Modernist CuisineSo I dash into the conference room, already a little flustered from fighting traffic, and look around for an empty seat. The guy next to me sticks out his hand and says, “Hello, I’m Thomas Keller“. The guy on the other side introduces himself as Tim Ryan.

Then we went off for a thrilling 28-course dinner prepared by the team behind Modernist Cuisine, the book that’s racking up accolades like “The cookbook to end all cookbooks.”

Then I write it up for The Washington Post.

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Hey! Not a dream!

I spent some time last year and earlier this year helping work on Modernist Cuisine, as did pros like Cynthia Nims. My part, as I’ve said, was that of a tiny cog in a big centrifuge. Still, it was the most fun and exciting learning experience I’ve had since college. (I was one of those people who loved college). Eating the food, after all that time talking about it with authors Nathan Myhrvold, Chris Young, and Maxime Bilet, felt like winning Charlie Bucket’s golden ticket.

It was a fascinating dinner, not just because the food was spectacular, but because the “Cooking Lab” is the one place you could actually taste such a broad cross-section of the book’s recipes and get a vivid look at the research behind them. I don’t know any restaurant that has scanning electron microscopes, or laser cutters, or centrifuges with such power. Pacojets, sure, and maybe a Roto-vap, but a spray dryer too? (My husband used to work as a lab tech at Salk and the Hutch, and even his face betrayed a bit of equipment envy when he heard that list).

Whether you can cook all the recipes specifically as written, though, isn’t the point. I’ll never try Modernist’s cavitated “ultrasonic fries” on my own, but eating them made me think harder about Tom Douglas’s “smashed potatoes,” the game-changer in my own Sunday brunches. Even 23 courses in, I was hungry to try a home-based hybrid of the two. Chefs and culinary students and true food geeks will get the most practical use out of the book, but everyone gets some — plus an education on food and cooking. I think it’s fascinating for all of us to see what’s possible, and how to get there, and why.

My account of the dinner is here. Believe me, I know that $625 ($461.62 on Amazon) is a ton to spend on anything outside a mortgage payment or a tuition payment (which it kind of is)… but look: The Seattle Public Library has two copies on order.  At 2,438 pages, I hope they allow renewals.

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