Nathan Myhrvold earned two master's degrees and a doctorate in mathematical physics by age 23, studied with renowned physicist Stephen Hawking, earned a fortune as Microsoft's chief technology officer, dug up a handful of T. Rex skeletons, and established a scientific think tank to study, among other things, how geoengineering can combat global warming. But Myhrvold's greatest accomplishment yet may be creating a cookbook that has food critics--a hard-to-please bunch--tripping over themselves to issue the most superlative of superlatives.
After conducting four years of research into the science behind cooking, Myhrvold and a team of 36 researchers, chefs, and editors have tidily wrapped their findings into a $625, six-volume, 2,400-page cookbook. And, if you believe the critics, this mother of all cookbooks might very well change your life.
The Wall Street Journal's Katy McLaughlin calls Myhrvold's Modernist Cuisine: The Art & Science of Cooking "the most astonishing cookbook of our time." Not long after enjoying "the most exciting meal of a food writer's life" (a 30-course meal that included "Apres Ski Foie Gras Egg Nog" and "Goat Milk Ricotta, Pea Juice, Pea Butter Toast, Cinnamon Oil") in Myhrvold's kitchen laboratory (perhaps the only kitchen equipped with a centrifuge and roto-evaporator), McLaughlin reflects on the magnitude of Myhrvold's contribution to the culinary world:
To call [Myhrvold's cookbook] a "cookbook" is akin to calling James Joyce's "Ulysses" "a story." The book is a large-scale investigation into the math, science and physics behind cooking tasks from making juicy and crisp beer-can chicken to coating a foie-gras bonbon in sour cherry gel ... Among the book's revelations: Expensive pots and pans are a waste of money. Organic food is no healthier than non-organic. Black coffee cools off faster than coffee with cream.
McLaughlin isn't alone in her amazement. As pastry chef Michael Laiskonis relates at The Atlantic after dining in Myhrvold's kitchen,
If a cookbook can come anywhere near the goal of having something for everyone, Modernist Cuisine definitely comes close. In his early review blurb, Tim Zagat proclaimed it "the most important book ... since [French culinary legend Georges Auguste] Escoffier." As we pile into our cabs at the end of the evening, he ponders revising that statement, acknowledging it may live on as the most important cookbook--ever.
Then, of course, there's chef David Chang, who called Modernist Cuisine "the cookbook to end all cookbooks." Well, really, we could go on and on. Is there anyone who doesn't think Modernist Cuisine is the greatest thing since sliced bread, or perhaps greater?
Enter "slow food" movement founder Alice Waters. According to the Village Voice, Waters isn't as smitten with Myhrvold's experiments as everyone else is:
I am so hungry for the taste of the real that I'm just not able to get into that which doesn't feel real to me. It's a kind of scientific experiment, and I think that there are good scientists and crazy old scientists that can be very amazing. But it's more like a museum to me. It's not a kind of way of eating that we need to really live on this planet together.