The £400 cookbook that blends technology with food
Billionaire former Microsoft engineer turns his mind to culinary science
Sunday 27 February 2011
Forget Masterchef: there is a new contender for the title of culinary heavyweight, one that proves cooking doesn't get any more expansive than this. Weighing in at a colossal 48lb (22kg), it is the world's ultimate cookbook, spanning six volumes and covering 1,500 different recipes.
Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking is the creation of übergeek-turned-foodie Nathan Myhrvold, best known as Microsoft's former chief technology officer.
The billionaire scientist, who quit the software giant in 1999 because he felt working there impinged on his cooking time, will publish the book in the US next week through his publishing company, the Cooking Lab. British cooks will have to wait until April to get their hands on a copy – provided they're feeling flush: even at Amazon's discounted rate, the 2,438-page tome still costs £296.25 (down from £395).
If you think that makes it the bible of the kitchen, well, it is actually longer than the Bible, even though Mr Myhrvold, 51, claims it could have been longer. Not that writing it has been a one-man job: he had 72 of the world's best chefs advising him, and the 1,500 recipes include contributions from them, plus others developed in his multimillion-dollar Seattle food lab.
His aim was to combine his two great passions, science and food; something that began to fascinate him back in 2004 when he set out to crack the secrets of sous-vide, a method of slow-cooking food inside vacuum bags in a water bag. The book investigates the physics – and maths – behind a plethora of cooking techniques from making the ultimate cheeseburger to how to make Neapolitan-style pizza without investing in a brick oven, offering cooks inventive new ways of cooking old favourites.
Mr Myhrvold's opus comes stamped with the ultimate in molecular gastronomic seals of approval: Heston Blumenthal, of Fat Duck fame, and El Bulli's Ferran Adria have written forewords.
The work contains a number of revelations, including advising cooks to use more oil if fried food comes out soggy, and that expensive pans are a waste of money. Indeed, investing in the cookbook could ultimately save some cash: it claims that organic food is no healthier than non-organic.
Mr Myhrvold, who owns the patent incubator Intellectual Ventures, admits spending "millions of dollars" on the book, though this would hardly have dented his fortune, which is reportedly more than a billion dollars. He owes his wealth to Microsoft, where he led the development of Windows software. His other interests span dinosaur fossils and global warming, and he has attracted investment of more than $5bn from Apple, Intel, Microsoft, Nokia and Sony to foster green technologies in developing countries.
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