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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.

Myhrvold, Young and Bilet toiled away in the lab for years as "Modernist Cuisine" took shape. Now, seven years after Myhrvold's early eGullet postings, "Modernist Cuisine" is finished, printed and shipping as of March 3. (See the slideshow for details on each of the six volumes in the set.) 

"As a technologist, he seems to have been interested in mixing a lot of the modern thinking on how to cook with a pretty good sense of what good food is," Snyder says of Myhrvold's ambitious cookbook set. "If he's the lead author in this set, then I'd anticipate not only careful research and well-documented results (Cooks Illustrated style, hopefully, and not Food Channel style) but also the kind of rigor that real artists (like Adrià) don't bring to the table."

Early reports from booksellers reveal an unexpectedly high volume of pre­orders - more than 3,000 copies were pre-sold, which is more than half of the book's total first print run of 6,000. (New shipments are on their way from the printer and will arrive in March and April, according to the authors.)

The marketing campaign for the cookbook is working all the angles, notes Christine Burns Rudalevige, a classically trained cook and food writer who used to cover Myhrvold's work at Microsoft for Network World before he left the company for cooking school in 1999 (she, too, left the tech world to attend cooking school).

"Modernist Cuisine" appeals to the most academic culinary audience with content such as an in-depth chapter on how the current revolution in cooking is similar to Modernist revolutions in painting, architecture, literature and other arts. Yet the book is also positioned as a technical manual that tackles the fundamentals such as food safety and nutrition. It also claims to debunk commonly practiced cooking methods -- like why shocking veggies in cold water does not stop the cooking process, Rudalevige notes.

"This updated information grounded in science will certainly appeal to budding foodies everywhere who would rather serve nothing at all to a tableful of guests than something that was not prepared with the latest conventional wisdom on technique firmly in mind so they can discuss it at length during dinner," she says.

"And from what I've seen circulated, these pictures are the best damn food porn out there, which appeals to a very wide audience," Rudalevige adds.

 

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