Ever wondered to yourself, “WTF is Modernist cuisine?” Here’s our answer. If you’re curious to learn more about the history of the movement, the reason that Modernist chefs don’t like the term “molecular gastronomy” or the difference between Modernist cuisine and Nouvelle cuisine, there’s no better resource than volume 1 of Modernist Cuisine

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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.

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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.

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blacklight oyster
I really wanted to make glow-in-the-dark oysters.  More accurately, I wanted to make oysters fluoresce under ultraviolet light (sometimes called “black light”).  Why?  Because it’s cool, of course.  [If you were hoping for a more noble, practical reason, you’re probably reading this blog by mistake.]

I knew two things before beginning this experiment: 1) the quinine in tonic water fluoresces under UV light, and 2) oysters are “filter feeders,” meaning they trap particles from the water as a means of taking in nutrients.  Modernist Cuisine includes a recipe, which is an adaptation from Dave Arnold and Nils Noren, for Beet Juice-Fed Oysters (book 3, page 206).  The recipe calls for submerging live oysters in beet juice strained through a 500 micron sieve and letting them feed for 48 hours.  The flesh of the oyster turns pink and red as it takes on the microscopic particles of beet juice. 

Following this example, I thought there was a good chance that the oysters might filter the quinine out of tonic water in the same way, leading to slightly sweetened oysters that would glow iridescent blue under a black light.  In my experiment, however, they did not.  The picture you see above is one of my test oysters under a fluorescent UV bulb.  Although it looks cool in the photo, it is very much not fluorescing.  If I put a white cloth next to the oyster, the cloth lit up like a warehouse rave, but the oyster was only reflecting the bluish hue of the visible light from the UV blub.  Interestingly, a portion of the shell just at the hinge is fluorescing (it’s a brighter blue-green in the picture) but I did not achieve my intended result of an iridescent mollusk. 

Why didn’t it work?  I have a few theories:

  1. Perhaps the oysters were DOA.  Shamefully, I purchased the oysters at the type of grocery store that also sells name-brand cola and US Weekly.  I should have known better, and I’ll never do it again, but it’s quite possible that these fugly-ass oysters were dead before I got them home.
  2. Salt problem?  The Modernist Cuisine recipe calls for 2.6% aquarium salt.  I’m not sure what that is, so I used regular table salt.  Perhaps that’s an important difference. 
  3. Is tonic water lethal to oysters?  The shells were still tightly closed when I removed them.  I did notice that, for about 30 minutes after I covered the oysters in tonic water, they were releasing a constant stream of very small bubbles from the edges of their shells.  I assume this was a result of them circulating the water through their muscular little bodies.  But perhaps the fact that the bubbles stopped after 30 minutes is evidence that they didn’t survive the pre-cocktail environment of a bottle of Canada Dry.
  4. The quinine in tonic water might be inaccessible to the oyster’s filtration system.  Either the quinine particles are too large, too small, or for some other reason can’t be filtered by the oysters. 
  5. Not enough quinine?  Perhaps everything did work as I anticipated, but the concentration of the quinine was just to weak to show up in the oyster bodies. 

I may repeat this experiment with higher-quality oysters and additional quinine.  Alternately, if any geneticists out there want to grab the fluorescence gene from a modified zebrafish and put it into a Samish Sweet or a Blue Pool, I’ll gladly shuck and slurp with you!

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