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Mar 14, 2011 09:46 AM

3/21/11 New Yorker article on Myhrvold's Modernist Cuisine

This article,, is an interesting primer for people unfamiliar with the work of molecular gastronomists, and also has a few practical, doable hints for the average home kitchen. Some of the "new" techniques are clearly deja vu - David Chang may or may not have heard of Adele Davis.

If anyone comes up with a Cliff Notes version of the portions of the Myhrvold magnum opus that translate for use in a simple home kitchen, I'll be the first in line to buy it!

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  1. Edit:That link didn't work for me but it is probably because it is the current issue. You can get in as of this post by clicking the "current issue" tab after going to the home page. The link will probably work in a few days.

    Anyway the Cliff Notes version is in that article

    "If this six-volume, million-word-plus book had to be summed up in three words, they would be “Sous vide rocks.”

    A little cooking discussion from that article on the Home Cooking board

    From March 14, 2001 "Accidents of the Kitchen" about the Lanchester review you link to

    "Larissa MacFarquhar described a brainstorming session between Chang and Peter Serpico, the chef at Chang’s restaurant Ko:

    They’d been working on the scallop dish for weeks. It was a thing of beauty: a smear of black nori purée on the bottom of the bowl; then a layer of sea scallops and chanterelles and possibly clams; and then, spooned on top in front of the customer, a soft heap of foaming dashi (kelp and dried-bonito broth), made intentionally unstable with just a little methylcellulose, so that in front of the customer’s eyes the bubbles would burst and dissipate into a fishy liquid, at exactly the speed that foam from a wave dissipates onto sand. It looked like the sea and tasted like the sea, and Chang was extremely proud of it. The only thing he was worried about was the word “foam,” which, owing to its trendiness in the nineties, had become a symbol of everything pretentious and unnatural about nineties cuisine. In Chang’s mind, he was making fun of foam, but of course some people were not going to get that and were going to think he was just another leftover foam slave. “It’s gonna piss people off,” he said happily."


    2 Replies
    1. re: rworange

      No, it's free online. The link is what I cut and pasted from my browser. I'll try it again.
      Yup, this link works for me.

      1. re: greygarious

        The fourth time was the charm for me, oddly clicking on that same link kept getting me to the "not found" page. Anyway, I edited the above link for another way to get in should anyone else have the problem.

        For the "foam" haters from the New Yorker article "Most batters are foams; milk and Coca-Cola and mayonnaise are emulsions"

    2. This was a really interesting review. I wish I could justify spending the big bucks to get the actual book, and I might sometime later, but it sounds incredibly interesting. I am interested in seeing how Harold McGee and Shirley Corriher likes this book, as it covers some of the same areas that they did in their books, except in more detail.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Phaedrus

        McGee was a contributor to the book.

        Yeah, lots of interesting stuff like the fact that the shape, color of pan and atmospheric humidity can cause a temperature variation of up to 54 degrees when cooking a stew.

        However, I sort of cooled my jets on book due to the reviewer's conclusion. While the book has some good info for mere mortals, it is more for the pros rather than the home cook.

        He goes on to talk about his efforts at home trying this type of cooking in the past. His experience with a Spherification kit from a company part owned by Ferran Adrià is hilarious ... Spherification ... sounds like a word made up by George Bush.

        "Armed with my new kit, I set out to make reverse-spherical mozzarella balls. These are made from a blend of whole mozzarellas, chopped mozzarellas, and mozzarella water mixed with a modernist-favored ingredient called Algin, which instantly gels any material containing calcium. The idea is essentially that you deconstruct mozzarella, then put it back together, and graciously accept the public’s applause. The results looked all right. The problem was pointed out by my son, and, once pointed out, was very hard to ignore: the reconstructed reverse-spherical mozzarella had the texture of snot. As for the taste, well, let’s just say that it wasn’t the opposite of snot—more a cross between snot and mozzarella water. "

        The last page is beautifully written and so true, calling personal taste "a kind of dance between the person at the stove and the person at the table. The dance between the cook and the eater goes on longest at home, which is why we grow up loving a food from our first and most sustained encounter with it: nothing will ever beat your mom’s chicken, or meat loaf, or whatever it was.

        That was pretty profound to me. My stepkids will be moving with me to the US in a few weeks. While their mother is a competant enough cook ... let's say it is food to fill your stomach rather than excite your tastebuds.

        I've come to the conlusion that I'm going to have to cook some bad Guatemalan food to make them happy. I could enhance a lot of these dishes using superior and more varied ingredients, but my guess is they won't like it as much.

        The last sentence is great too ...

        “Modernist Cuisine” is going to be the definitive reference point for this new cooking for many years to come. There’s something exciting about that, and there’s a sense of loss in it, too—a little like the nostalgia we feel for the time when the most advanced composers alive wrote tunes that anyone could hum"