If We Can Visualize the Fats in Our Foods, Shouldn't We All Be Reading Modernist Cuisine? Modernist Cuisine: The Epic New Kitchen Manual That Offers New Ways of Visualizing Familiar Foods

A massive six-volume culinary opus makes a strong case for a little science to go with your cooking.

Modernist Cuisine, an epic, six-volume kitchen manual, has been landing on reviewers' and chefs' doorsteps this week. Here's a book that began on the message board eGullet as a series of posts by Nathan Myrhvold, a former CTO at Microsoft, on sous vide—cooking under pressure in plastic bags. After years of research, the books represent an encyclopedic compendium on food safety, techniques, ingredients, and preparations. I've only seen portions of the books, but there seems to be a wealth of informative, surprising information here for both professionals and home kitchen hacks. More importantly, there's a focus on visualizing information in detailed charts, matrices, and novel photographs.

Take the photo above. It's also a chart that demonstrates the weight of liquids in various foods (the total height of the bar) as well as the percentage of that mass that's water (clear liquid) and fats (yellow liquid). The cylinders are filled with, from left to right, cucumber, whole milk, pork belly, pork loin, red wine, walnut. You can see the percentage fat in food. Below, you can see what happens as chicken breasts are cooked more; the meat shrinks, looses moisture, and whitens. These are a new ways of looking at familiar foods.

This may be why the concept of molecular gastronomy bothers people, almost as much as the term "molecular gastronomy" itself. In this week's New Yorker, John Lancaster reviews Modernist Cuisine and writes that he made a recipe for slow-cooked chicken that turned out so moist, juicy, and pink that his kids hated it because it wasn't what they were used to.

The lesson was that no taste is inherently better than another: within certain physiological constraints, tastes are not innate but learned, and the acquisition of tastes is 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. No food can ever mean as much to you as that food once did. That is why most of all the cooking in the world is comfort food. It is food designed to remind us of familiar things, to connect us with our personal histories and our communities and our families. That has always been true and it always will be true.

Because both the foods prepared and the terms associated with molecular gastronomy, i.e., dihydrogen monoxide or monosodium glutamate, are unfamiliar to those of us outside the lab, most people remain skeptical about its potential. Maybe the chart about water and fats in a cucumber means nothing in terms of what you're going to eat for lunch tomorrow or how many walnuts you're going to put on top of your salad, but these concept, I believe, can and should be used to make food better—whether you're looking into the nuanced of "processed foods" made far from your home or thinking about improv­ing food safety, nutri­tion, and stor­age locally.

The concepts explored in Modernist Cuisine are worth looking into further, and so are the novel ways that the books explain cooking concepts through digital photography. Now, let's just hope this isn't limited to those of us who can afford to shell out $625.

Photos: Ryan Matthew Smith, Modernist Cuisine, LLC, via Scientific American.


Between Alexa, Siri, and Google, artificial intelligence is quickly changing us and the way we live. We no longer have to get up to turn on the lights or set the thermostat, we can find the fastest route to work with a click, and, most importantly, tag our friends in pictures. But interacting with the world isn't the only thing AI is making easier – now we can use it save the world, too.

Keep Reading Show less
Good News

An anonymous White House official claims President Trump cruelly limited Hispanic immigrants in their new book, "A Warning."

The book, to be released on November 19, gives an alleged insider account of the Trump White House and paints a picture of the president as a chaotic man who lacks the mental and moral acumen required for the job.

The anonymous staffer says that Trump once feigned a Hispanic accent and made fun of women attempting to immigrate to the U.S.

Keep Reading Show less
via KTVU / YouTube

The 63-year-old Oakland-Alameda Coliseum, currently branded the RingCentral Coliseum, is one of the most decrepit sports venues in America.

The home to the the NFL's Oakland Raiders (until they move to Las Vegas next season) and MLB's A's, is notoriously known as the Black Hole and has made headlines for its frequent flooding and sewage issues.

One of the stadium's few positive aspects is its connection to public transportation.

Keep Reading Show less
Hero Video
Yad Vashem

Since 1992, the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous has been holding reunion ceremonies between Holocaust survivors and rescuers once a year. But the tradition is coming to an end, as many have died or are too frail to travel. What might be the last reunion of its kind took place when a 92-year-old woman met up with the two surviving family members that she helped hide during the Holocaust, and their descendants.

Sarah Yanai and Yossi Mor introduced Melpomeni Dina (nee Gianopoulou) to their almost 40 family members, all decedents of the Mordechai family, the family of seven that Dina and her two sisters hid during WWII. "There are no words to describe this feeling," Dina told the Jeruselum Post. "It is very emotional for us to be together again."

Keep Reading Show less
via Facebook / Autumn Dayss

Facebook user and cosplayer Autumn Dayss has stirred up a bit of Halloween controversy with her last-minute costume, an anti-Vaxx mother.

An image she posted to the social network shows a smiling Dayss wearing a baby carrier featuring a small skeleton. "Going to a costume party tonight as Karen and her non-vaccinated child," the caption over the image reads.

Keep Reading Show less