A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to talk with Nathan Myhrvold about his upcoming book, MODERNIST CUSINE: The Art & Science of Cooking (by Dr. Nathan Myhrvold & Chris Young). But this is no ordinary cook book – it is a 4-volume tome totaling over 2200 pages on recipes and techniques you might think of as “molecular gastronomy”. Although Nathan humbly denies the analogy, this book is poised to do for modern cooking what Escoffier did for classical cuisine a hundred years ago.
If you haven’t heard of Nathan Myhrvold, you’ll likely enjoy his Wikipedia bio, which should be cataloged somewhere between the biography of Leonardo da Vinci and The Adventures of Baron von Münchhausen, except that all of his accomplishments are verifiably true. Nathan, a native Seattleite, is the founder and CEO of Intellectual Ventures, a company that specializes in “the business of invention”. His resume includes a PhD in theoretical and mathematical physics and awards in wildlife photography. His archeological paleontological expeditions have discovered more T-Rex fossils than any other group, and he has published breakthrough research on the trajectory patterns of penguin feces. He designs nuclear reactors and laser guns that zap mosquitoes in mid-air. And he is a major food geek.
I’ve followed the sous vide thread on eGullet and I noticed that your first post was in March of 2004. What began your interest in sous vide cooking?
I’ve been interested in cooking forever. I have this very elaborate kitchen at home. It’s the second-most technological kitchen in Seattle – the first is the one that we built over at the lab for the cookbook. But it’s only first because we moved a bunch of my stuff from home over there!
I had bought all of the equipment for sous vide a year or so before that. I was working with it and getting some results, but I sort of assumed there’s this huge body of knowledge out there and I just didn’t happen to connect with it. I put that [post on the eGullet forum] out there naively thinking people would say, ‘Fine here’s a bunch of techniques and recipes.’
I was naïve! What I discovered was, nobody actually had a clue. I don’t mean that rudely, but at that point in time (2004) Roca’s book hadn’t come out. The only books I found were books about either commercial food service or a couple of books that were in French, and which seemed to have very high temperatures and were not the real deal.
…A year or so in after I had published my major tables, and I was one of the big posters in the sous vide forum, I realized how little people knew, I saw how much interest there was, I saw how much misinformation there was and so that’s when I decided I really oughtta write a cook book.