Modernist Cuisine

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Maxime Bilet

I had dinner at Atera in New York City with Chef Maxime Bilet, co-author of Modernest Cuisine. There aren’t any words to describe Chef Matthew Lightner’s magical creations so I will let the photos do the talking.

What an evening!

Maxime's favorite- Sepia in Chicken Bouillon

Peekytoe Crab Ravioli

Cured Wild Salmon

Kyoto Carrot, Cayenne

L: Razor Clam w/Garlic and Almond, R: Diver Scallop w/Fermented Cabbage

L: Razor Clam w/Garlic and Almond, R: Diver Scallop w/Fermented Cabbage

Kitchen action

Pig Fat

Bone Marrow in Hearts of Palm

Puffed Beef Tendon

Faux Egg made of egg!

Savory Cannoli

Beeswax Covered Turnip

L: Caviar Sandwiches, R: The scene at Atera

L: Chicken Liver Cookies, R: Flaxseed Cookies

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And lived to type about it! Nathan Myhrvold was visiting The International Culinary Center and celebrating his masterpiece, Modernist Cuisine. He was playing around with a Vitamix, aerating wine (it works). He also gave real insights on common household products like Saran Wrap, which does no harm even when microwaved, however cheap PVC wraps do.

Of course the playdough of culinary technologists is liquid nitrogen. There was plenty of the stuff on the stage, set to freeze all manner of things. I made a comment that I was very wary about possible harmful effects if the liquid nitrogen fell on anyone. Nathan assured me that hot cooking oil was worse. Well, I wouldn’t want to experience that either! He then challenged me to put my hand in a tub of liquid nitrogen.

He and Dave Arnold were dipping their hands in and laughing. They finally coaxed me up there, Nathan took my hand, plunged it in and out faster than I could think…and I lived! My hand didn’t even feel cold. It did feel smoother. All in all though, I wouldn’t suggest you try it at home.

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Wunderkind. Wiz kid. Mastermind. Outside of the cartoons, I never thought I would come across anyone whom I thought these adjectives would apply. I’ve met Harvard professors and Wall Street Masters of the Universe but never anyone quite like Nathan Myhrvold. He defines the words. The former Chief Technology Officer for Microsoft and now the CEO of Intellectual Ventures, Inc., Nathan, along with Chris Young and Maxime Bilet, is also the author of the most important book on cooking since Escoffier.

Modernist Cuisine (MC) is a five volume exploration into cooking. A four and a half year (only three of really hard work per Nathan) study produced a 2,438 page multi-book work encompassing 7.5 miles of text. That includes 3,216 photos culled from 147,000 images, weighing in at 40 pounds which includes a whopping 4 pounds of ink!

Nathan invited a dozen of us to dinner at his lab in Bellevue, Washington, spitting distance from Microsoft. Maxime Bilet was the chef de cuisine (and Nathan was also cooking).  I expected to arrive at a space age building but funnily enough the lab was in an office park sharing space with an upholstery cleaning company. Don’t get underwhelmed. As you walked through the unassuming doors in the back of the building a wide expanse of lab smacked you in the face. That was only one of his labs. As I walked through the roughly twenty thousand square feet I saw heavier and intriguing equipment.  I was told there were other labs  dotted around the office park. What I saw was enough, it frapped my brain.

We first sat in a conference room with a large TV screen to get an overview of the book. Nathan started the show and tell. He first explained that they decided not to put the book online or make it fit on an iPad. There was a simple rationale. The visuals were very important. Charts and text are quite off-putting and a picture’s worth a thousand words. Mr. ex-Microsoft CTO didn’t think online pics would do it justice.

The photography was more than outstanding. The reproductions in the book are better produced than art in the fanciest coffee table tomes. The process Myhrvold invested in was stochastic screening printing in chromocentric inks. Many of the photographs were molecular in content or captured at high speed. The photos mesmerize you. Nathan is a natural born teacher and his instinct was to capture the drama of his subject through thrilling visuals and electric colors.

His presentations are relevatory. He cut cooking equipment in half, to expose the cooking process. He then glued heavy plexiglass as the window to observe the science of heat on cooking. Everything from a simple pot, a wok, a microwave to a $5,000 combi-oven got the Myhrvold chain saw treatment. He also shot eggs through with high speed rifles and caught those images with high speed video. A splendid example was a water balloon being pricked and the water sitting suspended in midair for a nano second before succumbing to gravity. A kernel of popcorn billowing and sweating fighting the final explosion morphed from a caramel orb to a fluffy crenelated white cloud.

Nathan Myhrvold

Nathan’s presentation was so clear and easy to understand one started to wonder what all the hubbub was about this scientific cuisine. He first stated how he defines Modernism, 1) a style of cooking where the participant is an enthusiast who enjoys breaking with the past and 2) a revolution in technique that can lead to the avant garde (the next step in evolution). No one can doubt that Mr. Myrhvold is the archetype of a modernist.

Surprisingly, there is much in the book that Escoffier himself could have written if he had thought about it. The first volume of Modernist Cuisine is devoted to the history of cooking, the second on technique and equipment, the third an in depth look at animals and plants, the fourth ingredients and preparations, and the fifth and final volume is your standard recipe cookbook but with the not so run of the mill methodology. Oh, they did not have room to cover pastry and bread…yet.

Contents? Two pages devoted to washing your hands. Most of the discussion on microbiology was for safety, but applications to understanding cooking were critical too, just think of understanding the fermentation of bread. As a true scientist nothing was taken for granted. They found some FDA rules too strict (chicken temps) and others not enough. Weird stuff like Agar? Well, history plays a role. It’s been used in Chinese cooking for over a thousand years. MC findings agree that trans fats are terrible for you, with saturated fats they weren’t convinced. Grandfathered ingredients like sucrose get away with murder…it rots your teeth and leads to morbid obesity.

One mantra in Myhrvold world is “Any dish is worthy of great effort and refinement.” Behold the roast chicken: you may have your favorite method for perfection but he challenges you to beat this. Raw chicken meat should be brined first. Sticking the chicken in a pot of salt water brines not only the meat but the skin as well. Brining the skin rubberizes it. Soaking the chicken is a no go for the Modernist Cuisiniere.  Nathan and crew take the whole chicken, separate the skin from the meat and inject only the breasts with brine. Legs don’t need it and shouldn’t be brined. They then hang the injected bird upside down by its feet letting the salted water permeate the breast. They don’t believe in trussing the legs as they take longer to cook.  After hanging for a period a time, high convection heat flash cooks the chicken and a perfectly textured bird with crisp yummy skin becomes an exquisite dish.

I can go on and on with what I learned. I can’t write forever! So, I will list the dishes we ate. Go buy the book or visit The ICC library and page through it. It is now a must do in the world of professional cuisine.

Modernist Cuisine Menu

Asian Pear, Watermelon and Spicy Pickle Chips

starch compression

Description: Deep Fried Asian Pear, Watermelon and Spicy Pickle,

Ingredients: Crisp Coat Starch, Equipment: Vacuum machine

Roasted Corn Elote

freeze drier, N-Zorbit powder

Description: Based on a Mexican street food, Freeze Dried Yellow Corn Kernels with Brown Butter Powder, Spicy Mayonnaises, Cilantro Blossoms, Lime and Ash Powder,

Ingredients: Freeze dried corn, N-Zorbit, Equipment: Freeze drier

Taco de Asador

Fluid gel, microwave jerky

Description: Dehydrated corn juice tortilla with achote flavored crispy beef jerky pico de gallo juice fluid gel, smoked queso fresco, flask pickled onions and avocado puree,

Ingredients: corn juice, agar, Equipment: dehydrator, microwave

Chicken Skin Thali

Sous vide skin gelatinizing, fluid gel foam

Description: Sous vide cooked and puffed chicken skin, served with chaat masala, tikka yoghurt, coconut chutney mousse, star fruit chutney and watercress, black mustard seed salad

Equipment: sous vide

Process: We cook the chicken sous vide at 85C/ 185F for 12 hours to make the skin very tender and prevent it from recoiling when it is fried.

Veal Nog

Warm constructed cream

Description: Warm emulsified soup of veal fat and veal juice garnished with an infused aromatic milk foam and an intense demi-glace spiked with sherry. It is the essence of Blanquette de Veau.

Ingredients: veal fat, xanthan gum, PGA emulsifier,

Equipment: Rotor stator homogenizer, pressure cooker, centrifuge

Process: The veal fat is rendered by being pressure cooked with baking soda. The final cream is a combination of equal parts veal fat and veal cooking juices and centrifuged vegetable juices emulsified with the rotor stator homogenizer.

Raspberry and Horseradish Snow Ball

Vacuum aerated sorbet, frozen fluid gel powder

Description: Aerated raspberry juice sorbet, Frozen Fresh horseradish powder

Ingredients: glucose, gelatin, agar, Equipment: vacuum chamber, mason jars, deep freeze, Pacojet

Process: The juice is slightly thickened with glucose, albumin and gelatin and transferred to a whipping siphon. It is foamed into a mason jar inside a vacuum chamber to hold the vacuum. The jars are deep frozen. The sorbet is then removed cutand dusted with bright frozen horseradish powder. We make an agar fluid gel with horseradish and deep freeze it in Pacojet beakers. It is ground to a fine frozen powder for service.

Chickpea Tajine

Sous vide green chickpeas, pressure cooked pine nuts

Description: Sous vide green chickpeas, pressure cooked pinenuts braised and sesame seeds in a tajine spice infused oil. The chickpea mixture sits on top of a green chickpea and sesame puree. It is garnished with a salad of pickled dry apricots, green olives, celery root, argan oil, orange blossom gelee and mint and finished with a yoghurt granita.

Equipment: sous vide, pressure cooker

Process: the pinenuts and sesame seeds are pressure cooked to give them a roe like texture.

Ankimo, Citrus, Chamomile

Sous vide torchon, centrifuged juice

Description: Ankimo torchon, centrifuged honey tangerine and oro blanco grapefruit juice seasoned with honey vinegar, pomelo and finger lime juice droplets, chamomile and flash candied young ginger.

Ingredients: monkfish liver, Equipment: Sous vide

Process: This recipe is a great example of the benefits of sous vide cooking. The ankimo is so delicate it is almost like custard. We brine it in sake and then cook it at 63C/145F for 35 minutes. The centrifuge helps us get a beautifully clear and pure citrus juice.

Spaghetti Vongole

Centrifuged broth

Description: Geduck noodles dressed with garlic confit oil, bagna cauda broth, sea beans, geoduck belly, maitake and walnut marmalade, dried miso powder

Ingredients: Taylor Shellfish Farmed Geoduck, Equipment: centrifuge, sous vide

Process: The geoduck siphons are split, sliced into sheets and pounded in sous vide bags to allow us to cut them into noodles. The broth is a combination of the geoduck juice, caramelized garlic and anchovy.

Squid in Ink

Sous vide cure, vacuum reduced broth

Description: Squid cured in lemon, squid ink, caramelized squid broth and pistachio butter veloute, braised leeks, tomato spice

Ingredients: sous vide, Equipment: sous vide, freeze drier

Process: The squid is cured to firm the meat while seasoning it. It is cooked at 65C/149F for 4 min until just cooked through and still very tender.

Beef Stew

Low temperature extraction, cured/sous vide marrow

Description: Rare beef broth, sosu vide cooked small root vegetables, cured marrow, pressure cooked barley, chard leaves

Ingredients: aged prime beef, Paint Hills, Equipment: sous vide, centrifuge

Process: Beef cubes are cooked sous vide at 53C/ 127F for 4 hours. They are pressed with a wine press and the resulting juice is then centrifuged.

Snail Custard

Sous vide snails, low temperature foie gras custard

Description: Foie gras custard garnished with ramp leaf jus, glazed ramps, sous vide snails, green almonds and lime.

Ingredients: basil fed helix snails, first of the season green almonds and wild ramps.

Equipment: combi oven, Process: The custard is delicately set at 77C/ 170F.

Cream of Mushroom

Sous vide infusion, siphon foam

Description: Intense mushroom broth with Warm Bacon Chantilly

Ingredients: dark miso, gellan, Equipment: whipping siphon

Raw Quail Egg

A touch of protein to invigorate the appetite

Description: Raw quail egg of passion fruit yolk, lemongrass white and a few drops of chili oil

Ingredients: calcium lactate, xanthan gum, sodium alginate, locust bean gum

Process: reverse spherification,setting bath has alginate and the set liquid has calcium to provide a finer membrane. The white is given it’s typical texture with a combination of xanthan gum and locust bean gum.

Polenta with Marinara

Pressure cooker and mason jars

Description: Grits cooked in corn juice with a quince/ Bartlett pear marinara, toasted corn husk consomme, ricotta salata and basil

Ingredients: corn juice, quince from Mair Taki Farm, Equipment: pressure cooker, centrifuge

Process: The grits are combined with water and corn juice and vacuum sealed. They are pressure cooked for 9 minutes. The consomme is made by infusing deeply toasted corn husks sous vide.

Cocoa with Sea Urchin

Gluten enforced fresh pasta, constructed bottarga

Description: Cocoa pasta dressed in cocoa butter, sea urchin tongues, sea urchin butter, salted candied grapefruit, tarragon and a shaving of sea urchin bottarga.

Ingredients: vital gluten, local sea urchin (San Juan Island), Equipment: hi-tech pasta machine

Process: The bottarga is made by cooking pureed sea urchin gonads sous vide in the shape of roe sacs and then curing them in salt for 12 hours. They are hung to dry and mature for 2-3 months.

Fried Egg

Constructed egg stripes, combi oven steam

Description: Striped morel and black trumpet mushroom egg white with 64C/147 egg yolk morel mushroom marmalade lightened with sous vide hollandaise.

Ingredients: albumin and egg yolk powder, Equipment: combi oven, pastry comb

Process: The egg white base is composed of egg whites and cream. The stripes are made by reconstituting egg yolk and egg white powder into our mushroom puree to have the same texture as whole egg. We use a pastry comb to make stripes on a silicone baking sheet, pour the egg white base over and steam it at 80C/176F for about 7 min. The hollandaise is cooked sous vide and then transferred to a whipping siphon for service. It is folded into the glazed morels that have been seasoned with an intense chicken jus.

Black Mouth Chinook Salmon, Lemon, Wild Onions

Low salt brine, pressure cooked stock, cold smoked butter

Description: Sous Vide Salmon with a Spiced Butter composed of coriander seed, sesame seed, roasted hazelnut, white poppy, ginger and chamomile. It is served with wild onions dressed in smoked butter, roasted lemon jus and a condiment of roasted lemons and fermented garlic.

Ingredients: Black Mouth Chinook Salmon. This is a type of king salmon that never leaves Puget sound. It can only be commercially fished by the native tribes of the Olympic Peninsula. It is very tender and the flavor is very delicate.

Equipment: sous vide, rotor stator homogenizer

Process: We brine the salmon in a 3.5% salt! 3% sugar solution for 7 hours. The fish is cooked at 45C/113F. The beurre blanc is made ultra stable with our rotor stator homogenizer and an emulsifier.

Roast Chicken, Jus Gras

Combi oven roast program, heat stable jus gras, pressure cooker garlic confit

Description: Roasted Chicken with a rich emulsified gravy of dark chicken jus and pressure rendered chicken fat. It is accompanied by vegetables that are pressure cooked in mason jars with the same chicken fat. These are garnished with an herb salad dressed with quince vinegar vinaigrette.

Ingredients: Mad Hatcher Farms chickens, Oxbow Farm pink garlic, PGA emulsifier

Equipment: combi oven, rotor stator homogenizer, pressure cooker

Process: the chicken is injected with brine and hung for three days refrigerated to desiccate the skin. We cook it at 60C/140F dry heat until it reaches temperature, about 4 hours. The chicken is removed and rested for at least 30 min to cool. We then brush it with oil and roast it at 300C/575F for 6-7 min until it is deeply roasted and very crisp, almost glassy.

Pastrami and Sauerkraut

72h sous vide, precise curing and brining, fermentation, dehydrated bread

Description: Short Rib Pastrami, Housemade sauerkraut with sweet onions, Brussels sprout leaves with fish sauce butter, cognac mustard with pickled mustard seeds, black bread crisps

Ingredients: Painted Hills Farm Short Rib

Equipment: sous vide, high tech hot smoker

Process: Bone in short ribs are brined, smoked, dry rubbed and cooked sous vide at 60C/140F for 72 hours.


High-tech smoking, sous vide, centrifuged sauce

Description: Hot Smoked Spareribs, Cold Smoked Flat Iron,Kansas City, South Carolina and MC Barbecue Sauces served with Ultrasonic Fries

Ingredients: Painted Hills Farm Flat Iron, Carlton Farms Spareribs

Equipment: high tech hot smoker, Enviropak cold smoker, sous vide, ultrasonic bath, centrifuge, liquid nitrogen

Process: The ribs are cooked at 60C/140F for 48 hours and the flat iron at 55CI 131F for 36 hours. The ribs are smoked after cooking while the flat iron is smoked before. The ribs are dry rubbed, smoked and vacuum sealed. For service we warm them in a bath and then cryo fry them. They are dipped in liquid nitrogen and then deep fried to create an intense crust without actually cooking the meat any further. The ultrasonic fries are made by cooking large fries (2.5 cm thick) sous vide until tender. They are cavitated in an ultrasonic bath while warm to create lots of invisible fissures. The final product can be described as furry fries as the surface is very jagged and crisp.

Ricotta Cheese

Ricotta gnocchi, centrifuged pea puree layers, essential oil

Description: Flourless ricotta gnocchi with pea juice emulsion, fresh peas, cinnamon, walnut and pea butter toast

Ingredients: albumin

Equipment: centrifuge

Process: The centrifuged pea puree yields two extremely unique products: green pea juice and pea “fat” which has the intense flavor of peas and the texture of butter

Hazelnut Gelato Affogatto

Frozen constructed cream, cold brewed coffee syrup, colloid mill

Description: Dairylessl Eggless Hazelnut Gelato with Coffee Syrup and Candied Mandarin Tuile

Ingredients: hazelnut butter, Equipment: colloid mill, Pacojet, lambda carrageenan

Process: The cream is made with hazelnut butter, hazelnut oil, water, sugar and an emulsifier. We churn it in a Pacojet.

Pots de Crème

Combi oven steam, cold infusion, vacuum reduction, acid coagulation

Description: Three pots de creme. The first is a cold infused coffee egg custard finished with a smoked egg yolk curd. The second is a vacuum reduced whisky sabayon on top of centrifuged banana juice fluid gel. The third is a cold infused earl grey posset garnished with sous vide lemon curd.

Equipment: centrifuge for banana juice, roto-vap to vacuum reduce bourbon, combi oven to steam creme brulees

Process: The coffee pot de creme is cooked in a steam oven at 81CI 178F. The whisky anglaise is cooked at 78CI 172F sous vide and then transferred to a whipping siphon. The posset is set with 0.7% citric acid for at least 2 hours.

Caramel Mou

sweet, savory caramel, edible film

Description: Gruyere cheese caramel, cheese water film

Ingredients: Gruyere Blue Label Reserve, LM Pectin, Equipment: centrifuge for making cheese water

Process: To a typical caramel base is added grated cheese and cheese water. The cheese film is set with agar and gelatin.

Gummy Worms

oil gel, fish lure molds

Description: Olive oil, vanilla, and thyme gummy worms.

Ingredients: 200 bloom gelatin, gum arabic, Equipment: fish lure molds

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