Editor Scott Mowbray takes you course-by-course at Nathan Myhrvold’s Modernist Cuisine Dinner.
Ex-Microsoft billionaire Nathan Myhrvold—an inventor, accomplished cook, and general renaissance geek—is the backer and brains behind the Beard-award-winning $625, 5-volume cookbook set Modernist Cuisine, a wondrously photographed science-of-the-kitchen encyclopedia that doubles as a cookbook for the liquid-nitrogen school of chefs. Recently (in advance of announcing this October’s Modernist Cuisine at Home volume for $115), he’s been hosting marathon dinners at his company’s combination kitchen, metalworking shop and scientific research facility (among other things, they’re working on tools to combat malaria, and keep a roomful of mosquitos fed on raisins). I was lucky enough to attend one dinner late last week, at which Myhrvold was very much acting the chef role with co-author Maxime Bilet. All shots by iPhone—some are a bit grainy. —Scott Mowbray
These non-dairy “butters” are the product of spinning fresh peas or corn in a centrifuge: no cooking, just spinning, which separates the constituents of the food. Pea butter was sweet and a bit pasty, corn was a gorgeously corn-y spread.
Myhrvold shows part of his favorite kitchen tool, a purple centrifuge cannister, while holding a jar of pea butter. Many pounds of peas make 1 pound of butter.
Elote means corn, but this was freeze-dried corn nested in buttery powder with cilantro blossoms. Went “poof” in the mouth.
The fries are starch-infused and altered in an “ultrasonic bath” for perfect texture (they reminded me of McDonald’s hash browns, which arguably have a perfect texture), then served with a beefy mousse to dip in.
Normally a mozza-tomato salad. Here, tomato-seed water and mozza whey are emulsified into a creamy drink utterly evoking caprese flavors.
Savory little stew of snails, deboned frog’s legs, wild leeks, and wild mushrooms. Relatively straightforward, in other words.
“Vacuum-aerated sorbet with frozen-fluid gel powder.” Another melts-in-the-mouth palate cleanser.
These raw babies were “cryo-shucked” by dipping them in liquid nitrogen, which fractures the shell-connecting muscle and makes them easy to pop open without regular shucking: no shell fragments. Served with sunchoke oyster cream and a pickled rose petal. Delicious.
Myhrvold after plunging his hand into a container of liquid nitrogen, more than 300ºF below zero. It doesn’t hurt because nitrogen produces a protective layer of gas as it boils around your hot skin.
Strips of squid “jerky” made with “hotter than butane” Mapp flame (sometimes used for welding), on a disc of Thai-flavored coconut pudding: beautiful.
One of the best dishes of the night, essence of ocean: wiggly strips of raw geoduck clam (the “spaghetti”) served on a “centrifuged broth” that was beautifully creamy.
Myhrvold brings a live clam, with its notorious monster foot, to table for show-and-tell.
Tasted better than it looks: “Cryo fried” scallops—raw in texture, cooked in flavor—served with a creamy pistachio butter and emulsified scallop juice.
Chef Maxime Bilet, co-author of Modernist Cuisine, pours pea broth—a byproduct of centrifuging the aforementioned pea butter, sweet and clear—over sheep’s milk ricotta and pickled Meyer lemon. Lovely.
Pea broth was a luminous green. Great care taken with the presentation of this dish.
Deconstruction of BP and sour cream flavors. Begins by pressure cooking potato skins with baking soda to brown them and deepen flavors. Broth poured over sour cream “ovoids,” along with potato ravioli. Interesting but not a standout.
A light broth “with the flavor of rare beef", achieved with bromelain, “a tenderizer that comes from pineapple,” served with pressure-cooked barley and beef marrow. Rare beef flavor is interesting; dish is good but not brilliant.
Silky, sweet carrots are caramelized in a pressure cooker with a bit of baking soda (“you can do this at home!”), served over a cloud of coconut milk, fried curry leaf, and chat masala. Brilliant—one of the outstanding dishes of the night.
Cabbages and flash-pickled grapes under a scene-stealing creamy, nutty Gruyere velouté (“melted cheese with reduced cider and sodium citrate, emulsified”).
More riffing: A barista-style gel foam capping rich mushroom broth, achieved through a long sous vide bath. Like a mushroomy cappuccino.
Halfway through the meal, about 2 hours in, a wee bit full but curious about what’s to come.
Nothing of the kind: This is a bit of tom-faux-ery: a little globe of spherified passionfruit juice (spherification, a process made famous by Ferran Adria, envelopes a liquid in an ultra-thin dissolving skin). “Yolk” arrives in a tiny quail shell, is gently plopped into spoon. Tangy, refreshing.
Creamy, sweet, intensely corn-y polenta “pressure cooked in mason jars,” served with a fruit “marinara” sauce (not seen here) made of low-cooked… strawberries.
Construction of mushroom stripes and egg stripes, impressive but too plasticky in texture for my taste.
Super-rare salmon under a nutty blanket with a briny sauce and lemony greens: delicious. Only problem: a bit big 20 Courses into the evening! Several diners looking peaked.
Pride of the Myhrvold kitchen, a Peking-duck approach for crisp, almost papery skin. Skin is pulled away from flesh to air it out; bird is injection brined and chilled for 3 days, slow-roasted upside down, then finished in a super-hot oven. Served with gravy and confit of vegetables.
“Brined a week, smoked four hours, sous vided for 3 days.” Served with rye crisp, sauerkraut, and Oregon wasabi. This pastrami is… a contenda.
Seven West Coast wines were served, including a delicious Viognier from àMaurice, a wee Walla Walla winery—plus one Daiginjo sake from the Tsukinowa Brewery in Japan.
Bilet, Myhrvold and helpers assemble puffs of “centrifuged cheese water” that has been spun into cotton candy. Interesting stunt, but it’s bitter and a bit burnt-tasting—no one at our table seemed to cotton to it.
More fun: Bilet pours liquid nitrogen into a concoction of vacuum-reduced goat milk and bourbon—result was a sweet-tangy, creamy shot.
Google co-founder Sergey Brin, one of the guests (wearing “Google glasses”) shoots the goat-shake volcano.
Brigade of cooks uses chopsticks to assemble fruit for the “minestrone” dessert Course.
These are “constructed creams”: texture is that of gelato with a hint of cream cheese. Green version is a salty, creamy pistachio essence made by “grinding pistachios in a mill three times, removing the oil, homogenizing it with water, and recombining with the nut solids,” then chilling. No dairy—they’re vegan.
Based on a 15th century recipe (called a posset) using a weak citric acid solution (or lemon juice) to set a cream, which was infused with tea, overnight: a gentle pudding.
“High fat gel,” formed in “fishing lure molds,” PB&J flavor: a bit soft and oily for my taste.