Foodie Underground: Why I Want a $600 Cookbook

ColumnThe new 2,438 page Modernist Cuisine cookbook might just be a food lover’s dream.

The last few weeks have been very productive, if by productive one means rationalizing reasons to spend $625 on a cookbook.

I agree that this number appears irrational, but the brain behind Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking, is Nathan Myhrvold, a former chief technology officer at Microsoft. Myhrvold has put together a work of art that I can only drool over from the comfort of my computer.

Disappointingly, there is no “cookbook slush fund” in my budget. I did find it for $461 on Amazon, but really, I don’t even have the shelf space to store a five-volume book that’s 2,438 pages and weighs 40 pounds. Still, nothing can stop me from lusting over the encyclopedic fantasy of it.

It took 36 people four years to put Modernist Cuisine together, which is a feat in and of itself. And with that kind of research and devotion, this is not just a cookbook; it’s a documentation of how food works, and a feast for the eyes and senses.




An article in the New York Times last year taught me that to make perfect hash browns, you have to use clarified butter. Hash browns are not something I make frequently, but the explanation of why you can cook with clarified butter at a higher heat without scorching your dish (because you’ve removed the milk solids that eventually burn) stuck with me. It’s a tidbit of cooking science I’ve logged in my culinary memory and it has served me well for a variety of other kitchen adventures.

As we spend more time talking about what we’re eating, where it comes from and how we got it – organic, from the farm 30 miles outside of town, and at the local, independent market – we’re inevitably more intrigued by what we do with our food. As we should be. Not everyone is fascinated by food (I do not trust these people), and some could care less about following recipes, but having a sound understanding of why certain foods go together and what chemical reactions occur make our favorite dish taste the way it does is appealing.

You might be tempted to think a cookbook that has over 2,000 pages is pretentious – who’s going to have time to go through all of that? But such a book is sure to be a treasure to the foodie with imagination and a geek streak, as a scientific understanding of food leads to more creativity in the kitchen. Knowledge makes us more conscious, enabling us to put real thought into dishes instead of haphazardly whipping something together or turning to processed foods, and that increased level of awareness is what’s needed in the food movement and on the dinner table.

That, and the pictures are absolutely striking – food porn at its best.

And that’s why I’m hoping someone sends me a check for $625 dollars. Or a review copy. It’s sure to be put to good use.

This is the latest installment of Anna Brones’s column at EcoSalon, Foodie Underground, taking a conscious look at what’s bubbling in the underground food movement, from supper clubs to mini markets to the culinary avant garde.

Anna Brones

Anna Brones is a food + travel writer with a love for coffee and bikes. She is the author of The Culinary Cyclist and Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break. Catch her weekly column, Foodie Underground.