Nathan Myhrvold’s presentation on the Modernist Cuisine book is loaded with astonishing facts and figures: over 2400 pages, 46 lbs., 4 pounds of ink… the list goes on. But, he leaves out a great deal of the behind-the-scenes facts about the book and the process of its creation. As we enter early April, just under a month after the first copies shipped, we are finally uncovering details of the real story behind Modernist Cuisine. Below are a a few little-known facts that I was able to gather from members of the kitchen team who have asked to remain nameless.
- The working title of the book was How to Boil Distilled Water At Sea Level Using A Conductive Heat Source and a Wet Bulb Thermometer. It was later changed to Modernist Cuisine to conserve ink.
- A month before the book went to print, the team decided to cut a 6th volume that described the physiology of the human body’s digestive process.
- As lifelong fan of hidden clues and puzzle-solving, Nathan has placed a secret clue inside the printed pages of book 5. If you cut off the book in half vertically down the exact center and view each half from the side, the interior edge of the stacked pages reveals the recipe for Three-Course Dinner Chewing Gum.
- The book originally included a recipe for Coca Cola, which the Modernist Cuisine team reverse-engineered using a mass spectrograph. However, efforts to recreate an edible aluminum can were problematic, and the recipe was ultimately discarded.
- The iconic “cutaway” photos in the book were actually created using a prototype device that resembles a light saber. Intellectual Ventures has several working “light sabers” which it uses for testing defenses against (according to a research assistant) “pests significantly larger than a mosquito”.
- During the book’s production, photographer Ryan Matthew Smith was asked to leave a Seattle restaurant after connecting a fiber optic strobe flash to his cell phone camera and tossing his meal in the air. Ultimately, the restaurant owner apologized and asked to purchase the photo.
- One of the more famous recipes in the book is the Modernist Hamburger, which requires over 30 total hours and a bowl of liquid nitrogen to create. Unfortunately, the team decided to exclude their recipe for “2 AM Mini Hamburgers”, which was inspired during the teams extensive experiments with methods of smoking herbs.
- The recipes in the book have clearly undergone rigorous testing. However, the extent of the tests is often greater than we realize. For example, one member of the culinary team spent four days measuring the number of licks it takes to get to the tootsie roll center of a Tootsie Pop. He concluded, applying the central limit theorem, that the number is three.
- Although it is true that the genesis of the book was Nathan’s desire to understand sous vide cooking, it is not widely known that Nathan turned to sous vide because his microwave had broken and he needed a reliable way to reheat frozen taquitos.
- If you were to sum the cooking time for all of the recipes (not including parametric variations) included in the books, the result would be 8 years, 2 months, 15 days and 9 hours. However, the book was completed in fewer than seven years, leading some to conclude that Nathan Myhrvold has secretly developed a time machine.
I hope these facts have given you an inside look at the creation of Modernist Cuisine. And, as always, happy April fool’s day.