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Modernist Cuisine at Home Hardcover – Large Print, October 8, 2012
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Modernist Cuisine at Home is destined to change the way we cook—and the way we use recipes. For all of us who cook regularly, this book opens up a whole new world of possibilities. It is full of insights that encourage us to try something new, and that teach us something on every single page. --Martha Stewart
Modernist Cuisine at Home offers useful techniques and solutions that expand our abilities, and it provides us with a practiced and thorough understanding of why things happen the way they do. Most importantly, it ignites a curiosity within and compels us to ask ourselves not "What should we make for dinner?"; but rather, "What can we make for dinner?" --Thomas Keller
...Nathan Myhrvold and his team, responsible last year for the food-publishing triumph of the decade, the six-volume Modernist Cuisine, have now scaled down and domesticated many of the advanced techniques... Of these, sous vide cooking is the most likely to find a place in the home kitchen, as it has in mine, and Modernist Cuisine at Home treats the subject in glorious detail. --Jeffrey Steingarten, Vogue
About the Author
Nathan Myhrvold, founder of The Cooking Lab, coauthor of Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking and Modernist Cuisine at Home, and author of The Photography of Modernist Cuisine, has had a passion for science, cooking, and photography since he was a boy. By the age of 13, Nathan had already cooked the family Thanksgiving feast and transformed the household bathroom into a darkroom.
Myhrvold holds a doctorate in theoretical and mathematical physics as well as a master's degree in economics from Princeton University. He holds additional master's degrees in geophysics and space physics and a bachelor's degree in mathematics from the University of California, Los Angeles. At Cambridge University, Myhrvold did postdoctoral work with Stephen Hawking in cosmology, quantum field theory in curved space-time, and quantum theories of gravitation, all before starting a software company that would be acquired by Microsoft.
As his career developed, he still found time to explore the culinary world and photography. While working directly for Bill Gates as the chief technology officer at Microsoft, Nathan was part of the team that won the Memphis World Championship Barbecue contest; he worked as a stagier at Chef Thierry Rautureau's restaurant Rover's, in Seattle; he then took a leave of absence to earn his culinary diploma from École de Cuisine La Varenne, in France.
Nathan retired from Microsoft in 1999 to found Intellectual Ventures and pursue several lifelong interests in photography, cooking, and food science. During this time, some of his photographs were published in America 24/7 (DK Publishing, Inc., 2003) and Washington 24/7 (DK Publishing, Inc., 2004). Unable to find practical information about sous vide cooking, he decided to write the book he felt was missing; one that provided a scientific explanation of the cooking process, the history of cooking, and the techniques, equipment, and recipes involved in Modernist cooking. Inspired by this void in cooking literature, he decided to share the science of cooking and wonders of Modernist cuisine with others, hoping to pass on his own curiosity and passion for the movement.
In the process of creating his first book, Nathan founded The Cooking Lab, hired an interdisciplinary team that included scientists, research chefs, and writers, and published the much-acclaimed six-volume, 2,438-page Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking, in 2011. That set was followed by Modernist Cuisine at Home, in 2012, which applies the insights of the original book in a format designed for home cooks. In 2013, he wrote The Photography of Modernist Cuisine, and The Cooking Lab partnered with Inkling to publish the Modernist Cuisine at Home app.
Maxime Bilet received a BA in creative writing, literature, and visual arts from Skidmore College. Bilet then graduated with highest honors from the Institute of Culinary Education in New York. He completed a stage at Jack's Luxury Oyster Bar and was quickly hired to the head chef position there by Jack Lamb. Moving to London, he accepted a stage with Heston Blumenthal's development team at The Fat Duck. Just prior to joining the culinary team as head chef for recipe research and development at The Cooking Lab, Bilet trained as sous chef to open the London branch of Auberge de L'Ile. In 2011, Bilet was named to Forbes Magazine's 30 Under 30 list in the category of Food and Wine.
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I'll start with a disclaimer: Do not buy this book until you are familiar with the original "Modernist Cuisine." By that I do not mean you need to own that set first (quite the opposite, this is the stepping stone to the full set), but you should understand that it encompasses a style of cooking that can be crudely summarized as "cooking for scientists" or "how to make dinner in a laboratory." Once you know what you're getting into, decide if it's worth around $140 of your hard-earned cash.
Now, on to the good stuff. For those of you who salivated for a year, wishing you could justify buying "Modernist Cuisine" but knowing you wouldn't be able to use it to it's full potential (like me), your prayers have been answered! "Modernist Cuisine" made headlines (in the Food and Travel section) for:
1. Deconstructing the science of cooking rather than just listing recipes
2. Focusing on modern methods of preparing foods using tools such as combi ovens, sous vide setups, emulsifiers, etc
3. Including some rather stunning photography of the equipment and ingredients within
I am happy to say that all three are present in the "at Home" version. First, "Modernist Cuisine at Home" (MCAH hereafter) introduces a consolidated set of kitchen tools and gadgets that the home chef can reasonably afford. Don't have the funds for the laboratory-grade centrifuge featured in "Modernist Cuisine?" No problem. Not only does MCAH omit the prohibitively expensive tools from its recipes, but many of them are the same recipes found in the original, redone for the home cook. MCAH even goes as far as offering several options at varying price ranges for the equipment used within.
The same goes for the ingredients. MCAH mostly does away with the laundry list of exotic spices and chemicals featured in many "modernist" cookbooks and instead relies on ingredients you can find either at the local grocery store, or in reasonable quantities online. For the ingredients you are probably less familiar with (malic acid? agar agar?) there is a two-page spread detailing what each does, where it comes from, and what it costs. In many cases, the recipes will list alternatives if you choose not to add their recommendations to your shopping list.
Much like Modernist Cuisine, MCAH explains some of the science behind the various cooking techniques, but at a beginner's level. Each recipe includes a blurb about what's going on inside the pot (so to speak), and almost all of them include multiple variations at the end, allowing for a wide variety of options. This is especially useful for people new to the idea of sous vide cooking, as MCAH does a great job explaining exactly how it works, and how to make it work for you.
How has it taken me this long to get to the photography? Stunning, just as in "Modernist Cuisine". I don't know how they did it, but every picture is suitable for framing. Equipment has been dissected to yield amazing looking cross-sections used in explaining how the various tools function. And get this: included in the back are four prints from MCAH you can frame. I had no idea until they fell out while I was reading, but they are every bit as beautiful as the photos inside, and I dare say will look better on the walls of a kitchen than the usual crap paintings of grapes or farms or cows that people seem obligated to put up these days.
If it seem like I'm gushing, it's because I am. Any home cook who has jumped into sous vide cooking has probably experienced the frustration I have with cookbooks dedicated to the style. You have Douglas Baldwin's "Sous Vide for the Home Chef," which, while great for it's temperature charts (and the fact it came out before anything else was available) is too simple for anyone looking to expand their horizons into restaurant-quality preparations (French Laundry, anyone?). And on the other end of the spectrum is Thomas Keller's "Under Pressure," which, while exquisite in creativity and detail, is geared completely towards the restaurant chef (which he warns in the forward), both in scale and complexity. Even the original "Modernist Cuisine", while featuring more accessible recipes than "Under Pressure", still excluded the home cook from about half of it's contents due to equipment or ingredient limitations. MCAH is the first book that features sous vide in a way that the home cook can learn and excel at, while also creating dishes that will blow the guests away. Seriously, the stuff you can make from this book looks like it belongs on the set of Iron Chef.
This is a "modern" (or Modernist) cookbook, so the recipes inside are going to be closer to what you'd find in a restaurant that uses an obscure adjective for it's title rather than what you'd see in your grandmother's kitchen. If the idea of cooking a beautiful cut of salmon in a Ziploc bag seems blasphemous, or using a digital scale instead of an elephant-shaped measuring cup is akin to high treason, you may not be ready to make the jump. But if you want to learn how modern cooking styles can produce amazing taste and presentation in your kitchen (while removing much of the uncertainty and variation that traditional high-heat methods entail), this is the book for you.
- Currently the best book available for home sous vide setups
- Delicious recipes using accessible ingredients for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert. Meat, Poultry, Fish and Veggies. Even has a few vegan options inside.
- Teaches the "why" of cooking, not just the "how"
- Stunning photography, and great step-by-step images for most of the recipes
- Comes with a separate water-resistant "kitchen manual" with every recipe inside so you can keep the gorgeous main-book away from the messiness of the kitchen.
- Comes with 4 prints you can frame in your home. Or not.
- Even though the recipes are designed using ingredient weights, approximate volume measurements are included
- Well constructed. You could easily beat an intruder to death with this book if you caught him stealing your sous vide setup
- Even has the bookmark ribbon you see in bibles, which fits, since this has become my new kitchen bible.
- Though it says "at Home" in the title, your average kitchen will most likely lack some of the basic tools used in many of the recipes. At a minimum, you will need a digital scale, Sous Vide setup, a pressure cooker, and a whipped cream siphon. MCAH will help you in your quest to acquire those tools, but you should commit to expanding your kitchen arsenal if you plan to use this book to it's full potential.
- There are no calorie counts on these recipes, and in some cases if there were, it would take scientific notation to fit on the page. This is not a diet book, this is a book dedicated purely to creating the most delicious food possible at home. When you get to the page about deep-frying a hamburger, you'll understand what I mean.
- $140 (or whatever they charge now) isn't chump change, and for most people the new equipment will add to the cost.
- The sandwich on the cover does not actually levitate when you make it at home.
- Does not mow the lawn while you aren't using it.
Feel free to ask any questions in the comments. I am in no way affiliated with the producers of this book, though I would consider trading my first-born for a chance to work in their kitchen. Your Mileage May Vary.
EDIT - 6 Oct 2015: Three years later and I still love this book. I not own the full-fledged Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking, but I'm always going back to this one. Take the leap!
Looking at the big picture (no pun intended) this book has way too many pictures. This alerted me to the notion that they were just added to give bulk. After all, are you really going to learn anything useful from those giant pictures of appliances cut in half? They're kind of cool to glance at, but that's about it. Pssht! Pssht! (Razor blade sounds).
The title of the book is puzzling. OK is this just a better sounding term than Molecular Gastronomy or is this guy just arrogant? When I looked in my cookbook library I found a book entitled Molecular Gastronomy by Herve This published in 2006. The first part of the introduction goes into detail about cooking eggs slowly, not very different than what you find here. Much of MC at Home is borrowed and very old.
It's also true that to cook eggs as recommended in the book, you need some sort of a sous vide setup. This could set you back a couple grand. Too bad he doesn't know about egg cookers. You could get one like the one I have been using for decades with similar results for 20 bucks or so.
Since this is going to be a long review, wrap a cheese sandwich in foil and lay it in your car's running engine. When you're finished reading this you'll at least have something interesting to eat while you think it over and also have a new idea on how to get fed with warm food while traveling. If you want to add a meat course, put a quarter sheet of plywood down on your garage floor, place a steak in the middle and another quarter sheet on top. Drive over it and stop with the front wheel over the center while the cheese melts in your sandwich on the running engine. To be sure that your steak Diane prep is appropriately received, make sure that females are not witnessing this.
All of the recipes in the book are given in two formats. First a non standard do this, do that layout with these ingredients. Then a mostly unnecessary pictorial rendition of same. Pssht! Pssht!
I also decided I didn't need to know more about how to cook things in a pressure cooker since that's already been old hat for a century or so! Pssht! Pssht! Ditto for microwave ovens.
A lot of the recipes are also nearly nonsense. Take tomato leather, for example. Why all this fooling around when you could get a tastier product with no chemicals by just buying some sun dried tomatoes and preparing a julienne. It's not the same, of course, it's better! Pssht! Pssht! The striped omelet recipe is also nonsense. First of all it's an enormous amount of effort for very little bang for the buck. The two textures also don't adhere well to each other and it will look like something that came out of a sick chicken if you don't follow the recipe exactly.
Related to nonsense is wasteful. Let's suppose you are going to make a vegetable stock from carrots, onions, celery and maybe some mushrooms. In this book you keep the stock and throw the vegetables out. In our house there is often a mouth nearby that has a different use. We're not poor, but we don't just throw out perfectly good food. Often it can be combined with something else like a soup or stew.
A recipe that's supposed to surely drive you to your chemistry set is Pistachio Gelato. I can't imagine getting out all those appliances to make this get fat quick mess when I can make a variety of ice creams and fruit ice substances in minutes in my Vita Mix Blender. Pssht! Pssht!
On the plus side I did learn some new uses for my whipping siphon, mostly because there is so little on line and almost nothing comes with the device. There were also some useful bits and pieces about microwaves.
The sous vide information was interesting since I haven't explored this much as yet. But these concepts lead to another set of questions I had about the integrity of the book. When sous vide first burst on the scene I was taking a French bread course at the French Culinary Institute in New York. The discussion of this new concept immediately telescoped to food safety since the temperatures used are often less than 140, the temperature at which most pathogens are thought to die. Food poisoning is no joke and this book treats this concept a little too lightly for me.
Along the same line there is a recipe for a frothy milk concoction. It calls for unpasteurized milk. That's fine unless, of course, the cow happens to have an infection in its milk apparatus. Pssht! Pssht!
Another failure in the food safety area has to do with cooking in zip lock plastic bags. As you may know there is much discussion in the food press about the safety of cooking food in plastic. I looked on the internet and found that the manufacturer feels that microwave cooking is generally safe. But they don't say much about very long sous vide processes. I don't think I'd be willing to cook in zip lock bags at all. But that's just me being overprotective of my reproductive apparatus from estrogenic type compounds for extended use.
A lot of the advanced concepts in Modernist Cuisine involve apparatus that few people or even serious chefs will ever buy. The price for such things as centrifuges and combi ovens approach the prices of expensive cars. And they require maintenance contracts for clogged water jets and other things involved in their use. There are scant references as to where you can purchase scaled down home versions, even though some exist. Cuisinart, for example makes a steam toaster oven that is marketed exclusively through Williams Sonoma. It produces excellent steam cooked meat, vegetable and bread dishes.
Not only wasn't this useful toaster oven mentioned, there is a curious array of products named throughout the book that aren't particularly hard to find- Knox Gelatin, Turbo Torch blow torches and many other ingredients and devices. We do have Google, you know.
Given this, why is it that 4 out of 5 of his sources of meat are in Washington? Is this a joke? There are hundreds of outstanding meat purveyors in this country. This list and the entire appendix of sources is an insult to the reader.
In summary this bloated tome appears to be little more than an ad for his real ego piece, Modernist Cuisine. It lacks balance between effort expended, expense and final result. Instead of the combi oven and all of the other apparatus needed to make the MC recipes come to life, I think I'll just stick to a new Porsche. It won't press the meat as well as my pickup, but even my spouse will agree it has greater utility.
As a postscript, perhaps you will notice as we have that thinking people can almost always make better food at home than they can find in a restaurant. Love, a little know how and fine ingredients make all the difference. I'm sorry this book didn't advance that theme very much for me.
Most recent customer reviews
Good sous vide tips and recipes. A chapter on Mac n cheese.Read more