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'Food porn' at its best: Ex-Microsoft CTO publishes groundbreaking cookbook

Ann Bednarz | March 8, 2011
The $625 'Modernist Cuisine' cookbook is laden with spectacular photography that captures cooking techniques and chemical reactions such as the Leidenfrost effect.

After leaving Microsoft (MSFT) in 1999, Myhrvold went on to become CEO of Intellectual Ventures, a patent company he founded (along with three others) to shepherd inventions and commercialize intellectual property. He also started pursuing a lifelong interest in cooking and food science.

Myhrvold worked for two years as a stagier at Rover's, a top French restaurant in Seattle, and he trained at the Ecole De La Varenne. Myhrvold's culinary adventures also include a stint as Chief Gastronomic Officer for Zagat Survey, which publishes the Zagat restaurant guides.

Along the way, he researched, sampled and practiced science-inspired cooking techniques from around the world. In particular, Myhrvold became focused on sous vide, a method of cooking food sealed in airtight plastic bags in a water bath. In 2004, Myhrvold started exploring sous vide cuisine in eGullet's online forums and he decided to write a book about it - which would eventually become "Modernist Cuisine".

"Myhrvold snuck onto the scene years ago when he started contributing to Internet forums discussing sous-vide cooking, a technique that (generally) uses water baths and packaging to cook things for hours and hours; a real 'slow food' type of cooking. It took a while for people to figure out who he was," says Joel Snyder, a Network World Test Alliance partner, senior partner at Opus One in Tucson, Ariz., and food enthusiast.

As the scope of his writing project expanded, so did Myhrvold's team and his digs. His first hire was Chris Young, who holds degrees in biochemistry and math and opened the experimental kitchen at Chef Blumenthal's legendary Fat Duck restaurant in England. Young then recruited fellow Fat Duck alum Maxime Bilet. As the team grew to include more cooks, editors, designers and photographers, Myhrvold moved the operation from his home kitchen to a state-of-the-art laboratory kitchen in a workshop Intellectual Ventures was building.

The lab is outfitted with not only the latest culinary equipment, but also machinery that's more likely to be found in a contractor's workshop. The heavy machinery made it possible to shoot cutaway photos that are designed to show what happens inside food as it cooks.

Illustrations would have lacked verisimilitude, "so we cut stuff in half," Myhrvold writes in his explanation of how "Modernist Cuisine" came to be. "An abrasive water jet cutter, an electrical discharge machining system, and other machine-shop tools let us cut apart our pots, pans, and other gear. Food was cut in various ways, including with meat-cutting band saws."

 

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