Do you remember the scene in “Back to the Future 2” where a pizza goes from mini to massive and cooked in seconds? The film takes you out of the laboratory and into the kitchen to meet Canadian culinary champ Marc Lepine and Microsoft’s former Chief Technology Officer – Nathan Myhrvold – who left the tech giant to help discover a new approach to cooking. It’s called modernist cuisine, and it could change how you make dinner.
Former Microsoft Chief Technology Officer, Nathan Myhrvold, may have a PhD in physics – but it’s his love of cooking that has captured his imagination.
“After being at Microsoft for a number of years, I said…I’ve got all of these degrees in things I don’t do – but I cook a lot, why don’t I actually try to go to cooking school?”
Nathan not only attended cooking school, he authored what is arguably one of the most influential cookbooks in recent memory. “Modernist Cuisine” is a 2438-page tome detailing a new approach to cooking. Its premise? That an understanding of science and how it applies in the kitchen will change how we prepare common foods.
The modernist cooking movement involves tools like combi-ovens, versa-whips, sous-vide cookers, and pacojets. With them solids can be turned into liquids – liquids into foams – and foams into airs. Take peanut butter and jelly. Why have sandwich when you can make peanut butter powder and jelly noodles?
The modernist kitchen also features new ingredients. Marc Lepine is one of only a handful of Canadian chefs who practices modernist cooking. His kitchen contains an assortment of atypical ingredients.
“We’ve got ascorbic acid, versawhip, agar agar, there’s our xanthan gum, Ultra-Tex 8, locust bean gum, iota carrageenan, Methocel K100,” he lists.
In Marc’s Ottawa restaurant, two such ingredients are combined for a technique called spherification. That’s when you turn a liquid, in this case a gispatcho soup, into balls that burst when you eat them.
“The calcium that I’ve added to the gispatcho reacts with the sodium in the water, and form a gel all along the outside. It’s gispatcho soup on the inside (and) it’s encapsulated in a gispatcho jelly on the outside.”
Still, Nathan Myhrvold admits modernist cuisine is not without its detractors.
“Some of those people say isn’t this all artificial and weird, and we say no. We are celebrating these ingredients in a way that you just can’t without all the rest of this equipment.”