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Nathan Myhrvold
June 28, 2011 8:39 PM   Subscribe

Then, coming on six o'clock, Mr. Myhrvold, the former Chief Technology Officer of Microsoft and an inventor with hundreds of patents to his name, came in, wearing chef's whites, and ushered us into dinner. Boy, people eat early around here, I thought. Little did I know I would be eating non-stop for the next three hours. (previously: 1,2)

"Life has not been boring for me," Nathan Myhrvold says. An overachiever's overachiever, Myhrvold, 51, graduated from high school at 14, had two master's degrees and a Princeton Ph.D. in theoretical and mathematical physics by 23, worked alongside Stephen Hawking at Cambridge, and went on to earn hundreds of millions for Microsoft (and himself) as chief technology officer. Cashing out in 1999, he began pursuing his true passions by the armful: skydiving, car racing, scuba diving, volcanology, and UFOlogy, not to mention whole alternate careers as a wildlife photographer, dinosaur hunter, inventor (his name is on nearly 250 patents and counting), and author of the extraordinary new cookbook Modernist Cuisine.
posted by Trurl (31 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
I want this cookbook so bad. I don't cook but I want to learn because of this. But only the fancy weird stuff.
posted by Brainy at 8:54 PM on June 28, 2011


So this is what patent trolls eat, when they're not feasting on the skulls of their victims.
posted by killdevil at 8:55 PM on June 28, 2011 [23 favorites]


Little did I know I would be eating non-stop for the next three hours.

You know he'll try to collect royalties when you take a dump, right?
posted by FreedomTickler at 9:01 PM on June 28, 2011 [11 favorites]


Mr. Myhrvold explained we would be guinea pigs to determine whether 30-plus courses was too much food to offer guests.

My husband and I had 20 courses at Moto. It was much too much. If I had it to do over again, I would cut it in half.
posted by pinky at 9:02 PM on June 28, 2011


It is important to point out to people that don't know Nathan Myhrvold that he was the founder of Intellectual Ventures, one of the biggest patent trolls there ever was. Caveat emptor.
posted by introp at 9:06 PM on June 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


Is Nathan Myhrvold a patent troll? Just wondering.
posted by stbalbach at 9:14 PM on June 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Is Nathan Myhrvold a patent troll? Just wondering.

He actually has the patent on the technique of patenting a bunch of stuff but not doing anything, then suing people who happen across the same technologies or techniques later.
posted by kenko at 9:22 PM on June 28, 2011 [7 favorites]


Why hasn't he written a biography already? I really want to know how he managed to do all these awesome things.
posted by polymodus at 9:26 PM on June 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


You couldn't do the things the way he did- they're patented.
posted by uni verse at 9:39 PM on June 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


Found something: Nathan Myhrvold PhD (Oral History Archive, National Museum of American History, 1998).

Saving this for later.
posted by polymodus at 9:46 PM on June 28, 2011


I would like to note that Nathan Myrvohld has successfully trolled this thread, which was supposed to be about rich people and overwrought cuisine.
posted by killdevil at 9:46 PM on June 28, 2011 [4 favorites]


I’m not into food at all, but I found this interesting. I learned something new—what is meant by modern cuisine.
There are a few techniques that have become the hallmarks of Modernist Cuisine: Cooking with unparalleled control over temperature and humidity using vacuum sealers and water baths or vapor-injected C-Vap ovens is one of them. Another is the use of modern gelling agents and emulsifiers like methylcellulose or modified food starch to achieve surprising textures. And laboratory-grade equipment—rotary evaporators, centrifuges, and liquid nitrogen canisters—has been co-opted for separating liquids and solids, for extracting and concentrating flavorful compounds, or for altering the textures of solids, liquids, and gels.

“What’s fascinating is that a lot of these technologies and techniques have existed for a long time,” says Myhrvold, “but they’ve only really been picked up by the mainstream in the last couple of decades.” The very first sous-vide meal was served in 1973 in a Howard Johnson’s, of all places.
Also from the earlier thread linked to in the FPP, from Gompa,
I like good food prepared well, but how do you call preparation as baroque as this, "Modernist"?

At a guess, because it considers itself to be a complete break with all that came before it, in terms of its thinking, its theoretical and ideological approaches to cooking. And because it as much about the theory behind the cooking and the industrial techniques of production as about the food. And because it is utterly inaccessible - if not abhorrent - to almost everyone other than a self-involved and incestuous group of aesthetes, even as it "plays" with bourgeois and mass-culture ideas of food such as the hamburger. And because it takes a short philosophical treatise, a design lab, a $625 manual, special tools and several days' labour to fail to improve on something they've been doing day in and day out for decades at PJ Clarke's.
I also find this interesting in light of the discussion yesterday on middlebrow tastes. This food is definitely highbrow. The first time I heard the phrase surf and turf was in The Encyclopaedia of Bad Taste (and the Simpsons’ take on it). The links reminded me again that simply being expensive to consume is not enough to be highbrow.
posted by Jasper Friendly Bear at 10:06 PM on June 28, 2011


And that should've been what is meant by modernist cuisine.
posted by Jasper Friendly Bear at 10:15 PM on June 28, 2011


Yeah, him and Paul Allen can pretty much go fuck themselves. Real inventors don't need a government imposed monopoly to be cool.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 10:39 PM on June 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


I commented last time that they simply had not gone far enough deconstructing that burger. They seem to have adjusted the taste while retaining the traditional form and mouthfeel of a "burger" while I was interested in something that retained the taste but not the firm or mouthfeel, something like "late nite burger" Doritos. I've been thinking of it recently, and I think there should be some exploration into the burger as notion.

I am thinking of a diner, the kind with a jukebox and banquettes, right out of Happy Days. The customer orders a burger deluxe, the friendly waitress asks how it should be cooked. The customer sips iced tea, maybe passes the time chatting with a fellow patron. The restaurant fills with the smell of frying beef, and the sizzle of the patty skittering on the grill. The waitress soon returns with a platter, on the platter are golden brown fries, fried to perfection and a food item that neither tastes nor looks like a burger. The waitress glances at the table and notices something missing, grabs a bottle off another table, presents it to the customer and says "ketchup for your burger".

We need to shift towards postmodernist cuisine, and embrace the notion that all familiar food items are merely social constructs.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:41 PM on June 28, 2011 [9 favorites]


My favorite so far: Snow ball green apple and wasabi WOW that looks killer.

The only thing more delicious than looking at these awesome pictures is the taste of the 4 sprites I just drank while looking at them. Put that in your Semotics-hole and smoke it Ad hominem.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:45 PM on June 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'd like to try the foie gras rocher. I can imagine the texture of really light pate would substitute nicely for the hazelnut creme in a Ferraro rocher.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:58 PM on June 28, 2011


The chicken skin looks great too, I would kill for some grivines or a skinwich right now.
posted by Ad hominem at 11:13 PM on June 28, 2011


Meanwhile, James Franco is looking at this guy's life and saying "dude, take it easy, will ya?"
posted by ShutterBun at 11:34 PM on June 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Here is Myhrvold's tech talk at Microsoft Research, about the cookbook.

In the book, Myhrvold credits local Seattle chef Thierry Rautureau, The Chef In the Hat, for his first cooking lessons in the kitchen at Rover's (video link).
posted by LURK at 11:56 PM on June 28, 2011


I have serious doubts that he's the 'author' in any real sense (in terms of words, in terms of ideas.) There's no question he spent an enormous amount financing the whole thing, for Chris Young, Maxime Billet and others to experiment and discover and go crazy. And maybe a major condition of that financing was right of authorship.

Kind of like (so I hear) when he has his Intellectual Ventures brainstorming sessions with a room full of his people, and someone strikes on a patentable idea, and everyone else contributes to fleshing the idea out. But Myrvohld gets the coveted named spot on the resulting patent.
posted by naju at 12:22 AM on June 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


If Myhrvold is an inventor, i'm Bill Gates.
posted by Pendragon at 2:45 AM on June 29, 2011


I would like to note that Nathan Myrvohld has successfully trolled this thread, which was supposed to be about rich people and overwrought cuisine.

Well, the person who brought up trolling was you, actually.

Since I made the post about the man rather than his cuisine, I won't say it was a derail. But truthfully, I find his (ab)use of patent law the least interesting thing about him.
posted by Trurl at 6:35 AM on June 29, 2011


Nothing exceeds like excess.
posted by rusty at 8:08 AM on June 29, 2011


I want this cookbook so bad. I don't cook but I want to learn because of this. But only the fancy weird stuff.

I have the book. It really is fascinating and beautiful. I think it was possibly a mistake though calling it Modernist Cuisine because that ignores the masses of information about "traditional" cooking methods it contains. Armed with a book like this, you would think there'd be a real danger of falling into the culinary equivalent of an "HDR Hole" but I think the balance brought by the detail it goes into traditional techniques and general grounding on things like food safety largely removes this danger. In any case, the more modernist techniques tend to rely on equipment and ingredients that are expensive and/or rare.
I see it more therefore as a tour though all the knowledge about food, eating and cooking that has been learnt to date. With some fucking amazing pictures.
posted by chill at 8:37 AM on June 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


Chill, that's interesting... All the reviews and blah-blah-blah that I've read seemed to call it "Chemistry, not Cooking"... Would someone who's really into cooking but NOT into them fancy new-fangled gadgets get something out of it?
posted by OneMonkeysUncle at 9:04 AM on June 29, 2011


I have serious doubts that he's the 'author' in any real sense (in terms of words, in terms of ideas.) There's no question he spent an enormous amount financing the whole thing, for Chris Young, Maxime Billet and others to experiment and discover and go crazy.

I think you raise a good point. If it required a labfull of chefs, engineers, photographers, writers, and graphic designers to put together the omnibus, how does it make sense to put 3 names on the cover and with emphasis on the first name?

However the interviews with Nathan make it pretty clear that it was a labor of love. Apparently it had started as a technical book on sous-vide that he personally wanted to write, as science officer of Zagat. He also says that he spent several years of weekends/evenings working on the book. On egullet he has posts describing his proofreading efforts. Other articles mention that some of the sous-vide recipes were his prior inventions. So to say that Myhrvold was only a passive financial patron, rather than a key contributor and project leader, would also be untrue.
posted by polymodus at 9:05 AM on June 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm so annoyed with this cookbook because it seems so completely out of touch with what cooks need (i.e. hugely expensive, big in size, not suitable to get dirty in the kitchen, weird equipment necessary and so so so much time). But then I realized that this is basically some guy discovering industrial cooking and packaging it in a way that suggests that the home cook could do the same. I'm going to stick with On Food and Cooking.
posted by hydrobatidae at 9:59 AM on June 29, 2011


I am thinking of a diner, the kind with a jukebox and banquettes, right out of Happy Days. The customer orders a burger deluxe, the friendly waitress asks how it should be cooked. The customer sips iced tea, maybe passes the time chatting with a fellow patron. The restaurant fills with the smell of frying beef, and the sizzle of the patty skittering on the grill. The waitress soon returns with a platter, on the platter are golden brown fries, fried to perfection and a food item that neither tastes nor looks like a burger. The waitress glances at the table and notices something missing, grabs a bottle off another table, presents it to the customer and says "ketchup for your burger".

Oh, they've got that now - there's all sorts of amazing divey diners you can go to where they fuck up your order and then act resentful when you ask them to bring back what you actually ordered.
posted by FatherDagon at 10:31 AM on June 29, 2011


It's an amazing collection of books. They're super-beautiful all the way through. They exude care and attention to detail. I'm delighted with them, even if I never make any of the recipes.

It's worth noting that in addition to the five monster books; there _is_ a spiral sixth book with the text of all of the recipes on rugged kitchen-resistant paper. So it's not like there's any reason to take the gigantor books of beauty into the kitchen.

(I paid something like $500 for the set; if I look at any one of the monster books, I feel like $100 is totally-totally reasonable, considering the workmanship.)
posted by ambilevous at 10:33 AM on June 29, 2011


All the reviews and blah-blah-blah that I've read seemed to call it "Chemistry, not Cooking"... Would someone who's really into cooking but NOT into them fancy new-fangled gadgets get something out of it?

Calling it "Chemistry, not Cooking" seems rather silly to me, because what is cooking if not chemistry? Personally I have felt that an understanding of the science between behind what happens when I put a burger on a grill, or a lid on a pan, or knead dough or whatever has made me a much better home cook. I don't think you'd buy it just for that purpose though (because Harold McGee's On Food & Cooking gives you much of the same info but with a much smaller hit on the wallet), part of the appeal to me was that it was a labour of love and something beautiful to behold.
posted by chill at 10:43 AM on June 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


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