BiteClub, Techniques

Would You Pay $625 For A Cookbook?

Whether or not, quite a few of us would would, because the cookbook in question - Modernist Cuisine, by Nathan Myhrvold, Chris Young, and Maxime Bilet - already sold out its initial printing, and it hasn't even hit the shelves yet! Moreover, despite the fact that virtually nobody on Planet Earth has actually touched the 6-volume, 2400-page opus, it's already been called "the most important cookbook ever", inducted into the Cookbook Hall of Fame, and generated uncountable words in the foodie blogosphere, including tweets by Thomas Keller and just about every other important chef you can think of.

Apparently, quite a few of us would, because the cookbook in question – Modernist Cuisine, by Nathan Myhrvold, Chris Young, and Maxime Bilet – already sold out its initial printing, and it hasn’t even hit the shelves yet! Moreover, despite the fact that virtually nobody on Planet Earth has actually touched the 6-volume, 2400-page opus, it’s already been called “the most important cookbook ever”, inducted into the Cookbook Hall of Fame, and generated uncountable words in the foodie blogosphere, including tweets by Thomas Keller and just about every other important chef you can think of.

Unsurprisingly, the authors have their naysayers, most of whom argue that the project embodies the worst of foodie pretensions, but I don’t agree: first, because the thing wasn’t really written for you or me, it was written because the authors believed that the stuff between the covers needed writing-down; and second, whether or not the book even makes money is beside the point, because its main sponsor is Mr. Myhrvold, a former CTO of Microsoft, accomplished chef in his own right, and the sort of guy who could drop the GDP of a small Caribbean nation without noticing that his bank balance had fallen.

As I understand it, the tome is much less a cookbook than an attempt to codify everything we’ve learned in the culinary regime of cooks like Ferran Adria, Thomas Keller,  and Heston Blumenthal. In many respects, Modernist Cuisine aims to be nothing less than the 200-year coda to Careme’s 1833 masterpiece, L’Art de la Cuisine Française, a book still broadly considered to be the first serious attempt at collecting the entire state of the culinary arts in one place, at one time.

If you’re still left wondering who the book was written for, the authors make an impassioned case that modernist techniques are relevant for home cooks as well as serious professionals, although they remain uncompromising in their approach, despite its inherent complexities. While I applaud their enthusiasm, and greatly respect their refusal to cut corners, I still suspect that 36-hour hamburger recipes and other feats of culinary wonder requiring medium-sized laboratories full of highly specialized equipment may not be for everyonene:

Finally, as to why the thing costs so damn much, the six-volume, 2,438-page set con­tains 3,126 pho­tos on art-quality paper and a kitchen-proof plastic-coated manual, took a team of over 50 people more than five years to produce, and weighs more than my kindergartener. From the little I know about bricks-and-mortar publishing, the economic and logistical obstacles alone decry virtually every survival instinct of the industry, so I don’t necessarily object to the price per se. And I’d be disingenuous if I didn’t admit to an existential appreciation of the project – like a threatened species from some remote warren of the world that I’ll never visit, I still feel better just knowing that it’s there. But as to shelling out $625 for food porn, I’m just not sure…

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7 thoughts on “Would You Pay $625 For A Cookbook?

  1. Boy what a coincidence I got my Food Network Magazine today and they featured this book, I’ll have to redeem a bunch of cans & bottles to get it !

  2. Having a love for food and photography this draws my attention but the massive amount of pages does not. When doing something why not do it to the best of your ability? Which is what ‘Modernist Cuisine’ is a example of thanks to its funding for it’s main sponsor. The image of the hamburger is making me want lunch! [promotional text deleted by TPK]

  3. @David – “food porn” was in no way intended to be pejorative, to the contrary, I was jst saying that lots of people will justifiably buy the book solely to drool over the amazing photography.
    @Crissi – EXACTLY!

  4. I have to admit, when I first heard of this book I had to wipe away the drool that was forming in the corner of my mouth. I, too, find that $625 is meager for what this book holds – the ins and outs of cooking, tons of tried and true recipes, and full color photos of food. It’s obvious how much work was put into these volumes. Professional cooks will definitely get something out of it. But so will the ordinary mom who is trying to impress her family with something delicious for dinner. Alas, I don’t have $625 to spend on a cookbook. But if I did….

  5. I was browsing Barnes and Noble late last week and intending to pre-order a copy. When the lady who was assisting me told me the price, I literally told her to her face that I would steal the book from her store before dropping that amount of money on a book! Sure, maybe it’s not for everyone but the price is so prohibitive that it kind of becomes a joke even to the serious food enthusiast.

  6. I agree with your post up until you call the book “food porn”. From what I’ve gathered about the book, much of it is a serious investigation of food science and attempts to lay out the scientific underpinnings of many techniques (e.g., sous vide cooking) that are not well understood but widely practiced. So, no I will not be making a 36 hour hamburger, but I am intrigued by the concepts and techniques employed therein. So while many home cooks may not get that much out of it, $625 is a pittance for the education a professional chef would get from this work.

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