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Ex-Microsoft CTO's cookbook mixes science, food

"Modernist Cuisine," Nathan Myhrvold's massive new cookbook, combines the whats and whys of cooking. This is your chance to master the "science of nano-emulsions."

Nathan Myhrvold
Nathan Myhrvold (right) and fellow cookbook authors Chris Young (center) and Maxime Bilet, borrowed as much from the lab as from the kitchen. The Cooking Lab

When you write about Nathan Myhrvold, it's kind of hard to keep it short. Perhaps best known as Microsoft's first CTO, he's also worked with Stephen Hawking, been involved in thousands of patents, zapped mosquitoes with lasers, won awards as a wildlife photographer, and now, published a massive cookbook that attempts to fuse the worlds of the geek and the gastronome.

As it turns out, Myhrvold himself doesn't keep it short, either. His new culinary effort, "Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking," is a six-volume, 2,400-page, 50-plus-pound declaration of a paradigm shift in the world of food.

Not exactly a fast read. The Cooking Lab

The stated goal of the ambitious book is nothing less than "reinventing cooking" by looking at cuisine through the lenses of science and innovation (ever wondered how to use electric fields to kill wine bacteria?), while not leaving out all the recipes and techniques you expect in a cookbook.

Some of the methods and recipes outlined in "Modernist Cuisine" aren't going to be too accessible to the average weekend chef, however. Myhrvold and his team borrowed as much from the lab as from the kitchen, using tools like homogenizers and centrifuges, and ingredients such as hydrocolloids and enzymes, to formulate recipes for everything from "Astronaut Ramen" to "Monkfish with Mediterranean Flavors."

In other words, the message is about quality, not quickness, as with so many modern recipes for the harried cook.

Just take this little bit of description from Myhrvold's approach to the ultimate cheeseburger (from the video below of an interview with a local Seattle TV show):

"We infuse smoke flavor into the lettuce; we make a special cheese slice. When the cheese melts, it doesn't separate out and get greasy. We grind the meat in a particular way so that we align all the grains of meat; we cook it in a very specific way using liquid nitrogen..."

If this all sounds a little obsessive-compulsive, that's because it is. There are even photos of those microscopic meat fibers included. But Myhrvold--a French-trained chef who once served as chief gastronomic officer for Zagat Survey--isn't just putting out a cookbook. He's releasing a comprehensive reference guide to, well... Modernist cuisine.

To get in on the revolution will cost more than $600 if you pay list price, but Myhrvold likes to point out that "if you bought the same number of pounds of other cookbooks, it would cost you about the same amount."

And a bit of good news for anyone still scared off by the list price. Among the scientific tidbits within is a revelation on why inexpensive pots and pans can actually be better than expensive ones. See, you're already getting your money back.