Geeks Occupy Kitchen: But is it Art?

by Dwight Furrow

IStock_000011231321SmallHere is one way to start your day:

“This is how Nathan Myhrvold scrambles his morning eggs:

He starts by putting an immersion circulator in a water bath and sets the temperature to 164 degrees; the machine will regulate the temperature to a fraction of a degree.

As the water is heating up, he cuts a square of Gruyere into small dice, then takes another square and shaves it against a Microplane grater, to ensure melted cheese nuggets and fluffy melted wisps throughout the eggs.

He then whisks the cheese with two whole eggs and one egg yolk – what he's found to be the perfect ratio of fat to protein to achieve ultimate creaminess – pours the mess into a Ziploc bag and places the bag in the water bath. Then he takes a leisurely 15-minute shower as the eggs cook. (As reported by Sophie Brickman, San Francisco Chronicle, May 8, 2011)

Myhrvold is the author of Modernist Cuisine, the five-volume tome with recipes such as” Fermented Shrimp Sheets” and “Emulsified Sausage with Fat Gel” that promises to turn your kitchen into a chemistry lab. Myhrvold's book is timely because, in this age of mobile wallets and predator drones, every home needs someone who can quote from the periodic table while obsessively cultivating tiny spheres of jelled bacon puree, blithely ignoring the belly rumbles from the assembled guests who want their dinner.

The use of science to improve cookery is not new. The 19th Century saw a variety of science-like books purporting to aid the home cook. The most impressively titled was Friedrich Accum's, Culinary Chemistry: Exhibiting the Scientific Principles of Cookery, with Concise Instructions for Preparing good and Wholesome Pickles, Vinegar, Conserves, Fruit Jellies, Marmalades, and Various Other Alimentary substances Employed n domestic Economy, with Observations on the Chemical Constitution and Nutritive Qualities of Different Kinds of Food.

He was well-known for putting his students to sleep when wishing them good morning.

But 19th Century food science was rudimentary and did little but summarize contemporary cooking practices. (Accum asserted that vegetables are boiled, seldom roasted, which tells you all you need to know about English cooking.) Centuries of perceptive women manipulating local ingredients to suit their (or their families) needs and whims were a more accessible guide to culinary excellence.

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