A Cheeseburger Made with Liquid Nitrogen? New Book Hailed as the Bible of Futuristic Culinary Art
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MUMBAI - The gastronomic world is readying for a futurist revolution with the hotly anticipated release of Nathan Myhrvold's . An innovative exploration of how science and food interact, the 2,438-page, six-volume tome is causing a major stir.
Top Asian cuisine chef and restaurateur David Chang has called the bible of futuristic culinary art, which has recipes for cheeseburgers made with liquid nitrogen, french fries fried in ultrasound and pea soup prepared in a centrifuge, "the cookbook to end all cookbooks".
Along with the headline-grabbing recipes, Myhrvold, a 51-year-old scientist and millionaire inventor also seems to have created - along with his Seattle-based Cooking Lab - what could be the definitive practical study of what humans eat.
Formerly a chief technology officer of Microsoft, Myhrvold studied quantum field theory in curved space time with Stephen Hawking at Cambridge University. As well as holding over 200 patents, he has a doctorate in theoretical and mathematical physics, a master's degree in mathematical economics from Princeton University, and funds research into extra-terrestrial civilizations.
His latest mission, to revolutionize cooking with science, takes the food experience galaxies forward from what our Paleolithic ancestors chomped on in Cafe Stone Age. It suggests that descendants in year 26,035 AD may view the pizzas and pastas of 2011 with bemusement.
Chang's restaurant, Momofuku in New York's East Village, might soon be dishing out such modernistic fare from the pages of Myhrvold's book. Dishes like gleaming green pea butter, bagel broth and gel noodles, made from ingredients like liquid nitrogen and hydrocolloids - substances forming gel with water.
Asian-origin chefs like the South India-born Anjana Shanker and Johnny Zhu from Shanghai are part of the 20-person Cooking Lab team, and they likely had a hand in makeovers to the traditional Indian curries and East Asian cuisine featured in the 1,600 recipes and techniques mentioned in Modernist Cuisine.
"Modernist Cuisine includes a 150-page chapter that explains the often-surprising science underlying culinary techniques long used in both Western and Eastern cuisines," says Wayt Gibbs, editor-in-chief of the Modernist Cuisine project.
For instance, wok hei, the characteristic flavor of Asian cooking in a wok or tava - a shallow metallic, round-bottomed vessel - is easier to understand knowing the chemistry involved. "The book explains why burner power is so crucial to wok cooking," Gibbs told Asia Times Online, "why the kind of metal in the pan matters, and step-by-step photos show how to season a wok to achieve a non-stick, rust-proof patina."
Dr Myhrvold calls the 20,000 square-feet Cooking Lab, formerly a warehouse, the world's first and only space that combines cookbook studio, research kitchen and general laboratory.
Paul Adams of Popular Science journal described his recent adventures at the lab, biting into a buttered toast he said he will never forget in his life: "The bread was spread thickly with the brightest-green butter I've ever seen ... an extract of pure green peas, blended to a puree, spun in a centrifuge at 13 times the force of gravity, and separating the puree into three layers: a bland puck of starch; a vibrant-colored, seductively sweet pea juice; and a thin layer of the pea's natural fat, pea-green and unctuous. A standard pea yields about 3% fat, so the half-ounce [14.1 grams] of glistening viridian on my toast was the equivalent of perhaps a pound and a half of peas condensed into a single bite."
Dishes like the fluorescent green pea butter come out of Cooking Lab gizmos such as ultrasonic water baths, homogenizers, vacuum filters, centrifuges, freeze dryers and rotary evaporators. Much of the equipment was bought from online auctioneers eBay and GoIndustry DoveBid.