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Posts Tagged ‘Modernist Cuisine’

The Gourmand

April 4, 2011 | by

Images by Charlotta Westergren.

Charlotta Westergren, Victory, 2010, oil on linen, 58 in. x 58 in.

The story repeated most often in the gastronomical canon is Plutarch’s anecdote about the Roman patrician Lucullus. Asked if he might want a simple dinner on a night with no guests, the great gastronome orders up a feast, telling his steward that he is entertaining the most important guest of all: “Tonight Lucullus dines with Lucullus.”

What always gets left out in the retelling is that Plutarch’s compliment to Lucullus’s table is a backhanded one. “The daily repasts of Lucullus,” writes Plutarch, “were such as the newly rich affect … With his arrays of all sorts of meats and daintily prepared dishes, he made himself the envy of the vulgar.” The misgivings about the gourmet are as old as Roman times: what if the endless expenditure on luxury signals not sophistication, but just plain gluttony?

What elevates the gourmand above your everyday glutton? Both rave about the same three-star Michelin experience, the first because it was rapturous and the second because he wants to make sure you know he had it. Maybe for an old-fashioned stoic there’s no difference, but nowadays things are laxer, and we don’t call the honest gourmet a sinner.

But can you always tell the one from the other? I’m not sure if it’s polite to ask these days, now that cooking is right up there with art and music and literature, but let’s just put it out there anyway.

The questions come to mind now thanks to Modernist Cuisine, the epic six-volume cookbook published by Nathan Myhrvold, a man of grandiose talents (physicist! paleontologist! billionaire!) and appetites. But I’ve been thinking about this for a while, since reading, at my girlfriend Charlotta’s prodding, Brillat-Savarin’s Physiology of Taste, the great nineteenth-century work of culinary science to which Modernist Cuisine gets compared.

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Staff Picks: The Wrong Place, Modernist Cuisine

March 25, 2011 | by

Belgian artist Brecht Evens’s The Wrong Place, a graphic novel done in watercolor, is a jewel box. The formal chaos of social interaction—at a dinner party and in a crowded Moroccan-themed night club—comes alive in the book’s riotous melding of clothing and decor patterns and luminous, vivid color. I read it straight through; its gorgeous pages are burned into my brain. —Nicole Rudick

This Wednesday, I attended a demonstration for the Modernist Cuisine, which could have only been written by a crazy person. Or, in this case, several crazy people. Nathan Myhrvold, Chris Young, and Maxime Bilet have written five volumes covering everything from sous vide to shit. As The New Yorker’s John Lancaster puts it: “In its packed state, it weighs forty-six pounds. The scale and ambition of the project—and maybe at least one of the egos behind it—are Pharaonic.” At the demonstration, I was served a striped omelette, and like Amanda Hesser, I wish that I had booked it to Myhrvold’s headquarters in Bellevue, Washington, five years ago and joined the effort. —Thessaly La Force

Earlier this year, Edmund White introduced British readers to his top ten books about New York. I enjoyed the list very much—it featured the expected classics alongside neglected curiosities—but couldn’t help feeling that he’d missed a trick by omitting the complete writings of Whitney Balliett, who was the jazz critic at The New Yorker for fifty years. Balliett’s tastes lean a little too much toward the conservative—goodness knows what he’d make of my predilection for this kind of nonsense—but the perfectly weighted cadences of his prose are as tight and agile as the rhythm section of the slickest combo around. Check out his profiles of Big Sid Catlett, Ben Webster, and Ornette Coleman in particular. This, for me, is the sound of New York. —Jonathan Gharraie

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