Chefs at Google: Nathan Myhrvold | "Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking"

Uploaded by AtGoogleTalks on 15.11.2012


FEMALE SPEAKER: Please join me in welcoming to Google New
York Nathan Myhrvold.

So Nathan, you wanted to start with a presentation about the
book and give an overview.
NATHAN MYHRVOLD: Yeah, let me show some pictures, and then
we can talk.
FEMALE SPEAKER: Sounds good.
And then we'll open it up for Q&A at the end.

So I'm going to tell you a little bit about "Modernist
Cuisine At Home." In 2011, we released this book, "Modernist
Cuisine." This is what we call the big book, which was an
encyclopedic treatment of all aspects of cooking and the
science behind it.
So the really interesting question is,
what do we do next?
And one next thing after that that we could do, may still
do, would be pastry baking and dessert, because the first
book didn't cover that.
But as our next act, we decided, in fact, we would do
modernist cuisine at home instead.
And the idea was basically that modernist cuisine was
about sort of the no holds barred approach to cooking.
There are recipes that require a centrifuge, or a rotary
evaporator, or all kinds of things that most people--
I have them at home, but most people don't
have them at home.
So we decided we would do a book that would take the same
ideas as "Modernist Cuisine," but apply them in a way that
was a smaller, little bit less daunting book.
It's a little pamphlet, like 700 pages.
FEMALE SPEAKER: It weighs more than my child, we were
deciding earlier.
NATHAN MYHRVOLD: And try to do stuff that would address
things that people could do at home.
So every recipe in here, you can do at home.
It doesn't require unusual equipment.
And it doesn't require unusual ingredients.
And we also tried to really focus on practical techniques
and use lots of photography to make it really easy to see
what's going on.
One side of these shows our step by steps.
The other thing shows what we call a cutaway.
This is where we show you the magic
view inside your equipment.
The people at Viking gave us this Viking
stove to cook with.
We cooked with it for a while.
And then we cut it in half.
It's sort of like the 4H kid that gets a little calf, and
raises it up, and then, oops.

But we cut it in half so you can see what
it looks like inside.
Like the first book, we have a washable kitchen manual.
It's on washable waterproof paper.
That's so you can take it in the kitchen, get it dirty.
It's a little bit smaller format, too.
And it folds back on itself, because it's spiral bound.
And we kind of consider this the next part of "Modernist
Cuisine," yet it's focusing on home cooking.
And home cooking just means two things.
One is what I said earlier, that it's a set of stuff that
you can do at home from an equipment perspective.
But equally important is that it's a set of cooking recipes
that are less formal.
In the first book, we've got recipes from Ferran Adria, and
Thomas Keller, and Heston Blumenthal, and all the best
chefs in the world.
You don't typically cook that food at home all the time.
In the new book, we have a chapter on mac and cheese.
We have a chapter on chicken wings, and
other skewered snacks.
So it's a little bit less formal style, in addition to
being a little bit more accessible from an equipment
So here's uncompromising physical quality.
I wish I could say that about myself, but by god, I can say
it about my book.
So we tried to make the physical aspect of the book
kind of cool.
It's big, it uses great paper.

This is sort of nerdy, but I figured I'm at Google, so that
should be OK.
But when you typically print a picture in a book, it uses
half tone screen, and this is what it looks like when you
blow it up.
It's 175 line.
An art book would use a 200 line screen.
But this whole idea of using a fixed screen is sort of an old
analog world concept.
It's still done.
We used something called stochastic screening, which
uses an error diffusion algorithm, and the dots are
now all created digitally.
And you can see, it just looks a lot better.
Here's another thing most people don't realize.
The gamut is the range of colors
that inks can represent.
And most inks have a hard time with really saturated colors.
So here's a picture from the book where the grey shows the
stuff you can't actually represent in the color gamut.
Well, if you buy something called Chroma Centric inks,
you can show it all.
And so people will ask us, how did you get all of that color
in those pictures?
Is that because you digitally processed it?
And we said, no, we actually sprung for the expensive ink.
Because it turns it you just can't represent some colors,
particularly highly saturated colors.
You'll see it's the tomato, for example, and some of the
greens in the apple, or the greens in that cauliflower.
Those are the things that don't come across, because
they're highly saturated.
Now, of course, a good question is, why the hell am I
doing a book at all?
Why is it physical?
And the original answer for "Modernist Cuisine" is that at
the time we started, there were no tablet computers,
except for the first version of Kindle, which was tiny and
black and white.
There was no iPad.
It hadn't come out.
And so we had to choose a platform, and we chose print.
But here's the other reason--
here's a picture from the original book, and here's what
it looks like on Kindle and on an iPad.
And once you decide you're going to do layout for a big,
big high resolution display that you're going to get this
close to, it's hard to just change it.
Of course you could do it.
But if you just literally took the PDFs from the book and
just said, I'm going to move them onto a tablet, it's not
very usable, because you're always scrolling one way and
scrolling another way.
It also, to me, is kind of boring.
Because if you just took the PDFs, you don't have any of
the things that's magical about an interactive platform.
So we're talking about one possible future project is to
make a really interactive version.
But then that actually starts getting to be real work,
because you have to animate, and you want to have a lot of
things live, and you have to have a little
different user interface.
So at some point, yeah.
For now, actually, print is a great way to deliver large,
high resolution pictures to people.
And particularly, if I target the people in this room or in
the tech industry, then tablets would be even more
But if I want to have influence with lots of
traditional chefs around the world and give them an ability
to step up, actually print is probably a better platform
from that perspective at the moment.
So here's some fun facts about the new book.
Two volumes, 9.9 pounds unpacked, 684 pages, 228 of
which are waterproof.
23 chapters, 210,000 words, 405 recipes, 114 that have
step by step photos.
And we took about 86,000 pictures, of which 1,500 are
in the book.
So here's how we can sort of put it in perspective.
If you took "Modernist Cuisine At Home," and you put it all
in one line of text at the same type size, it would be
1.4 miles long, and that would stretch from 14th Street up to
42nd Street.
So several subway stops.
And of course we're here.
That's the you are here.
"Modernist Cuisine," the big one, that actually would go
from lower Manhattan all the way up to 116th Street.
So here's another comparison.
People will say, why is this book so expensive?
And we say, well, look.
The first book was $625.
List price, street price, maybe $460.
The new book is $140.
Currently the street price is $130.
I'd be surprised if that didn't go down.
I have no way to control street price, of course.
That's what retailers sell it at.
But it's only $0.41 per recipe, and $0.35 per recipe
in the new book.
It's $15.63 a pound for this, but only $14.00 a pound.
How does that compare?
Parmesan-Reggiano is $19 a pound.
We are cheaper than Parmesan cheese.
So if you love cheese, you should love this book.
It's cheaper.
FEMALE SPEAKER: That's a good sales pitch.
NATHAN MYHRVOLD: Yeah, I've been I'm trying to come out of
being a programmer and actually learn how to sell.
As I said before, we've got lots of step by step photos.
I don't think we have a single page that doesn't have a color
photo on it.
Here was another.
In "Modernist Cuisine," we decided we would have
everything with weights.
But our new motto is, now with teaspoons!
FEMALE SPEAKER: For the home cook.
NATHAN MYHRVOLD: Because home cooks--
now, when people ask, what's the first gadget they should
buy for their kitchen, I always say a digital
And then the second one is a digital scale.
And they're like $20.
This is not like any kind of expensive thing.
But once you get into it, weighing ingredients is faster
and more accurate than measuring them out.
And you don't have to worry about leveling it.
And you don't have to worry about is your sugar clumping a
different way, or some other things.
So I highly recommend the weight approach.
But now we have teaspoons, by god.
Whenever we do a recipe, we like to have lots of
variations on those recipes.
So here was something.
One spread shows pesto, and we started off making pesto.
And then we went, what the hell, let's make a whole bunch
of pesto-like sauces.
We started off with a chapter on chicken wings.
And then we said, let's make yakitori style chicken wings.
But then if you like yakitori, tsukune, these chicken
meatballs are really cool.
And then pretty soon we had saute, and
tons of other skewers.
So we love having variations.
And we want to encourage people to mess around and do
cool new things with cooking.
It's not about here's a recipe for one thing.
Lots of books will do that.
We try to say, here's a principle, and here's an
example, and now here's a couple other examples, and
then experiment yourself and go take it other places.

We have some tables.
We had a lot of tables in the big book.
We have fewer in the small book.
But here, if you're cooking meat, there isn't a right way
to cook it.
If you want it rare or medium rare or pink or medium,
there's different levels and different temperatures,
different times that you can use.
So we try to provide all that information.
We do have things on sous vide in the new book.
And sous vide is something that most people don't have
the equipment for, but increasingly they are.
So we decided it was fair to put that in the new book.
But we also have lots of alternatives that don't
require the equipment.
So we have a sous vide salmon recipe where you just cook it
in the sink.
Just run the hot water.
We have sous vide steaks for camping or tailgate parties,
where you fill a big cooler full of hot water, put your
steaks in Ziploc bags.
Just put them in there, no electric
device or anything else.
FEMALE SPEAKER: No burgers at your house, are there?
Just, like, regular?
Do you eat just like a normal sandwich?
NATHAN MYHRVOLD: If I'm making it, usually it's not normal.
But I mean, tonight, I'm giving a talk at the American
Museum of Natural History.
And so we're going to Shake Shack first.
Because it's the only pragmatic way to
get fed in a certain--
and they do good stuff.

The first book had lots of ingredients that are pretty
difficult to find.
In this new book, we use ingredients which
are all easy to find.
But they still might not be totally familiar.
And again, we thought that was OK.
So we have things that involve agar.
People say, isn't that some weird chemical?
And I say, well, actually, it's been used in Asia for
1,000 years.
It's actually more traditional than gelatin by that standard.
It's been around for longer.
But between that and a whole variety of these other
things-- whey protein powder from the health food store, or
xanthin gum, which is in essentially every
grocery store now.
Because you can't make gluten free muffins without xanthin.
As a result, it's always there.
And we're just saying, hey, now you can use it for
something besides gluten free muffins.
You can thicken sauces with it.
We have a lot of science in this new book, not as much as
the previous book.
But we have a lot of things that we describe the science
of things, and then try to provide pointers off to
people, either in the web or other books, or the big book
that will explain things more.
Hell of a process making the book.
Here's a few of the photos.
Here's one of our fun toys.
This is an ultra high speed camera.
It shoots HD quality 720p video at
6,200 frames per second.
So this lets us do things like this.
Now, what I love about this is when I was a kid, I'd watch
these Roadrunner cartoons.
And the roadrunner would run off the edge of the cliff, and
so would the coyote.
But the coyote would only fall after he looked down.
So nobody told the water it was time to fall yet, so it
kind of sits there.
I'll run through a few of the spreads from the book, and
we'll talk a little bit about it, and then we can turn into
more of a conversation.

This is our chapter on stocking
the modernist kitchen.
It's about different kinds of equipment, basically--
countertop tools.
It turns out if you take a picture of a blender while
it's pureeing tomatoes, you make a hell of a mess.
But we had this great principle that it only has to
look good for a thousandth of a second.
After that, if it all goes to hell, that's our problem.
That's not the viewer's problem.
Here's what a whipping siphon looks like from the inside,
and we explain how you can use this for making whipped cream
or other kind of whipped foam things, but also for all kinds
of other stuff.
Again, this is not a piece of equipment
everybody finds at home.
But they're like $20.
And they're in every Williams Sonoma, so we
thought it was fair game.
Here's our pressure cooker.
We like pressure cookers.
There's a lot of pressure cooker recipes in the book.
Here's our Viking stove cut in half.

Microwave oven.
I was just on the Rachael Ray Show right before coming here
where I actually did two microwave things.
Watch closely, and we'll discuss it afterwards.

So that's popcorn.
FEMALE SPEAKER: Oh, amazing.
NATHAN MYHRVOLD: Now, the cool thing about this from a
science perspective is that when water flashes into steam,
it expands in volume by a factor of 1,600.
So right now, a tiny crack has formed.
This is a steam rocket, basically.
And it's coming up, and it's trying
to relieve the pressure.
And it's relieving the pressure a little bit by
leaking out, but that crack has also caused a fatal flaw
in the skin of the popcorn.
So you can watch it expand a little bit.
It's trying to relieve the pressure.
But ultimately it's not enough, and woosh.
Open it goes.
That's why the high speed camera is so much fun.
And here's what a microwave looks like on the inside,
including, we discuss what happens inside the cavity
magnetron, which is where the microwaves are actually made.
In the big book, we also have instructions for how you can
measure the speed of light with Velveeta and your
microwave oven.
Do try that at home.
Here's how we do those cutaways.
We have a machine shop.
Machine shop is part of our lab, and so I highly recommend
having a machine shop.

Well, actually, I originally had a machine shop at home.
But it's even nicer to have it in a place where people can
run it 24 hours a day and clean up for you.

As a programmer myself, I love that most of these machines
are also really programmable, so you can actually control
them all by writing programs.
Here's one of our cool machines.
This is called an EDM machine.
See that wire?
That wire has got a tremendous amount of electricity coming
through it.
Sparks jump off the electricity underwater.
And those sparks actually are able to cut
almost any form of metal.
So here, we're cutting a cast iron Dutch oven.
And we speeded this up a little bit, it's kind of slow.
We drain the water off, and voila!
We have cut it in half.
NATHAN MYHRVOLD: And between the other pieces of equipment,
we can cut glass.
We can cut almost anything in half like that.
In fact, I like to say we have two halves of one of the best
kitchens in the world.
You can see a couple of those that have the red glue on it.
That's a high temperature silicone.
So we take a piece of Pyrex, we put a bead of the high
temperature silicon on them.
We glue the piece of Pyrex glass to the edge of the pan.
So we can actually cook in it.
Now, that gives us that red goopy look.
And so that's where we use the little digital technology.
When you cut a pan in half, you get two halves.
So we put the other half in the same position and take a
picture, and that gives us the image bit for
the edge of the pan.
And then we substitute that in for where that red goop is,
very much like the way in a Hollywood movie, Spider-Man
will fly through the air supported by wires, then you
digitally remove the wires, and he's flying without it.
Tons of other cool things in the book.
Here's two of them.
Most of the flavor of chargrilling
comes from fat flareups.
And one of the reasons when people grill zucchini, the
zucchini doesn't taste all that charbroiled is there's no
fat in zucchini to drip.
A steak, there's plenty of fat.
It renders out, it drips, you get a fat flareup.
That's what gives you the charbroiled flavor.
So what do you do if you want your zucchini
to taste this way?
You spritz olive oil on the fire.
Works great.
And if you really want to sear something, you want
the fire from hell?
You take a hair dryer and you stick it up the vent of your
Webber, and boy, oh boy.
You can actually get it going enough that if the coals are
against the side of the Webber, they'll go through.
So don't do that.
FEMALE SPEAKER: So for that photograph, the one that you
were just showing us, is that where you put the glass on it?
And then you actually cooked to make that photograph?
NATHAN MYHRVOLD: Let me go back.
So the answer is no, because the coals are so hot they
would break the glass.
There's nothing in front of that.
Some people say, well, but wouldn't the coals fall?
And we say, of course they would fall.
That's why Johnny was underneath there
with a pair of tongs.
And every time they would fall, he'd put it back.
We made a hell of a mess so you could get a cool picture.
One of our guys lost his eyebrows twice in things
flaring up.
It's a real process.

So anyway, here's fat flareups.
This is what happens.
Here the fat is dropping down.
Initially, it spends most of the energy actually vaporizing
and heating up.
And then finally it catches.
And it's that fat flareup that makes most of the
characteristic chargrilled flavor.
The difference between grilling and broiling is
broiling, the heat's on the top.
And so no fat can drip on it.
And so you don't get those flavors.
And that's really the difference.
Here's a close up of that same picture here.
Here's our hamburgers.
And there's nothing holding those in.
We've just sort of propped them right at the edge.
And they kept falling.

We have a big chapter on ingredients.
Ingredients, of course, really central to all of cooking.
Something on basics.
This is about making sauces and stocks.
A chapter on eggs, salads, and cold soups.
Turns out you need about two or three pounds of raspberries
dropped one or two at a time before you get the timing
right to get a photo like this.
You drop them, and there's a bunch of ways you can set up
light beams to trigger.
But there's variations enough that fundamentally, several
pounds of raspberries dropped.
FEMALE SPEAKER: And Nathan, you took a lot of these
photographs yourself, correct?
NATHAN MYHRVOLD: That's right.
Yeah, I originally was going to take all of them.
But I got a lot of other things to do.
But I took quite a few of them.
And then our photo team took the rest.
Here's salad making, pressure cooked vegetable soups.
We had a recipe in Modernist Cuisine for carrot soup that
was one of the most popular recipes.
So we took it and made a whole chapter out of it, tried lots
of other ingredients, managed to make it work with some--
the first version actually used a centrifuge.
So we weaned ourselves off the centrifuge.
And here's a bunch of those soups.
We have a whole chapter on steak.

Braised short ribs.
So if that doesn't make you hungry, well
then, you're a vegan.
But, see pressure cooked vegetable soups earlier.
Roast chicken.

So roast chicken is an interesting thing.
The ideal roast chicken is fundamentally a contradiction.
You're trying to get the interior flesh to be juicy and
the exterior to be crispy.
But they're right beside each other.
So by the time you've heated up the skin enough to be
crispy, you've overcooked and dried out the flesh.
So one thing people do is they brine it.
And if you dunk the whole chicken in salt water, the
action of the salt on the proteins--
the uncooked proteins of the meat-- actually makes them
absorb a lot more water.
And so there's a real physical chemical reason that salt will
make it juicier.
Trouble is, there's protein in the skin also.
And when you make the skin juicy, that's called rubbery.
So what do you do?
And the answer is, we used syringes to inject the brine
into the meat without getting any on the skin.
Now, you can say that's kind of a freaky thing to do, but
it turns out you can get syringes all over the place.

When I first started coming to New York, it was Union Square
Park you'd go to get syringes.
But in fact, there was another park in the city which was
informally called Needle Park.
But you can get syringes all over the place.
And if you really care about making the ultimate chicken,
this is how you do it.
Then the other thing is, we hang the chicken inside the
refrigerator like this.
That prevents the salt from accumulating on the skin.
And if you leave it uncovered in the fridge with a plate
underneath it, it lets the skin dry out.
And that makes it much easier to make it crispy.
And this is the result.
When you do it right, when you take the chicken out at the
end, and you hit it with a tongs or a spoon, the skin
will crack.
It's almost like glass.
And then here, we're serving it.
But we have another whole chapter on chicken wings.
And I understand in one of the Google cafeterias today, they
served a couple of our wings.
FEMALE SPEAKER: I don't think they used hypodermic needles
there, but yes.
NATHAN MYHRVOLD: Generally for the wings, you
don't need to do.
We have another technique for the wings.
Now, chicken noodle soup, sort of the Jewish penicillin.
We thought we'd do a whole chapter on that.
Here's our salmon chapter.
Mac and cheese.
That's the mac and cheese sauce being made.
And boy, the interesting thing here is, normally you put a
lot of starch into a cheese sauce to keep the fat in the
cheese from separating.
Cheese is an emulsion.
And when you heat it up too hot to melt it,
it separates out.
You've probably seen pizzas where you get this layer of
grease on the top, and then the cheese is kind of stringy
and disgusting?
Well, in a sauce, that really doesn't work.
So the typical thing is, you put lots of starch in.
Well, that adds a lot of carbohydrates.
But the main thing is, it dulls the taste.
Because the starch molecules wind up coating everything, so
it doesn't taste anywhere near as cheesy as the cheese does.
It's cheese-ish sauce, not cheese sauce.
Turns out if you add a little bit of sodium citrate, which
is in every grocery store in New York, because it's also
called sour salt.
It's used in Passover.
It's also the solid form of citric acid.
Just a little bit of that keeps the emulsion, and so you
can make a cheese sauce that has no starch in it at all,
and it tastes amazingly cheesy.
And then if you cast it into sheets, you can use that to
make your own melty cheese to make melted cheese sandwiches.
And we find melted cheese sandwiches work so much better
when there's no gravity.

Recipes we developed for the International Space Station.
So anyway, that's some of the pictures.
And I thought we could--
FEMALE SPEAKER: Have a chat?
Talk about it.
That's extraordinary.
You know, you call this "Modernist Cuisine at Home."
But I feel like your home kitchen is very different from
my home kitchen.
I think we've gathered that.
I don't have things cut in half and the like.
So what do you think I could make in my New York kitchen
from your book without hypodermic
needles and a blow torch?
NATHAN MYHRVOLD: Well, you know, there's a lot of New
York kitchens that have hypodermic needles.
FEMALE SPEAKER: Not in this audience, I'm hoping.
NATHAN MYHRVOLD: And I love blow torches.
Blow torches are one of the coolest single tools.
They're $20 at Home Depot.
And when you need intense heat to touch up.
When you sear a steak, it's nice if you sear the
edges of the steak.
It just looks a whole lot nicer.
And you can do that by kind of holding it up with tongs and
trying to jam it into the bottom of the pan.
That works.
But it's even easier to put it on a pan.
And you just take the blow torch and you go around the
edge of the steak.
So don't dismiss blow torches.
But essentially all of the recipes in the book you can do
in your New York kitchen.
Some of them will be easier for you if you get some sous
vide equipment.
Some of them will turn out a little bit better if you get a
pressure cooker.
But sous vide is the most exotic we get.
But we thought it would be kind of a betrayal of our
roots if we didn't include sous vide in a home book,
especially now that every Williams Sonoma and Sur La
Table and comparable stores has them.
So it sort of qualifies.
But for people that don't have them yet, we say how you can
approximate it at home.
And what you said, running things under hot water.
So the thing about sous vide is that you want an accurate
In a lot of traditional cooking, you are the human
thermostat, either by using a thermometer, or just by using
your intuition, you're supposed to sit there and
modulate the heat.
Well, digital technology makes much better thermostats then
we will ever, ever be.
And there's some people that say, well, if I use that,
you're taking the soul out of cooking.
And I say, bullshit.
I do not feel soulful playing the human thermostat.
That's something that technology can just
do better than me.
So we describe in the book how you can do sous vide either by
keeping a pot of water hot on the stove and playing human
Or if you have a large volume of water, in the case of the
salmon recipe, you run the water in the sink up to about
120, 130 degrees, you check that.
The tap water will do in almost all cases.
Then you seal the salmon in plastic bags.
And you just put it in there.
And as long as you've got a reasonable size sink and not
too much in the way of salmon, there's enough heat capacity
in the water that you don't need to actually keep actively
heating it to keep it that temperature.
The temperature will drop a bit.
But that's OK.
FEMALE SPEAKER: Well, I mean, obviously technology is your
And that's sort of where you come from.
And technology clearly plays a huge role in all of your work
on the Modernist series.
So can you talk a little bit about that, and how your
background in technology has sort of influenced the
evolution of this series to the point it's at now?
NATHAN MYHRVOLD: Well, I just gave you one of the examples
of I don't think it's really bad to use digital technology
to control the thermostat accurately so I can have this
exactly at the temperature that I want, or to use scales
or other sorts of things.
In the case of the first book, "Modernist Cuisine," I
actually wrote a lot of code in the process of making the
book, because we did things to predict the heat distribution
in a piece of food, or heat distribution in a pan.
Does it matter that you have the fancy copper pan?
And the answer is, it really doesn't matter.
Copper is a much better heat conductor.
So the idea is, well, you're going to get all this lateral
heat movement.
The thing is, the pan's this big around.
The thickness is this much.
So yeah, it's a good conductor.
But laterally, it would have to go 100 times as
far as it goes up.
So it doesn't spread that much unless you have a copper pan
with like, an inch thick block.
Oh, that would work great.
But then it'd be too heavy to lift and too expensive to buy.
And in fact, the real issue we discovered in doing this
modeling is you want to make sure your pan and your burner
are well matched.
You put a big pan on a little burner, and no amount of
fanciness in the pan is going to help you.
If you size them appropriately, and your plan
is not tissue paper thick, you'll be fine.
FEMALE SPEAKER: I guess the answer is it
played a big role.
Technology, well, it's the way I see the world is through the
lens of technology and science.
I had a reporter in the UK sort of give me a hard time
for the first book.
And they said, well, what makes you think you should
bring science into the kitchen?
I said, I'm sorry, science was always in the kitchen.
I'm just trying to take ignorance out.
Because the laws of nature are how things work.
And you wouldn't say, oh gee, it's such a shame that the
architect who built this building understood how
buildings stand up.
Gosh, isn't that terrible?
No, it's a great thing.
That means we're not going to come plummeting down.
And for the same reason, giving people insights as to
how the science actually works is both cool, if you're
curious, and it's useful.
And so I would like to say our books are for people who are
both passionate and curious about cooking.
If you're not passionate about it, you're not going to buy a
big fancy book like this.
You don't necessarily have to be a cook.
If you're curious enough, that'll do.
If you're not curious, there's all kinds of cookbooks you can
buy that'll say here's 30 minute meals, or cooking for
dummies, or something else.
And you follow those recipes exactly, and you'll
get what you get.
It's if you have a curiosity to say, well why does
it work that way?
And how do chefs at top restaurants do it?
And why is this is done?
That's where we really have a proposition for you.
And so the whole thing was written from a technologist's
or a scientist's or an engineer's point of view,
rather than from a
traditionalist's point of view.
FEMALE SPEAKER: And so what was the initial inspiration
for writing the series?
As you mentioned, you obviously come from a
technology background.
So where did the interest in food come in?
NATHAN MYHRVOLD: So I've been interested in
food since I was little.
When I was nine years old, I decided to cook
Thanksgiving dinner.
I told my mom she couldn't come in the kitchen.
I cooked it all by myself.
I would do a lot better job today.
And then for many, many years, I was a self-taught chef.
When I was working at Microsoft, actually, I decided
I would stop being self-taught.
And I decided I wanted to go to chef school in France.
So I convinced Bill to give me a leave of absence.
And I went to work.
Well, to get into the chef school, I had to have
professional experience.
So one night a week for two years, I worked in a French
restaurant in Seattle.
And then after that, the chef school would take me.
So I went and I went to this intensive program there.
And so I've been into it for a long time.
But then after leaving Microsoft, I started
cooking a lot more.
That was kind of part of the reason I left.
And I realized that there wasn't a big book that
explained cooking from the point of view I had.
Now, there's two ways to make a product.
One is to say, I'm going to do market research and find out
what they want.
And they is some funny set of folks that we interview them
and run focus groups and surveys.
And it's a fine way of making a product for some things.
But that's not how we did the books.
We did the books the completely other way, which is
to say, we were going to make the book we wanted.
It's our damn thing.
And then we just pray that there's other people that
agree with us.
And the difference is that all of the best things in the
world, in my view, are made this second way-- by making
what you want.
Now, unfortunately, some of the worst things are made that
way, too, or some of the great disasters.
Because it turns out you make what you want, and nobody else
does want it.
But I decided we'd take the risk.
And so, it was through that.
And then the internet played a huge role in it.
There's a forum site called eGullet, and I started posting
on eGullet about sous vide and other
aspects of modern cuisine.
And it was people on eGullet that gave me the suggestion I
write the book.
But it was more than that.
It was the community of people on eGullet spanned home cooks
to some of the top professional
chefs in the world.
And everyone was eager to get this kind of information.
And so that convinced me that it wasn't only going to be me
that I was making this for.
FEMALE SPEAKER: So what was your favorite discovery in the
process of writing the book?
Because there's obviously some really cool things
that came out of it.
But what was the best that you found?
NATHAN MYHRVOLD: Well, my favorite single one is a
little hard to explain.
But in traditional barbecue cooking-- this is in the
southeastern US, when you make barbecue.
There's something called the stall--
S-T-A-L-L. And if you're cooking a brisket or a pork
shoulder or some other big honking piece of meat, then
people notice that the temperature would rise and
rise and rise and rise.
And then it would hit this point where it would stop
rising, and it would stall for hours.
And then it would eventually come up again.
Well, there are thousands and thousands--
do a Google search on barbecue stall, and
you will see thousands.
You could get a few things for somebody's barbecue stall like
in a farmer's market.
But you filter those out, and there's still thousands of
people saying, what the hell is the barbecue stall?
What causes this?
And they have lots of theories.
And we discovered they were all wrong.
And we found out what really causes the barbecue stall.
It works for the same reason we sweat.
People sweat because when water evaporates, it takes a
lot of heat with it.
And sweating is our body's way of using evaporative cooling.
We'll spend some water to get a lot of cooling.
Well, meat is about 75% water.
So you put it in a hot barbecue and hot air, it's
going to start evaporating.
And that cools things down.
And what happens is that stall period is the period when no
matter how much heat you put in, more heat is leaving
because of evaporation.
Now, the funny thing is, one of the traditional remedies
for this is to slather more sauce on it, which is exactly
like trying to heat the thing up by putting a hose on it.
You will never get it hot if you keep slathering it on.
But people do for a while.
And there's various things about it.
And so to test this, we took some briskets
and cut them in half.
And then we would either wrap one in foil or seal it in a
sous vide bag, all instrumented with lots of
temperature probes.
And right beside it, one that was open.
And the one that was sealed had no stall at all.
And the one that was open had exactly the stall that you
would predict.
FEMALE SPEAKER: That's so interesting.
So what is your favorite cookbook?
Apart from your own.
NATHAN MYHRVOLD: Yeah, it's a really good question.
Historically, the one that was hugely inspirational to me,
but also very difficult, because I first got it when I
was nine, was "Escoffier."
FEMALE SPEAKER: You were a very precocious
child, weren't you?
I was reading Ramona the Pest when I was nine.
NATHAN MYHRVOLD: Pain in the ass for Mom.
FEMALE SPEAKER: The difference between me and you, I think.
NATHAN MYHRVOLD: So "Escoffier" was an inspiration
to me, both positively and negatively.
The positive aspect is that Escoffier was incredibly
influential to basically chefs all over the world.
The book came out in 1903.
And it really sealed the deal for French food being
synonymous with high-end food for the next century or so.
It just was incredibly influential.
The negative inspiration is that it also had a variety of
things that I definitely didn't want to do.
So a typical Escoffier recipe will say, prepare this, put it
in a hot oven, and cook until done.
Now, in Escoffier's time, he was writing for people that
were apprentices.
They would've apprenticed to a master chef, and they didn't
have any technology.
Even though they had thermometers, it wasn't common
in a turn of the previous century kitchen.
So hot oven, what the hell was that?
Cook until done?
What the hell is that?
We wanted to make sure that we had stuff that had this more
technological perspective of saying, now, we're going to
tell you how to do it so you can get a good result, even if
you've never done it before.
And we're going to do that by telling you, cook it to this
Cook it in an oven of that temperature.
And here's how you tell if it's done.
And here's how you tell if it isn't done.
And try to make the things as objective as possible.
So it was sort of an inspiration for me in a couple
different ways, positively and negatively.
FEMALE SPEAKER: Interesting.
I'm going to do a couple of finish this
sentences with you.
FEMALE SPEAKER: Ask you to finish this sentence, and then
we're going to open up for questions.
So I'll ask whoever has a question.
There's two mics in the room.
And if you can use one of the mics, because we are recording
this for YouTube, that would be great.
So you can start lining up and we'll get going.
Modernist cooking is?

Modernist cooking is cooking to make stuff taste great
without regard to feeling you have to
slavishly follow tradition.
FEMALE SPEAKER: I am challenged by?
NATHAN MYHRVOLD: Keeping clean?
I make a hell of a mess when I cook.
FEMALE SPEAKER: Because you're cutting
everything in half, I think.
That might be part of the problem.
NATHAN MYHRVOLD: It turns out cooking well--
we found out why most people don't cook with
a wok cut in half.
FEMALE SPEAKER: I probably could've told you that.
A food trend I hate is?
NATHAN MYHRVOLD: So a food trend I hate, which has got
multiple different forms, is when a buzz word gets
perverted to a use it didn't originally have.
And so a good example of that, or bad example, depending on
your perspective, is organic.
Organic, once upon a time, meant it was this stuff grown
by this hippie couple sort of at the edge of town.
And it kind of was ugly.
But it tasted really good, because it was picked in all
these ways.
Today, because people will pay a premium for organic, organic
has been largely eviscerated by folks that have read all of
the rules, lobbied the government
to change the rules.
And the food they have is effectively the same.
Local is another one of these things.
It's nice that something's local.
But I promise you, as local starts getting a market edge,
people will find ways to cheat on it.
One of the examples we have in "Modernist Cuisine" is honey
is essentially fructose.
It's 90some percent fructose.
But high fructose corn syrup, a lot of folks
think that is bad.
And there's some reasons to believe that it is.
But the hypocrisy of the following thing
just drove us crazy.
We found there's a bunch of commercial honey places that
basically fed bees with artificial flowers with high
fructose corn syrup.
So it was fructose laundering.

You feed it to the bees, the bees loved it, because they
didn't have to do much work.
They suck up the fructose here, squirt it into the
honeycomb, and just hugely productive.
So they can sell people natural honey.
Here's another one.

The reason that you've got a red color and some of the
flavors in cured meat like bacon is because of nitrates.
And there is some legitimate concern about whether nitrates
are all that good for you, and so forth.
But if you go to Whole Foods, you'll find nice, rosy red
bacon that's nitrate free.
How did they do that?
They take concentrated celery juice, which has got the same
nitrate concentrate as the original brine.
But it happens but there's a lot of nitrates in celery.
Now is that nitrate free?
But in a ruling with the Federal Trade Commission, in
fact, because it started off as celery juice, the fact it
has the identical quantity--
and if it didn't have the same quantity, it would not turn
the meat red.
And that's why if you really cared about nitrate free
bacon, it better be gray.
Because otherwise it's nitrate by another name.
So anyway, I hate using hypocrisy to try to fool
people in some way.
FEMALE SPEAKER: OK, so that was a very
long finish the sentence.
FEMALE SPEAKER: So we're only going to do one more so that
we make sure.
I'm trying to think-- three things that are always in my
fridge are?

NATHAN MYHRVOLD: Fish sauce, sesame oil, and some
rendered duck fat.
FEMALE SPEAKER: I was expecting a much more bizarre
answer, so that's all right.
You surprised me.
OK, can we start over there?
AUDIENCE: First of all, thanks for coming.
The book is fantastic.
And I'm very much so looking forward to using it.
My question is actually in regard to something you made
reference to right when you first stepped up.
And that's in regard to baking.
So I don't know whether you've explored this as a
potential next step.
But I'm curious as to your thoughts around--
baking, to me, seems to be much more exact, much more
So I'm wondering what your thoughts are about how maybe
you see that as potentially an easier world to explore, as
opposed to traditional cooking?
NATHAN MYHRVOLD: So you're absolutely right that from a
cultural perspective, baking and pastry is more precise.
Nobody adds baking powder to taste.
First of all, it tastes terrible.
Second of all, you can't judge by taste what's the right
amount to make your muffins rise.
And you'd better measure it pretty precisely, otherwise
your muffins are going to over-rise, or they're going to
be like hockey pucks.
So pastry chefs bought off on a lot of these
things earlier on.
One funny example is in the book, we use percentages in
addition to grams.
Because if you want to scale it up, it's handy to do that.
And the system we use is called baker's percentages.
Because every baking book has it, but no
non-baking books have it.
And it was funny, the number of even professional chefs
who'd say what's their percentage crap?
And their pastry chef would say, uh, chef, I'll
explain it to you.
We've used it for 100 years in pastry.
So that's one thing that's different.
Another thing that's different is that there are pastry books
that take you much closer to the state of the art than
savory books did.
So if you read a pastry book by Pierre Herme, for example,
Paco Toro Blanco, and I could list all kinds of them, they
probably would have more recipes and more techniques
that were close to the state of the art than if you tried
to find the same kind of thing for cooking meat, for example,
where the state of the art was 50 years ago, in terms of what
you find in books.
That said, the world of baking and pastry chefs are very
receptive to all of these things.
Here's actually one other point.
At a lot of restaurants in New York, the modern techniques in
the kitchen, all pioneered by the pastry chefs.
So at Jean-Georges, Johnny Iuzzini, the first sous-vide
cooked in Jean-Georges was by Johnny for pastry.
At Le Bernardin, it was Michael Laiskonis.
And both of them, and lots of other pastry chefs like them,
drag the rest of their kitchen into the at least 20th
century, and maybe into the 21st.
But for the same reasons, they're also very
receptive to it.
And there's an awful lot of really
interesting creative things.
So watch this space.
AUDIENCE: So I enjoy smoking meats at home.
And I find one of the great things about it is if you're
patient, and you can control the temperature, then a
brisket or ribs or a pork shoulder will just tend to be
delicious no matter what you do.
So what do you recommend to sort of take it up a level?
So we're really big on barbecue.
And what I'm about to say tastes great.
But this is total anathema to traditional barbecue folks.
So you're totally right that low and slow is the way to go.
Only we like to go lower and slower.
So for pork ribs, I'd cook them at 140 degrees for 48
hours, sous vide.
So this is not like, hi, honey!
Let's have ribs tonight!

NATHAN MYHRVOLD: Then you smoke them
for a couple of hours.
Again, you don't want to exceed maybe 140 degree air
Turns out you can smoke them either before or after you
hook them sous vide.
And for a pork shoulder, I would do the same thing.
I might actually take the temperature up a little bit,
to, say, 145 degrees, but for 48 hours.
For short ribs, we typically do 145 degrees for 72 hours.
So this is truly patience oriented.
But oh my god, the results you get are just unbelievable.
Now, there's a guy named Steven Raichlen who's
considered one of the world's foremost
authorities on barbecue.
He's literally sold millions of his barbecue books.
He came to our lab.
And we made these short ribs for him.
And he wrote on his blog that they were the best ribs of any
kind he'd ever had in his life, which was more than we
could possibly hope for.
So try that.
Get sous vide.
But hey, if you already have a smoker, you're already at the
bleeding edge of craziness.
AUDIENCE: You can keep it outside, though.
But you can do your sous vide cooking inside.
You can do it ahead of time, right?
In fact, you can also freeze it or keep it in the fridge
after you've cooked it sous vide that way.
FEMALE SPEAKER: Take a couple days off work.

We find you only smoke it for an hour or two.
Depends on how heavy of a smoke flavor you want.
But smoking for a really long period of time doesn't do that
much good, because the penetration depth that you get
was smoking drops off exponentially.
And so smoking it for six hours isn't that useful.
AUDIENCE: So this idea that we can replace a lot of the sort
of technique and skill that used to be was required to
cook right with technology is really neat.
And I'm just wondering if I, as a home cook, go and do
that, if I buy your book and buy my digital thermometer and
so forth, and so I don't have to know when my food is done
by looking and smelling, I now have a lot of free time.
So what skills should I develop?
What's my highest marginal return to time I can develop
in the kitchen?
FEMALE SPEAKER: Come back to work?
NATHAN MYHRVOLD: I was gonna say, you work at Google!
You don't know what to do with free time?
What's free time?
But here's a different way.
Here's sort of an answer, which is, there's a tremendous
amount of cooking that is aesthetic at its essence.
And there isn't a technological
solution for that.
So what combinations of flavors do you put in?
What combination of textures do you do?
If the dinner party got so simple, well,
add a couple of courses.
There's always an axis that you can move in where there's
an unbounded amount of stuff, and where technology isn't
going to help you.
So while you've automated some things so that you'll never
overcook it, you'll never undercook it.
It's all perfect, it's done great.
Well, then, use that time to experiment.
Do some more cool stuff.
Add a couple dishes, add garnish.
FEMALE SPEAKER: OK, this is our last question.
AUDIENCE: Thanks again.
You mentioned that the thermometer would be the first
thing that you purchase, or you would
recommend as a purchase.
I remember the first Thanksgiving where I took over
the kitchen.
It wasn't at 9.
Probably 19.
But I put in the probe thermometer, and the
convection oven was going.
And a few hours later, it reached
temperature, started beeping.
And I'm like, all right!
It's done.
And mom's like, no way.
And we cut in, and sure enough, it was raw.
And so I wonder, like, do you cover basically the fact that
meat is not equal all throughout?
Like, the proper way of measuring temperature--
because that's really important.
Not just having the tool.
So we do discuss that.
The really cool thing I have in this ovens that I have at
home, which are sort of commercial grade ovens.
You probably have them somewhere in one of your
They have the coolest thing.
They have a temperature probe that's got five separate
probes in it.
And so not only does it pick the coldest one, but it also
looks at the gradient.
And so then you could tell how it's heating up or cooling
down, and by doing that, you can figure all the way.
But in general, what you want to do is you want to pick the
thickest part of something.
In the case of poultry, the traditional thing is to put it
down near the hip joint.
That's not really because that's the thickest part.
The thickest part is still going to be the
breast for a turkey.
But that's the part that probably you're most concerned
about undercooking.
So, yeah.
We definitely cover that in the book.
And it's true, you need to make sure your temperature is
representative, otherwise you're going to fool yourself.
That's all we have time for.
Thank you so much for being here.
NATHAN MYHRVOLD: Well, thank you.
FEMALE SPEAKER: It was really great.