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Nathan Myhrvold: Molecular Gastronomy's New Pin-Up Boy

The man behind the machines
The man behind the machines
Photo: Edge Foundation

In the world of chefs-who-do-crazy-things-to-food-using-machines (aka molecular gastronomy) the big names have stayed the same for a while—Grant Achatz, Wylie Dufresne, Ferran Adrià—but we learned today that a new super-nerd is poised to conquer all of those dudes, and his name is Nathan Myrhvold. The Times reported that not only does Myrhvold (who has long been a millionaire mad scientist—he was once Microsoft’s CTO) maintain a Seattle warehouse full of newfangled culinary equipment like an essence extractor and a 100-ton hydraulic press, but he is also working on a superlative—read: 1,500 page—cookbook about his work. And he's got big dreams: "There’s not a chef on Earth who won’t learn something from this."

Myhrvold is part of an already growing movement of food futurists, who also claim to make "technoemotional cuisine" (foams, smokes, chemical elixirs, etc.), though he seems to be going at it with more money and ambition than anyone else. The scientist has hired 15 full-timers to work in his lab, who toil away at Wonka-sounding projects like "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.'"

Even WD-50's Dufresne, thought to be American's top molecular gastro guy, admits to being impressed by Myhrvold's wacky experiments: "I think there are parts of it that are definitely new to me. It’s a cookbook that’s going to be in its own category.” Good thing Dufresne wants to buy it--Myrhvold himself admits that the hefty tome will be "aimed primarily at a narrow of audience of restaurant chefs" looking to up their games with, say, lilac essence or cryoseared duck.

Below, Myrhvold and his right hand, biochemistry student-turned-gastronome Chris Young, show a crowd how they make liquid nitrogen ice cream. He might be onto something.

· After Microsoft, Bringing a High-Tech Eye to Professional Kitchens [NYT]