Nathan Myhrvold earned a Ph.D. in theoretical and mathematical physics at 23, helped Stephen Hawking research the quantum theory of gravitation as a postdoctoral fellow at Cambridge University, served as Microsoft's chief technology officer, became a billionaire, and founded an invention-generating company that now holds more than 30,000 patents, including one for an invisibility cloak and another for a laser beam that annihilates malaria-ridden mosquitoes.
But that's not all he's done with his science knowledge. In March he published a six-volume, 2,400-page, 40-pound cookbook called Modernist Cuisine that attempts to catalog every science principle known (and, until now, unknown) to cooking. To research the tome, he and a team of 50 chefs, writers, and photographers spent five years conducting detailed tests, many of them involving liquid nitrogen, rotary evaporators, centrifuges, and other industrial paraphernalia.
We asked Myhrvold and Wayt Gibbs, the editor-in-chief of Modernist Cuisine, to share a few favorites among the 3,200 photos in the book, along with some of the counterintuitive insights they gained along the way. Prepare to unleash your inner Frankenchef.
SECRETS OF A SUPER SAUTE
The two most common mistakes when sauteing are skimping on oil and letting food sit too long in one spot. Abundant
oil in the pan fills in gaps and wicks up the sides of the food, distributing the heat evenly. With too little oil, heat concentrates where food comes in contact with the pan, causing some parts to scorch while others remain undercooked. Experienced chefs saute in a very hot pan and keep the food in motion.
Lessons: Instead of stirring with a spatula, move the pan in a jerking, circular trajectory to control heat and baste the food in hot oil. Use the larger muscles of the arm to avoid injuring your wrist. As to your pan, it should be broad and shallow, with sloping sides to make tossing easier.