Nathan Myhrvold: 'I'd rather have a hot dog done well than something pretentious'
Sunday 20 November 2011
My earliest food memory... Cooking Thanksgiving dinner in Seattle when I was nine years old. I might have helped my mother make cookies before, but that was the first time I discovered you could actually cook whole [meals] and there were books that would tell you how to do it. I did the whole thing myself – the turkey, the stuffing, the potatoes, the cranberry sauce... The reaction to it was reasonably positive, though by my standards now, it wasn't very good.
My store-cupboard essentials... Liquid nitrogen – I can cook without it but it's wonderful in so many ways. I use it often for hamburgers or ribs, to make sure they're crispy on the outside but not overcooked in the middle.
My favourite cookbook... Le Guide Culinaire by Auguste Escoffier. I first picked it up when I was nine, and then I worked my way through it very deliberately, page by page, when I was a little older. When I talked to Heston [Blumenthal] and Ferran [Adria], they had done the same. Until recently, that was the bible and everything else was a reflection or enhancement of it.
The kitchen gadget I couldn't live without... A sous-vide water bath. I bought my first one for $100 on eBay from a laboratory. That was 10 years ago, when they were still quite exotic and experimental. I have much newer ones now, but that one has sentimental value.
My culinary tip... Know your temperatures. A pianist wouldn't sit down to an untuned piano, so why would you cook without a thermometer? So many chefs (including me, once upon a time) worry about when a thing is ready and cut into it and it's raw or overcooked. A thermometer helps all of that.
My favourite food shop... The internet, because the ability to order all sorts of varieties of ingredients and get them almost instantly is fantastic. My favourite [US suppliers] include Mikuni Wild Harvest which does lots of great foraged [ingredients] and Taylor Shellfish Farms, which does a fantastic job of growing sustainable shellfish.
My top table... For many years I made an annual pilgrimage to El Bulli. That was one of the most interesting dining experiences on the planet, and completely different every time. Also Hot Doug's in Chicago: Chicago has a culture of loving hot dogs – people really care about them and invest lots of energy in them – so there are a few good places, but that one is just fantastic.
The strangest thing I've eaten... Icelandic rotten shark. There's a great YouTube video of Gordon Ramsay trying it and immediately vomiting. The thing is that sharks don't have kidneys so instead of peeing urea, they sweat it out. So this stuff reeks anyway, then they bury it in the sand for sixth months and hang it in a shed for another few months. It's like the worst rotten fish you've ever smelt combined with the worst urinal. But it's got this very interesting taste: very cheesy and quite complex.
My pet hates... When people tart food up in a way that is very fake. I find lots of [chefs] aspirationally try to execute stuff that they're never going to do well but they feel the have to because they think "This kind of restaurant should be offering this kind of food." I'd rather have a hot dog done well than something pretentious and badly executed.
My tipple of choice... It has to be wine. I love discovering all the rare, strange wines out there. For example, Randall Grahm, the winemaker at the Bonny Doon Vineyard in California makes this ice wine with grapes [left on the vine in winter] which are partially frozen: all the water [from the grapes] goes into the ice and so their flavour is extra concentrated. It flies in the face of all convention and it's very good.
Nathan Myhrvold is an author and inventor. 'Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking' (£395, taschen.com)
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