Sunday, 27 March 2011

Microsoft: It's What's for Dinner

If you ever wanted a comprehensive cookbook, it might be difficult to beat Nathan Myhrvold's contribution to the field: his "Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking" is a six-volume, 2,438-page monster due April 14. It sells for $625 (although you can find it for $461.62 on Amazon) and apparently settles all those age-old questions related to food preparation, such as: How do I make the ultimate crispy French fry?

Myhrvold was Microsoft's first CTO. He was a postdoctoral fellow at Cambridge, where he worked with Stephen Hawking on "research in cosmology, quantum field theory in curved space time and quantum theories of gravitation," according to the biography posted on Intellectual Ventures, a firm he later founded after retiring from Microsoft. So, in other words, a total underachiever. In addition to probing the secrets of the universe and applying for roughly a gazillion patents, he has also evidently devoted a not-inconsiderable amount of time to delving into the art and science behind stir-frying.

It's more than that, though: these six volumes seek to cover seemingly every aspect of modern cooking from ingredients through technique. It reads like those Cook's Illustrated compendiums on a hefty dose of steroids.

Myhrvold, along with coauthors Chris Young and Maxime Bilet, forms a collective that is evidently not the type to do anything small. Their laboratory kitchen featured machinery capable of shooting cutaway views of the food as it cooks. They even resorted to using a centrifuge to spin out some new textures and flavors. The book itself weighs 50 pounds.

For anyone unaware of the inherent complexities involved in the preparation of modernist cuisine, the book could be seen an egregious example of overkill--the culinary equivalent of using a nuclear missile to kill a cockroach. For hardcore foodies, though, this book could fritz out their brains' pleasure centers to the point where smoke pours from their ears.

I do enjoy the cookbook's recipe for the ultimate cheeseburger, which involves maitake mushrooms saut�ed in beef suet, a short-rib patty, and a bun baked from scratch and toasted in still more beef suet. Microsoft alums produce a lot of things for the world, but this is the first one that's ever made me hungry.



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