiting move, in hindsight, but I’ve been so passionate about sous vide cooking that it’s become a part of who I am. I’ve already got the geek glasses on my right forearm, and I’m thinking of doing a time and temperature table on my left forearm next.
Update: April Fools! No ink on my hands… yet. Photoshop FTW.
This has been an incredible year. 362 days ago, as of the time of this writing, I walked into Modernist Cuisine headquarters for my first day of my new job. I was excited, nervous, and not quite sure what to expect, or what would be expected of me. I was thrilled that my work on SeattleFoodGeek.com had led to the incredible opportunity to leave Microsoft and work in a job that ran parallel to my passion. I had no idea just how amazing this would turn out to be, and what an indescribable dream of a year would lay ahead. With deference to the art of the humblebrag, here’s a look back at just a few of the incredible things that happened in 2012.
I met some amazing people
THE Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History, and legendary geek hero. We had an intense conversation about the physics of cooking pizza on the surface of Venus, and about what really happens when you decant wine.
Chef Wolfgang Puck, who achieved fame at Spago and invented California-style pizza, and renowned Spago pastry chef Sherry Yard.
Chopped host and former Queer Eye food guy Ted Allen and Barefoot Contessa Ina Garten. Ted was intrigued by a number of techniques that our culinary team demonstrated for him in the lab. Much to my surprise, Ina and Nathan had a long conversation about nuclear reactor design – it turns out that, prior to becoming a Food Network icon, she was a White House nuclear policy analyst.
…Not to mention dozens of other incredible chefs, scientists, businesspeople, artists and generally inspirational folks who were wise enough to avoid having their picture taken.
I traveled and I ate
My wife and I made our first pilgrimage to The French Laundry. Ever since I fell in love with food, it had always been a dream to visit this mecca of fine dining. We enjoyed 17 courses, including many of the restaurant’s iconic dishes (oysters and pearls, salmon tartare cornets) and incredible hospitality from the entire staff. In any previous year of my life, I would not have had the opportunity to eat this meal, nor would I have appreciated it so deeply,
I also had my first meal at Alinea. It would be an understatement that dinner at Alinea blew my mind. It would be more apt to saw that dinner at Alinea attached itself to a dozen points on my head, then ran off in opposite directions expanding my brain like a Hoberman sphere. Surrounded by my wonderful friends Jethro, Mindy and Eric (who works for Chef Achatz), we were served 25+ courses, perhaps a dozen wines, and enough caviar to make an emperor blush. That meal has forever changed the way I think about the restaurant experience.
In August of this year, Nathan and the culinary team were invited to cook for Charlie Trotter’s 25th anniversary, which precluded the restaurant’s announced closing by just a few weeks. I was very fortunate to be invited to tag along – although my cooking responsibilities were… limited, I managed to make myself handy as the unofficial event photographer. Throughout the weekend, in between being spoiled with dinners and parties, I got to hang out with chefs Sean Brock and Tetsuya Wakuda, both of whom have every right to be far less humble. I also briefly met Rahm Emmanuel
At the other end of the fussiness spectrum from Alinea and French Laundry, I also had my first meal at Chez Panisse. Some people perceive a tension between Alice Waters’ philosophy on food an the philosophy we extoll at Modernist Cuisine, but that tension is entirely false. We both seek to honor our ingredients and we both believe that food that is grown with more care tastes better. Well, lunch at Chez Panisse proved that within a few bites.
These were just a few of the incredible food experiences I had this year. There were dozens of others, from Momofuku Ssam Bar and NoMad in New York, to Canlis in Seattle, to grabbing an In-N-Out burger in the middle of the night in Hollywood. I feel like this has been a year of culinary rites of passage, and I feel unworthy knowing how many great meals still lie ahead.
I Helped Evangelize Modernist Cuisine
Part of my job (a big part, as it turned out) is spreading the word about Modernist cuisine, and specifically about our books. Sometimes this means getting on stage or in front of a camera, and other times it means doing whatever’s necessary to help Nathan or any other member of the team spread the word.
Here’s Nathan presenting at the American Museum of Natural History for the Modernist Cuisine at Home launch in New York City. We had just come from Google, where Nathan gave another presentation. Although you can’t see me in the photo, I was running the slide deck that night from the back of the room while Nathan was on stage and our culinary team was preparing tasting samples for the attendees.
This year, I also had the honor of officially representing Modernist Cuisine. Do you know what it feel like to go from being a fan of something to being a spokesperson? It feels really, really good. The photo above shows a talk I gave on our newest book, Modernist Cuisine at Home, at Powell’s in Portland.
While Nathan was cryofrying a burger for Jimmy Kimmel, I was just offstage. I actually did this demo, onstage on the Jimmy Kimmel Live set, in a run-through with the segment producers before Nathan arrived at the studio. They recorded my “performance” onto a DVD. That means, technically speaking, that there’s footage of me doing a cooking demo on Jimmy Kimmel Live. I’ll take it!
I also demonstrated liquid nitrogen ice cream and centrifuged tomato water live on Irish daytime TV to promote Modernist Cuisine. I also participated in a Food/Art/Science exhibition at the Science Gallery in Dublin. With the help of a few student assistants, we made a “wall of centrifuged foods” to illustrate the individual component ingredients that you can only obtain through culinary centrifugation. Unfortunately, I didn’t predict that the temperature created by the backlights in this display would be ideal for active bacterial growth inside the sealed test tubes. Within 24 hours, the centrifuged foods began fermenting. The gas released by the fermentation process caused enough pressure to pop the lids off most of the tubes, sending a spattering of food juice across the room. I called it a “kinetic exhibit” and pretended it was all part of the plan.
In perhaps the most rockstar moment I’ve ever experienced, I spoke to a record crowd of 2,500 fans at the Exploratorium in San Francisco, along with Modernist Cuisine chef Anjana Shanker and our former head chef Max Bilet. Neither before nor since have I seen a crowd cheer and make the sign of the horns in response to the person on stage saying the words “sous vide.”
Photo Credit: Gayle Laird © Exploratorium, www.exploratorium.edu
I think this one unlocks some sort of nerd achievement: I appeared on the NOVA ScienceNOW profile of Nathan and Modernist Cuisine. At the time that NOVA was filming the segment on Nathan, I was our PR manager. We had a few minutes of downtime while we were waiting for someone to arrive for an interview, so they asked if I’d sit in. I didn’t expect that they’d use any of the footage, but when we watched the show, there I was!
I Made a Web Video Series with CHOW.COM
We call it MDRN KTCHN and all 12 episodes of season 1 are live. The show wouldn’t be possible without my awesome production team: Roxanne Webber and Blake Smith, without the fantastic support of CBS Interactive, and of course, without my job as Director of Applied Research at Modernist Cuisine. This show has been an incredible platform for reaching people who are interested in Modernist cooking, and I’m extremely proud of what we’ve created. Season 2 will be off the hook.
I’m on the Forbes 30 Under 30
To top it all off, as if a square millimeter of this year’s lily might go ungilded, Forbes Magazine named me as one of their 30 Under 30 in Food and Wine. Holy. Shit.
This year has been a phenomenal confluence of professional success and personal passion. Every day I work with people who I respect and admire, I’m having a blast doing it, and they pay me for the privilege. I owe thanks to my friends and family, particularly my wife Rachel, who gave me the support and courage to take a risk and pursue my dream job. But I also have an immeasurable debt of gratitude to Nathan, not only for hiring me and giving me these opportunities, but for literally creating the business of Modernist Cuisine. None of what I described above would have been possible without his trust that a food blogger and fanboy with a Microsoft day job could have something to contribute to the incredible work that takes place at Modernist Cuisine.
OK, enough gushing already. 2013 starts soon, and I’ve got big plans…
This is an incredible honor, capping off an unbelievable year. I’m humbled by the talent in this year’s 30 Under 30 list, and so proud to be included!
Look for a round up of this year and some long overdue thank yous coming soon.
This morning, we (the Modernist Cuisine team) announced our next book, Modernist Cuisine at Home. You can read all about the book at the Modernist Cuisine website, but it gives me tremendous personal satisfaction to finally get to share this project with the world. Although I only joined the MC team at the beginning of the year, already well into this book’s development, I have had the privilege of helping our team finish the book, which I believe will make a serious impact on home cooking.
If you’re a regular reader of SeattleFoodGeek.com, you know that bringing Modernist cooking into home kitchens is what I live and breathe. It’s the reason there’s a centrifuge in my basement, a PID controller on my freezer, and a 25lb. steel plate on my grill. I believe that a Modernist attitude – the desire to challenge convention, the willingness to embrace new ideas, the hope to always improve – is an important part of cooking, both professionally and at home. That’s why I’m thrilled at the prospect of reaching a broader audience of home cooks with Modernist Cuisine at Home. At $140 list price (which will be closer to $100 with book pricing magic), this book is widely more accessible than the original Modernist Cuisine, but retains the same spirit of creativity, innovation and scientific wonder that got me excited about Modernist cooking in the first place.
But it’s not the price that excites me most; it’s the fact that all 406 recipes and variations are designed for the home kitchen. Why is this such a big deal? Because, although I love cooking from Modernist Cuisine, it’s a challenge. Take, for example, the pistachio gelato recipe. Since I’ve pretty much got the best job on earth, I get to eat that gelato regularly. It’s incredible. The flavor is so vibrant, and the texture of that gelato is the yardstick by which I measure all other ice creams. But when I tried to make it at home, it didn’t turn out well. I didn’t have locust bean gum, and it isn’t easy to find locally, so I substituted some other hydrocolloids. My version was terrible. It turns out that my “instinct” for hydrocolloid substitution sucks. However, the Modernist Cuisine at Home adaptation of this recipe calls for emulsifiers that I could find at any grocery store, yet it produces a gelato that is nearly indistinguishable. The chefs have done the experimentation on my behalf so I can count on the recipe being a success. As a home cook, this gives me tremendous confidence.
I’m also excited by what Modernist Cuisine at Home represents as a milestone in the Modernist cooking revolution. I don’t know if we’ll ever see a day where Whole Foods carries locust bean gum or when Cuisinart makes a centrifuge, but I do believe that the way we cook at home is changing more radically than ever before. I’m proud and honored to have been involved with the development of Modernist Cuisine at Home, and I can’t wait to see its impact.
I’m overjoyed to announce that, starting in January, I’ll be joining the Modernist Cuisine team full-time as the Business Development Manager… and Modernist Cuisine Evangelist! If you’ve been following the blog (or if you’ve ever had a 5-minute conversation with me) you know that I’ve been a huge fan of Modernist Cuisine since I first heard about the project. From my first interview with Nathan Myhrvold in May, 2010 to my recent experience of interning with the kitchen team, it has been my dream to join this team. Now, I’ll have the tremendous pleasure of helping Modernist Cuisine grow in new and exciting ways, and spread our message to a much broader audience.
We are fortunate to be witnessing a worldwide, culinary revolution. Much like Escoffier’s Le Guide Culinaire forever changed cooking in the early twentieth century, Modernist Cuisine enables contemporary ideas, tools and cooking techniques to spread more widely than any other book before it. In fact, I’ve been infamously quoted as saying “Escoffier would crap his pants…” at the sight of the five gorgeous, comprehensive volumes. However, with the U.S. book launch completed and foreign editions now broadly available, our work is far from done.
More than ever, we are excited about the huge potential we see in the road ahead. We’ll be exploring ways for The Cooking Lab to contribute to the Modernist revolution, not only through our books but also through new services and products that we hope to develop ourselves and in collaboration with a wide range of other companies, from food and equipment manufacturers to chefs and restaurant owners, to publishers and producers. We’ve got a list of great ideas to turn into realities, but we also want to know what you’d like to see from us. If you have an idea, a request, or a partnership opportunity, we’d love to hear your thoughts. Contact us online or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’m incredibly excited about the future of Modernist Cuisine, and I’m honored by the privilege of helping to shape it!
My good friend and fellow Jet City Gastrophysicist, Eric Rivera, will be leaving Seattle next week to start his new job as Culinary Liaison at Alinea. This is a big loss for JCG and for Seattle, but we could not be more proud of Eric and his unbelievable trajectory. Eric and I first met over two years ago when we both frequented the same set of Seattle food blogger events. I recognized him as the twitchy Puerto Rican guy who talked really fast and blogged 9 times per day. A few months later, when Jethro got in touch with both of us to start an experimental cooking club, I discovered that Eric would undoubtedly be one of the world’s greatest chefs, one day.
In past two years, Eric, Jethro and I have created some pretty remarkable dishes and conjured ideas so crazy (and occasionally brilliant) that posting them on the internet would risk blowing your mind forever. If you don’t already know it, Eric is exactly the right kind of insane to become a revolutionary chef. Before he had even graduated from culinary school, he was staging at Noma, currently ranked the best restaurant in the world. At the point in their careers when most grads would be plating house salads, Eric was already Sous Chef at Blueacre. And, now, only 5 months after graduation, he’s on his way to a coveted position at one of the most respected, forward-thinking restaurants in the world, and we’re ready for him to kick some ass and make Seattle proud.
Go do great things, go learn from the best, and go make it your own. When you need someone to bounce crazy ideas off of, you know where to find us.
Below are a few of Eric’s dishes, which I had the pleasure of photographing over the past few months.
On Tuesday, July 19th, Food Network will air a new show titled Monster Kitchen, and I’m on it. The show centers around a grudge match between two Los Angeles chefs: Eric Greenspan of The Foundry on Melrose and Michael Fiorelli of mar’sel. They put their ego’s on the line in a battle for doughnut supremacy, and in this case, size does matter. Both chefs call on a food geek (me and Jeff Potter, the author of the fabulous book Cooking for Geeks) and a pastry chef (Michelle Cozens and Amy Brown) to help them pull off the challenge. I haven’t yet seen the show, but I can tell you that the competition is fierce. Making a gigantic doughnut requires some clever engineering, a ton of work, and a whole lotta frosting.
Tune in to Food Network Tuesday, July 19th at 9PM to see what happens!
My $75 DIY Sous Vide build make was just published in Volume 25 of Make Magazine, the premier publication for hackers, modders and DIYers and food geeks the world over. I re-wrote the instructions for the build, adding detailed photos and tips for construction. The folks at Make did a phenomenal job laying out and illustrating the article!
Bonus! The nice folks at Boing Boing linked to the project on Make.
Seattle Weekly ran its first-ever specialty foods guide this week and I was honored to be featured on the cover! Head over to www.SeattleWeekly.com to check out the contents. You might learn some new tips and tricks!
Sure, you claim to avoid fast food chains and only shop at the farmers’ market. But the numbers tell another story. Data recently made available from data.mint.com shows where the people of Seattle are spending their food dollars. The data is based on the credit and debit transactions of Mint.com users in the greater Seattle area.
I am thrilled to announce that SeattleFoodGeek.com won the King 5 Best of Western Washington viewer’s poll for Best Food Blog! This is a great honor, and I want to thank everyone who voted. Thank you! I was honored to be included in such a talented pool of nominees, including CakeSpy, Java Cupcake, Vegan Score, and Seattle Local Food.
On Thursday, I had the extremely rare privilege of getting an inside look at the kitchen laboratory at Intellectual Ventures. If you aren’t aware, Nathan Myhrvold (Intellectual Ventures CEO) along with chefs Chris Young and Maxime Bilet, has spent the last four years working on the book Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking. This will be no ordinary cookbook – at 2400 pages and 5 volumes, it is unarguably the most in-depth, detailed compendium on the scientific process of cooking that has ever been written. I’ll have many more interesting facts on the book in upcoming posts, but if you want the big picture, check out my interview with Nathan Myhrvold back in May.
The pictures and videos below are from a reception that the Modernist Cuisine team hosted as part of the International Food Blogger’s Conference. Needless to say, this is the most sophisticated kitchen on earth, and as a food geek, I was in heaven. Click through for more photos and video.
[Click the picture to view full-size] This panorama gives you a sense of the kitchen’s layout. All of the stations are on wheels and the whole kitchen can be rearranged as the team focuses on different projects.
In this video clip, CEO and King of the Food Geeks Dr. Nathan Myhrvold discusses the decision to not dumb down the book to cover only the equipment you’re likely to have in your home kitchen.
[Click the picture for the full-size image (so you can read the labels)] This is the Modernist Cuisine kitchen’s idea of a spice cabinet. Many of the products are available through the website www.chefrubber.com
A centrifuge is used here to separate solids from liquids and clarify sauces and stocks. The green bottle is finely-blended raw peas that have separated into solids and pea water.
In this video, Chef Chris Young talks about the benefits of having a kitchen without customers. The unique design of the Modernist Cuisine kitchen allows the staff (up to 36 people at certain points in the book’s development) to focus on research and testing of new recipes and techniques.
You’re looking at the world’s only deep-fried watermelon chips. I have no idea how they managed to deep fry watermelon, but I promise that it’s a dangerous proposition if attempted incorrectly. The chips were light and delicious, with a recognizable hint of caramelized watermelon flavor.
Those look like beautiful cherries, don’t they? They’re actually made of foie gras. And yes, they were delicious.
Chefs plate a small bite of horse mackerel sashimi with ginger and plum, proving that not all of the recipes require a particle accelerator.
My favorite dish of the night': "tongue and cheek pastrami and rye”. A thin slice of sous vide smoked Wagyu beef cheek is served with thinly-shaved tongue and delicate rye chips. But, what makes this dish spectacular is the beef marrow mousseline (shown being shot out of a CO2 charger). The mousseline is like the richest, fattiest mayonnaise you could imagine, except it’s made from sous vide egg yolks and bone marrow, and it is served warm.
The frozen pistachio “cream” (ie. pistachio ice cream) alone is worth the price of the book. As you can see from its beautiful glossy sheen, the ice cream was creamy and incredibly smooth. What makes this dish really incredible is that the ice cream is made only from pistachios, emulsifiers and sugar. No milk. No Cream. No eggs. That’s right, it’s vegan!
And, for a little whimsy, they made olive oil and vanilla bean gummy worms.
And finally, I was thrilled to get a picture with Nathan. See that grin on my face? I kept it for days.
For more information on the book, check back here and also be sure to visit the official site for the project, www.ModernistCuisine.com.