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Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking Hardcover – March 7, 2011
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“Modernist Cuisine is a landmark contribution to the craft of cooking and our understanding of its underlying principles. Its scale, detail, and eye-opening graphics are unmatched by any other book on the subject. It will be an invaluable resource for anyone with a serious interest in cooking techniques, whether the professional innovations of the last few decades or the long traditions on which they build.”
“The most astonishing cookbook of our time.”
—Katy McLaughlin, Wall Street Journal
“Big, beautiful, and worth the hype… it is the answer to everything you wanted to know about cooking, not to mention so many things you never thought about.”
—Andreas Viestad, The Washington Post
If the uncertainty of the New Year has you feeling a little anxious, let us make a suggestion: Get yourself a food calendar. A food calendar won t necessarily make you feel at ease and it won t give you insight into how the Donald Trump administration is going to play out. But it will give you something pretty to look at every single day. And that s something. We re talking beautiful food photography, close looks at modernist cuisine and fun food illustrations. Here are seven calendars that will make 2017 feel a little bit sweeter. #1 Modernist Cuisine 2017 Wall Calendar --Huffington Post --This text refers to the Calendar edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
I caution future buyers to examine your books carefully. I found several pages with score marks, scratches, and smudges. Two pages from the “Kitchen Manual” were stuck together at a spot, and prying them apart was a delicate matter given its lightweight paper. Most problematic, several signatures from the center of one of the books pulled away from the backing material—the adhesive failed and the book is falling apart. It would have been better had the signatures been sewn to the backing material.
It's hard to review this book without it coming across as hyperbolic: after all, it's a 50-pound, 2400-page beast that will cost you an entire year's cookbook budget and must have cost unfathomable sums to produce; you're either going to love it or hate it. However, I can say with confidence that if you liked McGee's On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, you are going to love Modernist Cuisine.
While the press coverage of the book so far has focused on the more esoteric aspects of the book--centrifuges, rotovaps and chemicals, oh my!--the book actually simply treats those items on equal footing with woks, sauté pans, and water. It covers them because you can cook interesting, tasty food with them. Of course, the weird stuff gets all the attention, because, well... it's weird. But this is a book that devotes an entire chapter to *water*. And the things it teaches you *will* make you a better cook. The authors are never satisfied with "it just works, don't ask why." It seems like every paragraph, on every detail, is tightly focused on the question of not just "what happens?" or "how do you do it?" but also "WHY does it work?" and "HOW does it work?" This book is particularly excellent if you are science-minded, but it is written with such clarity that I believe anyone can learn these things from it. Who knew that blowing on a spoonful of soup to cool it was so complicated, and so interesting?
Probably the most relevant criticism I have encountered is the notion that the recipes it presents are unapproachable. And a few things do, in fact, require a centrifuge (though the majority of the time it is an optional step). There is no doubt that many if not most of the recipes require ingredients that standard American kitchens don't stock. Most of us don't have Agar and Xantham Gum in our cupboards, and some find the very idea of cooking with "chemicals" a frightening, foreign, or downright objectionable practice. Truth be told these "chemicals" are no more (or less) unnatural than baking soda or refined sugar (the book spends a great deal of time discussing food safety and nutrition before diving into the "crazy chemicals"). Amazon even sells a starter kit that I've found quite useful: Experimental Kit Artistre - 600 grams. And for the most part these ingredients are not used "just for fun": the goal of the Modernist Cuisine movement is to examine the foods we eat, and our perceptions of that food, and try to make things that taste great, and perhaps even engage us on an intellectual and emotional level. I've made a few recipes from the book so far, and in particular the Mac & Cheese was astonishing: it is far and away the best M&C I've ever had or made, without question. It actually tastes like cheese! (What a concept, I know). And it's easier to make and more forgiving than the traditional béchamel-based method. So some of the recipes are simple, and some are complicated. If you have Alinea you probably have a pretty good idea of what the complicated ones look like: daunting, yes, but *not* unachievable if you are willing to put the time in.
Obviously a review of a 2400-page book could go on more or less forever, but I think the upshot is this: if you are interested in learning the "how" and "why" of cooking, of even the most mundane processes (they cover boiling water in great detail), this book is probably deserving of six stars; it is simply monumental. Save your pennies, this is a worthwhile purchase. If, on the other hand, that is *not* interesting to you, it's probably two stars: get the first and second volumes from a local university library, and don't worry about the rest (if you are only going to read the first two volumes I'd say it's tough to justify the price tag).
* Level of detail is incredible
* Covers the "how" and the "why" of every detail of the cooking process
* Depth and breadth of coverage is... well, worthy of 2400 pages
* Stunning photography, graphic design, and even printing
* Many of the recipes are very challenging
* Coverage of hyper-expensive equipment can be off-putting
* Too tall to fit on any normal bookcase
If you liked McGee's On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, but found it too focused on ingredients as opposed to cooking, you will like the current book. If you are worried about the price of the book I have two suggestions. Buy the McGee's book and then only if you like it actually buy the current book. Buy Beginning Sous Vide: Low Temperature Recipes and Techniques for Getting Started at Home and start experimenting with a low-cost set-up for sous-vide cooking, described in that book. (There is also Under Pressure: Cooking Sous Vide, but I would not recommend that book unless you are willing to splash on a vacuum sealer that can also seal liquids.) If you're like most people you might stop here, because most would argue that sous-vide is the modernist technique that is closest to mainstream use. You will have enough new knowledge to make great food.
UPDATE: The best intro book is Modernist Cuisine at Home. Buy that book and only if you like it you should buy the five volumes. Note that the one volume book is a new book so it contains a lot of new recipes. END UPDATE
The set contains some 25 chapters. Here are just a few highlights to give you a better feel for the book:
Chapter 3. Food safety. They discuss the almost complete absence of tricinella in US pork, but they don't go as far as to suggest eating raw pork (which is just as nice as raw beef). At least you will stop overcooking pork. Also useful section on how to remove germs from your kitchen. Very practical and science based.
Chapter 7. 150 pages of traditional cooking techniques. This is very much similar to McGee's book, except more practical. Very useful and practical without the use of (much) modernist equipment
Chapter 9. 90 pages of sous-vide cooking. I'd say that this is all you need to start experimenting. A lot of tables to understand temperature and cooking time combinations.
Chapter 11. Very interesting chapter on ingredients from the animal kingdom. Just a few things: aging of beef, how to cut a tuna, how to make crispy skin. I wish this chapter was much longer, because it is very interesting and covers new areas.
Chapter 13. This chapter is all about thickening of liquids (later chapters ditto on gels and foams). Starts by discussing traditional ingredients and then "new" chemicals. You also learn how to make the edible soil that I've seen in quite a few restaurants.
Chapter 18. 60 pages of how to make the perfect cup of coffee. Very interesting, but the authors buy into the coffee cult a bit too much. It would have been interesting with some scientific experiments here to, but I guess they ran out of steam :)
If I had it my way, I would remove volume 5 (plated-dishes) and move some of the more interesting recipes to the main text as master recipes. I would also skip volume 6 which is just a reprint of most of the recipes. Furthermore, I would have hired some good copy editors. There are simply too many errors in this book. Most of the errors have no consequence. The authors provide a long list of errata on their webpage, but who has time to go through such a document. We are not train spotters. The authors should be customer friendly enough to also provide a summary of important errata. (This last point is off course less relevant for future customers because they will get the benefit of the corrected second printing.) Finally, it is odd that the accompanying website some 1/2 year after the publication do not have a forum.
Finally some random thoughts:
- I am interested in innovation and this book is very interesting from that perspective too. I will with interest see how/if the knowledge in this book spreads to the FMCG, white goods and fast-food industries. Sous-vide meat is so much tastier so it does warrant a special cooking machine in your kitchen. Sous-vide equipment is becoming available on amazon, but considering how simple the equipment is, prices should come down in the near future. I don't understand why Phillips, Samsung, and Whirlpool don't already have their own sous-vide range.
- I think several methods in the book are going to be dead-ends. Like the use of centrifuges (USD10K+) to separate orange juice or almond oil. That is probably just going to appeal to the hard-core techies, but if they get the price down to USD2-3K things chagne. Still I love to have a book with lots of esoteric knowledge covered as well. That is afterall how innovation happens. Knowledge gets spread and people build on it. We don't know which pieces of knowledge that will be the useful stepping stones.
- It is going to be interesting to see how the old-style/slowfood/local-ingredients camp and the hightech/chemical/modernist camp are going to influence food and cooking in the years to come. I have been a traditionalist dreamer thinking that it was better in the old days when pure ingredients were cooked in a copper pot, but I am personally beginning to rethink. Making bread is in many ways a chemical, non-natural process as well. I'm about to try making stock with a pressure cooker. That could be an easy transition if the taste is superior. I will have a harder time with the chemicals changing the consistency and texture of the food.
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