Modernist Cuisine. The Art and Science of Cooking - FAQ - Frequently asked questions
4. How do you feel about the terms "Modernist cuisine" versus "molecular gastronomy?"
NM: "Molecular" and "molecular gastronomy" are controversial terms among high-end chefs. Dr. Hervé This, who is often named as the father of what he calls "molecular gastronomy," feels strongly that the name should be applied only to food science; he thinks it should not be used to describe cooking. Even if you set that aside, most of his research does focus on applying science to understanding traditional cooking.
Nearly all the chefs I have talked to in the field hate the name molecular gastronomy. And from a scientific standpoint, the term is meaningless: all food is made of molecules.
I think that "Modernist cuisine" is a much better term because it describes the avant-garde approach of rebelling against culinary rules of the past. It is also broad enough to encompass a wide variety of styles.
5. This is a 2,438-page book. Is there anything in cooking that it does not cover?
NM: As we worked on the book, we kept adding more and more to it. We could have added more still, but then it never would have been done. In particular we did not cover pastry, desserts, and baked goods in Modernist Cuisine. Maybe we will do another book on those topics at some point.
6. How did your 13 years as Chief Technology Officer of Microsoft compare to writing a cookbook?
NM: They are very different in some ways, but similar in others. At Microsoft, I learned how to manage big projects and how to get the best out of a team, which were both necessary for the cookbook.
7. A lot of experimenting was required for Modernist Cuisine. Did you make any surprising discoveries?
NM: During the process of writing the book, we came up with explanations for many long-standing mysteries of cooking. It turns out that a lot of what goes on in cooking involves counterintuitive science. We were pretty puzzled to discover, for example, that most vegetables actually cook faster in boiling water than they do in steam. In fact, we ran some experiments to collect data for a chart that would show the opposite, that steaming is faster. But that is not what the data showed. We did the experiment several times, each time refining it to eliminate possible sources of error. Finally we convinced ourselves that boiling really is faster, and went digging through the scientific literature, where we found the answer of why this is: it has to do with a subtle phenomenon called film condensation, which we explain in the book [on pages 2·70-73].
A lot of chefs will be surprised by the results of tests we did that show that cooking meat submerged in fat-a technique known as confit-has no perceptible effect on the meat. You can steam the meat (at the same temperature and for the same time), then dress lightly it with oil, and no diner will be able to tell the difference [see page 2·129]. When I tell chefs this, they invariably look at me like I'm crazy and say "you know, I don't agree with you there." But in this case, you don't get to agree or disagree-its science!
Of all the discoveries we made, my favorite is probably our explanation of the "temperature stall" (often just called "the stall") that occurs when barbecueing meat. The shorthand version is that when you cook pork butt, brisket, or other large pieces of meat, the temperature rises for a while, but then "stalls" at a certain temperature for several hours. There is a lot of lore within the barbecue community that seeks to explain why this occurs. Some say that fat rendering is the cause; others say it arises from the conversion of collagen to gelatin. But actually neither of these is correct. The true cause is evaporative cooling and its effect on the wet-bulb temperature, as we explain in detail in our chapter on Meat [see page 3·212]. I've also written a post online that lays out the details of the mechanism behind the stall.
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