Recently, I’ve been hearing a lot about Modernist Cuisine by Nathan Myhrvold, Chris Young, and Maxime Bilet. It sounds like a really interesting book, combining food science, photography, and recipes. In a radio interview, Myhrvold described new techniques for cooking classic dishes, like hamburgers (sous vide to cook the meat, then a liquid nitrogen dip to freeze the outer layer, then a final deep fry to form a crust without overcooking the chilled burger) and brisket (smoke, sous vide, liquid nitrogen, then deep fry). I began to wonder — why hadn’t I heard of deep-fried burgers before? Doesn’t that seem like something that would be popular at county fairs? And how would the sous vide + liquid nitrogen + deep fry technique work on other classics, like chocolate cake or Caesar salad?
Even the covers of this six-volume book are striking. The front cover of Volume 1 dispays a refreshing image of strawberries falling through water. But the back cover shows a scene straight out of a horror movie: strawberries plummeting to their death in a pool of strawberry blood (in theory it’s gazpacho, not strawberry blood, but since when are there strawberries in gazpacho? And isn’t gazpacho chunkier than that?).
It’s possible that my reaction to the back cover is clouded by my experiences in Strobe Lab, a class I took about a hundred years ago. It was a lot of fun at first, as we recreated classic photos of milk drops splashing and bullets passing through playing cards — but eventually, we had to design our own projects. My lab partner came up with what seemed like a great idea at the time: subject a wine glass to high-pitched sounds and photograph it as it shatters. So we pooled our resources, bought some wine glasses, and spent the rest of the semester listening to very loud, very high-pitched noises very early in the morning. I learned a lot from that class, but what I remember most is this: wine glasses that cost $20 for a set of four are unlikely to break when subjected to loud, high-pitched noises. Or possibly when hurled against the wall in frustration, although I never actually tried that.
The back cover of Volume 2 serves as a reminder to pay attention to where the food we eat comes from: from now on, whenever anyone offers me a fried egg, I’m going to ask whether the egg was laid by a normal chicken here on Earth, or whether it’s from some weird dystopian cyborg egg planet. The front cover just makes me want to steam some broccoli.
In case you’re wondering why I seem to be judging this book by its cover(s) — I’ve never seen the actual book. I would have bought it, but at $625, it’s a little outside my normal cookbook budget. I decided to look for used copies on amazon.com:
Great news! Amazon is selling new copies for only $477.93. Still a bit outside my budget, though, and they’re also out of stock. But they have made an extremely generous offer: if I buy a new copy for $477.93 now, I can sell it back later for a $40 amazon.com gift card. This means I can essentially rent the book for a mere $437.93. And there are used copies for sale, starting at the bargain-basement price of $999.
I really shouldn’t complain about the price. It’s more than I’m willing to pay, but it is a 6-volume art book. And besides, it’s a steal compared to the New York Review of Books 2009 Desk Diary.
At first glance, $99,983.05 over list price may seem like a lot to pay for a 2-year-old desk diary, but it’s possible that the diary’s previous owner had some really interesting appointments in 2009.