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the modernist movement

November 2013

Danielle Zorn

Photography by
Ryan Matthew Smith, Modernist Cuisine, LLC

ChefsHe’ll never overcook his chicken again; Mark Pearson is sure of it.

The Seattle book publisher has been an avid cook since visiting Italy several years ago. But it wasn’t until he met Nathan Myhrvold, author and brainpower behind the six-volume science-of-cooking series "Modernist Cuisine" that Pearson decided to stop cooking like an Italian, and focus on becoming a modernist.

According to the website, " ‘Modernist Cuisine’ is a philosophy of cooking … an approach to food that values pure flavors, precise execution and the use of scientific understanding to advance the art of cooking." But what if just your average at-home cook wanted to try out these modernist techniques?

They’ve thought of that too. Myhrvold and fellow author-chef Maxime Bilet collaborated on an at-home version of the expansive six-book series. "Modernist Cuisine at Home," published in 2012, narrows down the contents to 456 pages, including all the essential information to become a modernist cook.

Nathan MyhrvoldMuch of the research and development took place at The Cooking Lab in Bellevue. The cookbook "applies innovations pioneered by The Cooking Lab to redefine classic home dishes."

Pearson, now an avid fan of the modernist cooking movement, purchased the complete series, the at-home cookbook and the tools needed to cook like the pros, including the infamous SousVide Supreme, a water-bath-like apparatus that is a staple in the modernist tradition.

To demonstrate all he had learned, not too long ago Pearson invited a group of 14 food enthusiasts to his house for a four-course masterpiece. Pearson placed individual chicken breasts from Costco in a light olive-oil marinade and then into plastic airtight bags. He then put the bags into the SousVide Supreme. "It keeps the water at a consistent 145 degrees, which is proven to be the exact temperature needed to avoid overcooking the chicken," he affirms.

Pearson left the meat in there for an hour, never once concerned about the results. "I always know how it’s going to turn out because it is all based on science." After removing the bags, Pearson seared the chicken with a blowtorch from Home Depot.

But before serving the chicken, he treated his guests to the modernist version of soup and salad. "I cooked a caramelized carrot soup, which is made via pressure cooker. [The pressure cooker] is where all the flavor comes from," he recalls.

Next was a salad blended into a dressing that was poured on another salad (basically a salad on a salad). The third course was the chicken dish that he prepared earlier, which was followed by a SousVide-made pear dessert. Pearson even hyper-decanted his wine in a blender before serving it to his guests. No matter how odd some of the preparations may sound, he says all of it was a hit.

He compares the modernist way of cooking to a digital camera in that anyone can take a picture, but once you know how to use all the knobs, dials and features of the camera, your pictures are that much better, and you will never take a picture the same way again.

"Why not be creative and eat good food at the same time?"

Pearson hopes that the movement takes off among his fellow food-enthused friends, and that is highly likely if he continues with his dinner parties.

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