Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking (英語) ハードカバー – 2011/3/14
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Revealing the techniques used for preparing food which ranges from the otherworldly to the sublime, 'Modern Cuisine' is a six-volume guide for anyone who is passionate about the art and science of cooking.
I caution future buyers to examine your books carefully. I found several pages with score marks, scratches, and smudges. Two pages from the “Kitchen Manual” were stuck together at a spot, and prying them apart was a delicate matter given its lightweight paper. Most problematic, several signatures from the center of one of the books pulled away from the backing material—the adhesive failed and the book is falling apart. It would have been better had the signatures been sewn to the backing material.
It's hard to review this book without it coming across as hyperbolic: after all, it's a 50-pound, 2400-page beast that will cost you an entire year's cookbook budget and must have cost unfathomable sums to produce; you're either going to love it or hate it. However, I can say with confidence that if you liked McGee's On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, you are going to love Modernist Cuisine.
While the press coverage of the book so far has focused on the more esoteric aspects of the book--centrifuges, rotovaps and chemicals, oh my!--the book actually simply treats those items on equal footing with woks, sauté pans, and water. It covers them because you can cook interesting, tasty food with them. Of course, the weird stuff gets all the attention, because, well... it's weird. But this is a book that devotes an entire chapter to *water*. And the things it teaches you *will* make you a better cook. The authors are never satisfied with "it just works, don't ask why." It seems like every paragraph, on every detail, is tightly focused on the question of not just "what happens?" or "how do you do it?" but also "WHY does it work?" and "HOW does it work?" This book is particularly excellent if you are science-minded, but it is written with such clarity that I believe anyone can learn these things from it. Who knew that blowing on a spoonful of soup to cool it was so complicated, and so interesting?
Probably the most relevant criticism I have encountered is the notion that the recipes it presents are unapproachable. And a few things do, in fact, require a centrifuge (though the majority of the time it is an optional step). There is no doubt that many if not most of the recipes require ingredients that standard American kitchens don't stock. Most of us don't have Agar and Xantham Gum in our cupboards, and some find the very idea of cooking with "chemicals" a frightening, foreign, or downright objectionable practice. Truth be told these "chemicals" are no more (or less) unnatural than baking soda or refined sugar (the book spends a great deal of time discussing food safety and nutrition before diving into the "crazy chemicals"). Amazon even sells a starter kit that I've found quite useful: Experimental Kit Artistre - 600 grams. And for the most part these ingredients are not used "just for fun": the goal of the Modernist Cuisine movement is to examine the foods we eat, and our perceptions of that food, and try to make things that taste great, and perhaps even engage us on an intellectual and emotional level. I've made a few recipes from the book so far, and in particular the Mac & Cheese was astonishing: it is far and away the best M&C I've ever had or made, without question. It actually tastes like cheese! (What a concept, I know). And it's easier to make and more forgiving than the traditional béchamel-based method. So some of the recipes are simple, and some are complicated. If you have Alinea you probably have a pretty good idea of what the complicated ones look like: daunting, yes, but *not* unachievable if you are willing to put the time in.
Obviously a review of a 2400-page book could go on more or less forever, but I think the upshot is this: if you are interested in learning the "how" and "why" of cooking, of even the most mundane processes (they cover boiling water in great detail), this book is probably deserving of six stars; it is simply monumental. Save your pennies, this is a worthwhile purchase. If, on the other hand, that is *not* interesting to you, it's probably two stars: get the first and second volumes from a local university library, and don't worry about the rest (if you are only going to read the first two volumes I'd say it's tough to justify the price tag).
* Level of detail is incredible
* Covers the "how" and the "why" of every detail of the cooking process
* Depth and breadth of coverage is... well, worthy of 2400 pages
* Stunning photography, graphic design, and even printing
* Many of the recipes are very challenging
* Coverage of hyper-expensive equipment can be off-putting
* Too tall to fit on any normal bookcase
I asked for gift cards for christmas and birthdays. I saved my money from my measly restaurant job earnings for months to afford this book set. The fact that I can make nearly nothing out of this book hasn't dissuaded me from buying it. Because I now have access to a tome of information. I will study this set like I am back in culinary school, and if I someday open my own restaurant, I will be able to use a lot of this information.
For the home cook, this series doesn't help much. It has a lot of repetition and dry material that makes it a somewhat difficult read. They do have Modernist Cuisine at Home, which I've heard is good for that. Even for the professional, this series is hard to get into and find things that will be useful in the day to day. I've found a few things it has already helped me with, such as common ratios, properties for thickening fluids and such. But I will covet and love this book set like a dragon for gold, and shoot arrows into the knees of any adventurer that tries to take it away from me.
I expected to be fascinated by the final volume (Plated-Dish Recipes) the most, but have found that the first volume (History and Fundamentals) is equally fascinating. I'm still only only my second read through most of the collection, so I'm looking forward to years ahead getting cozy with everything in all the volumes.
Professionals can more eloquently review the technical aspects, but for this simple home cook, Modernist Cuisine is everything sexy--smart and pretty.