Weird Food News

Would you pay $625 for a cookbook?

A quick perusal of Amazon shows that Thomas Keller's French Laundry cookbook regularly costs $50, the same price Grant Achatz charges for Alinea at Home. Heston Blumenthal's larger volume of recipes, the Big Fat Duck, weighs in at a hefty $250. And Ferran Adria, of the soon-to-close molecular gastronomy mecca, El Bulli, asked a whopping $350 for El Bulli 2003-2004.

But how about $625? For a cookbook written by a bunch of people you've likely never heard of?

Because that's what Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking costs, and it was put out not by a famous food scientist or kitchen guard, but by a former Microsoft executive, Nathan Myhrvold, and cohorts, Maxime Bilet and Chris Young. Those cohorts have cooking chops--Bilet learned molecular gastronomy at the Fat Duck and Young ran a lab test kitchen--but neither exactly has star power. Apparently, though, the trio likes to play with food and science and write a 2,000 page volume on their findings.

Early descriptions of the not-yet-released title make the book sound more like a textbook than a cookbook, promising diagrams and charts to explain why techniques do what they do. Why boiling cooks faster than steaming, for instance. Or why old fryer oil is better when it comes to taste. So it seems plausible that professionals, in particular, will draw much from the amassed anthology on the chemical processes of food. And because of the insight the volume promises to give, it's got plenty of defenders.

Hey, supply and demand, we suppose, and we're in uncharted territory when it comes to testing the limits of the home kitchen. So if you've ever had a desire to make spheres, sous vide or dehydrated powder, and you want to know every scientific step behind it, this may be your best chance to learn. And right now, the book is just $471.34 if you pre-order online. What a deal.

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Laura Shunk was Westword's restaurant critic from 2010 to 2012; she's also been food editor at the Village Voice and a dining columnist in Beijing. Her toughest assignment had her drinking ten martinis and eating ten Caesar salads over the course of 48 hours. She still drinks martinis, but remains lukewarm on Caesar salads.
Contact: Laura Shunk