Quite a Book is Cooking up in Dr.Myhrvold's Lab

SCIENTIST AT WORK: Nathan Myhrvold
After Microsoft, Bringing a High-Tech Eye to Professional Kitchens

by Kenneth Chang

BELLEVUE, Washington. — Inside a nondescript warehouse on a nondescript street of this Seattle suburb is a research laboratory that looks like it came out of a James Bond movie — had Q the gadget master been a gastronome.

Here Nathan Myhrvold, a former chief technology officer at Microsoft, and his company, Intellectual Ventures, pursue an eclectic array of speculative and potentially world-changing ideas — inventing a new battery, taming hurricanes, defeating disease. And here, along with the laser designed to shoot mosquitoes out of the air (a high-speed camera counts the rate of wing-flapping to ensure that innocent insects are not vaporized), is the best-equipped restaurant kitchen anywhere that never serves any customers

Dr. Myhrvold exuded a Willy Wonka enthusiasm as he talked of the foods that came out of his industrial food dehydrator. “Raw lobster tail, freeze dried, is amazing,” he said.

At another machine, rose petals spun inside a glass globe. “This is basically a still,” he said. “You could crank the temperature up and distill alcohol. What we’re trying to do here is get an essence of rose petals.”

The yield would be a few fragrant tablespoons of liquid.

Around the corner, he pointed to two machines side by side. “Here’s our ice cream machine, and here’s our ultrasonic welder,” he said.

Had he used the welder as a cooking appliance? “Not yet,” he said, earnestly,” but we’re going to try it out.”

After all, an autoclave designed to sterilize lab equipment has proven culinarily productive — “It’s basically the pressure cooker from hell,” Dr. Myhrvold said — as has a 100-ton hydraulic press, for beef jerky.

All of this high-tech kitchen tinkering feeds another of Dr. Myhrvold’s projects: a cookbook.

The book, still untitled, intends to be the authoritative reference for chefs wishing to employ so-called molecular gastronomy — adapting food industry technologies to restaurant cooking.

Dr. Myhrvold, who once presided over Microsoft Windows, did not undertake this endeavor as a lonely intellectual pursuit. He hired 15 people, including 5 professional chefs, a photographer, an art director and writers and editors, to create it. They included Christopher Young, a biochemistry-graduate-student-turned-chef who headed the research kitchen at the Fat Duck near London, one of the most innovative restaurants in the world.

Dr. Myhrvold has long pursued a Renaissance man portfolio of interests. While still at Microsoft, he showed that sauropod dinosaurs might have been able to accelerate the tips of their tails to supersonic speeds, like cracking a whip. More recently, he has been proselytizing among paleontologists, urging them to hunt for fossilized dinosaur vomit. Owls and some other birds of prey regurgitate the bones of what they eat, and Dr. Myhrvold surmises that dinosaurs, as the ancestors of birds, might have done the same thing.

Every month or so, the cookbook team gathers in a conference room to review their progress. Dr. Myhrvold scans each page, points out glitches and sketches how he wants a chart to look.

“It’s basically like a software project,” Dr. Myhrvold said. “It’s very much like a review we would do at Microsoft.”

The project has grown in size and scope. Originally planned as a 300-page discussion of sous vide, an increasingly popular restaurant technique of cooking food in vacuum-sealed bags in warm water baths, the book has swelled to 1,500 pages that will also cover microbiology, food safety, the physics of heat transfer on the stove and in the oven, formulas for turning fruit and vegetable juices into gels, and more.

“And they’re big pages,” Dr. Myhrvold said.

Because he is self-publishing the book, Dr. Myhrvold does not have to convince a publisher or anyone else that such a huge book aimed primarily at a narrow of audience of restaurant chefs makes economic sense. He said the book would be out in a year, although he admitted that was also what he said a year ago.

“There’s not a chef on Earth who won’t learn something from this,” Dr. Myhrvold said.

At least some chefs are taking interest.

“I think there are parts of it that are definitely new to me,” said Wylie Dufresne, the chef and owner of WD-50 in Manhattan, who visited the kitchen laboratory. “It’s a cookbook that’s going to be in its own category.”

In September, Dr. Myhrvold, Mr. Young and two of the other chefs gave a presentation at the StarChefs.com International Chefs Congress, an annual Manhattan trade show for restaurant professionals.

They demonstrated how to encrust a pork loin within what was essentially a large crispy pork rind, how to make stewed prunes look like coal and how to make a “constructed cream” — breaking apart a fat and a liquid into tiny droplets and mixing them together into something that had the fluidity of heavy cream.

“For example, why not make a pistachio cream where, instead of milk fat, we use pistachio oil?” Mr. Young said. “If you can get the droplets small enough, if you can coat them in proteins, you can create a dairy-free pistachio gelato that’s 100 percent pistachio oil.”

They also demonstrated cryoseared duck breast, a technique that calls for implements not typically found in a kitchen: a small satchel of loose metal, dry ice, dog hair brush.

“We do have to perforate it to get the fat out,” Mr. Young said. “The easiest way is a stainless steel dog hair brush. It will poke a lot of little holes that aren’t going to show up.” “For God’s sake,” Dr. Myhrvold interjected, “buy a new one for this.”

The duck breast was placed skin down on the dry ice before being seared, weighed down by the satchel. The cold froze not only the skin, but also a thin layer of the meat next to the skin, which acted as a cold barrier to prevent overcooking. “Until that melts, heat won’t go above it,” Mr. Young said.

The result was a crispy skin while the meat remained tender and juicy.

The book presents some concepts like wet bulb temperature that will be new to cooks of all skill levels. The usual temperature set in an oven is scientifically known as the dry bulb temperature. But for cooking, the wet bulb temperature, which is essentially a measure of the evaporation rate of water and depends on the humidity, is often more important.

“Nathan would make the point that food is water with a bunch of impurities in it,” Mr. Young said.

Dr. Myhrvold said the wet bulb and dry bulb temperatures could sometimes differ by 30 degrees, which might be the difference between a soufflé that rises and one that collapses. (One advantage of sous vide is that because the food is immersed in water, the wet and dry bulb temperatures are the same.)

In another discovery of culinary heat transfer physics, Dr. Myhrvold said the bulbous shape and black color of Weber grills were wrong. To achieve an even cooking temperature across the cooking grate, the inside of the grill should be vertical and shiny to reflect the heat.

That can be fixed by adding an aluminum insert to the grill. “So we have directions for that,” Dr. Myhrvold said.

The conclusions have often been backed up by careful scientific exploration. For example, confit, the French technique of cooking slowly in fat, is supposed to impart a unique taste and texture as the fat penetrates the meat.

But Dr. Myhrvold said: “There’s no way it could penetrate. The molecules are too big.”

He said double-blind taste tests proved that the same tasty results could be achieved by steaming and then rubbing some of the fat on the outside.

For images and video go to the original site of this article at THE NY TIMES

El boom gastronómico de Perú impulsa el consumo de pescado

Artículo de TV Gourmet:

El boom gastronómico que se vive en Perú, donde hace poco se organizó el más grande congreso de cocina de América (Mistura), está impulsando el aumento del consumo de pescado a nivel nacional de manera considerable, hecho que confirma que la gastronomía es un motor en auge que puede ayudar mucho al sector alimentario de una zona.

La viceministra de Pesquería, Elsa Galarza, aseguró que “esta explosión de la gastronomía en Perú ha permitido que en los últimos cinco años el consumo per cápita de pescado pase de 15 a 22 kilogramos anuales”. En ese sentido, destacó que la pesca de consumo humano directo (CHD) tendrá un interesante desarrollo en el corto plazo.

“Ahora, los restaurantes ya ofrecen platos a base de pescado no sólo en sus cartas hechas para el almuerzo, sino también para la cena. Antes el cebiche sólo se comía durante el día, pero ahora la gente también lo degusta de noche.” Enfatizó que el Ministerio de la Producción seguirá promoviendo este sector en todas las regiones del país, incentivando el consumo de las diversas especies que produce el mar peruano.

“El consumo que hay en la Amazonía tiene niveles de 40 kilogramos por persona; mientras que en algunas regiones de la costa está por debajo de ocho kilogramos, es una diferencia que tenemos que seguir aminorando.” Para este fin, dijo que es necesario seguir impulsando la pesquería artesanal, que es la principal proveedora de especies marinas a los mercados minoristas.

Sostuvo que para lograr el desarrollo de este sector es fundamental su ordenamiento y formalización, saber quiénes son los pescadores que se dedican a esta actividad, la capacidad de captura que tienen, y qué tipo de embarcación utilizan. “Queremos que la pesca artesanal deje de ser un sector deprimido y convertir a los pescadores artesanales en pequeñas empresas productivas, que hagan transformación primaria de los recursos que capturan y que también puedan acceder a más mercados.”

Indicó que este sector también necesita mejorar los aspectos sanitarios para fomentar el CHD, a fin de que la gente adquiera estos productos con total garantía. Asimismo, señaló que el Instituto Tecnológico Pesquero (ITP) desempeña una labor destacable en el desarrollo de una gama de productos elaborados con diversos recursos marinos.
La idea es generar nuevos productos con mayor valor agregado, basados en los diferentes recursos del mar peruano, en particular la anchoveta y otros pescados de profundidad, sostuvo. Además, implementar una mejor cadena de comercialización para facilitar que lleguen a más mercados, agregó la viceministra. “El consumo de anchoveta ha dejado de ser un mito y ahora las empresas la exportan en muchas formas, como enlatados en finas hierbas o entomatados”, manifestó.