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March 13, 2011

The winners! And some thoughts on the new book: Modernist Cuisine

Congrats to Rob and Matt on winning the two copies of Life, on the Line.  I used Random.org to choose both winners because your stories were too awesome and too powerful for me to try and choose two on my own.  Thanks for being so willing to share who you are.

Here's what Rob said about chasing greatness, who he is, and what he wants to do:

Being keen on electronics, particularly computer hardware parts, always wanted to help a wounded animal (thus becoming a veterinarian), and always helping around the kitchen were things that I liked doing as a kid.

However, when my grandfather passed away on the 64th anniversary of D-Day (June 6th) back in 2008, my path in my life took a dramatic change in direction with what I do in my spare time. I started reading everything I could get my hands on that had to do with World War II, whether it be the Pacific or Atlantic theater (he served in Italy in 1944-1945 as a navigator on a B24). Now, I feel that it is my duty to preserve this memory of these war vets that fought in the worst war in human history. Not only do I feel it needs to be done, it is my honor to do it for them.

Posted by: Rob | March 02, 2011 at 12:13 PM

And here's Matt's comment:

I'm failing out of school. My parents love to tell the story of my first day of school. I was excited to ride the bus to school, to be on my own and to learn. Half of a school day later I swore to both my mom and dad that I would never ever go to another day of school in my life. Despite this promise I'm in university again and hate everything. Your two blogs, linked to me by a friend, have been the catalyst for failing exams because I was making stock not studying. Thanks Carol. I'm going to say fuck it and do what interests me, family and everyone else be damned.

Posted by: Matt Shackleford | March 02, 2011 at 05:35 PM

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I have three more copies of Life, on the Line to give away, so stay tuned for that.

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I had a bit of an ingredient-ordering/delivery glitch late last week and into the weekend, so my cooking schedule is all farkakted and I don't have a new dish to post on the blog this week.  When the stuff didn't arrive, I was suddenly faced with a completely free weekend.  THAT NEVER HAPPENS.  So, I watched Season 1 of Modern Family, worked outside in the flower beds to get them ready for spring, ran errands, hosted my neighbors for an evening around the outdoor firepit, watched St. Elmo's Fire on Netflix Instant (!!!) and started gathering up some things I need to sell on Craigslist and eBay.  It was exactly the kind of weekend I needed.

And, what I lacked in cooking this weekend, I made up in reading.  Oh, you guys.  Modernist Cuisine?  Is jaw-droppingly gorgeous and full and rich and amazing.  There is just so much to read and learn and absorb, and it's really going to be hard to step away from it and work this week.  I mean it.

There are multiple volumes covering the history and culture of food, ingredients, science, cooking techniques and fundamentals.... I mean, everything you ever wanted to know or learn about food is in here.  The photography will take your breath away.  It will also instruct you in ways no other cookbook ever has (or probably could).

But what I found really amazing, and honestly, unexpected, was that there are many, many things in this book I want to cook.  Like, immediately.  Brussels sprouts.  Fish.  Pistachio consommé... the list goes on and on and on.  And, I'm here to tell you: much of it is doable in your very own kitchen.  I swear.  There are workarounds for gear you don't want to, or can't, buy.  But, trust me: you can cook this food. 

I'm not a professional reviewer, but I'm coming at this book from a unique perspective, I think.  I tackled The French Laundry Cookbook as a complete amateur.  And now, I'm cooking my way through Alinea.  Better-skilled, yes, but still: an amateur.  I have never gone to culinary school.  I have never taken cooking lessons or classes.  I have never worked in a restaurant kitchen.  I am not inherently a creative or craft-driven person.  And yet, I want to learn.  There's the adage "write what you know."  I find that to be bollocks.  I get bored writing what I know and doing what I know.  That's why Modernist Cuisine is so appealing to me.  It's kind of cool that I can leaf through the book and say to myself: oh, I know how to do that or I've made that before or that actually looks kind of easy.  But you know what?  You'd be able to do the same thing.  And, in doing so, you'd learn a hell of a lot over the many years you'd refer to this book.

There are pages where my brain explodes.  Centrifuged pea purée? Mussels in mussel-juice spheres?  Edible soap with honey bubbles???  Teach me how to do that.

And, there are many, many pages that make me hug myself in joy: flourless gnocchi, deep-fried Brussels sprouts, caramelized carrot soup, risotto Milanese...

Some people will scoff at this book, whether at the price or the sheer size of it.  Or, that the recipes aren't written in the way they are in most cookbooks (which, quite frankly, is a refreshing change).  Others might be afraid of it... afraid that it's suggesting a new way to cook and isn't the way we do it now just fine as it is? 

Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion.  Mine is that I love this book.  Unabashedly.  There is so much to learn, and so much to read.  It's the kind of book I might open on a Thursday morning and think: what can I learn to do this weekend?  What can I cook that I already love?  How can I grow?  Where can I improve?  Or, I might just drool over the photos.  This is a book I will refer to for years and years and years.  I know that already.  In fact, I'm making a space for it in the little mudroom/pantry just off the kitchen because it doesn't belong on a shelf in the living room or den.  It needs to be read and used, and kept close by.

It's difficult to put into words all that this book encompasses, and all that can be learned.  So, if I may, I'd like to borrow from Carl Sagan, who once wrote:

What an astonishing thing a book is. It's a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you're inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.

Modernist Cuisine is on back-order everywhere, and they're working on another print run.

I wholeheartedly recommend it.


You can read more about the inner workings of producing this book here.


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Thanks Carol on the book. I can't wait to receive it!

I work for an Antiquarian Bookstore/Publisher, and we don't necessary like Amazon selling more eBooks than regular books as they are a game changer. We do have electronic rights to all of our books, but that will only last so long until we are forced to switch over. I just wanted to point out that with the Modernist Cuisine, it is definitely something that doesn't belong on a Kindle. I do hope to own that 5-vol set soon. Birthday is coming soon *thumbs up*!

Random.org did a good job picking book winners. It must have read my mind! You and Ruhlman are both intrigued by Modernist Cuisine so it must be quite something. Deep fried Brussels sprouts? I want those.

Just curious, did you spend $500 for a set of volumes?

[Amy, I bought my copy through Amazon -- I think it was $465. I also had access to the online version before the book was released, courtesy of Nathan Myrvhold's public affairs group.)

Thank you for your "real person" review of Modernist Cuisine! I've read a lot of chef's comments on the book, but I can't really relate to them. Owning this book set is on my life list.

I saw the glossy blad (promo) for the book before it was released and any skepticism I had was blown away as I'd never seen anything like it. It's not something I would likely cook dinner from (I leave the molecular stuff to the pros..and you, of course) but it is an admittedly amazing feat. Am not sure why it's getting a few knocks, but I have plenty of cookbooks I've not cooked from but have enjoyed flipping through over the years.

I vote you tackle that hamburger, deconstructed. And invite me over if you do!

I am so excited about this book too, it's great to hear your comments on it! As a poor soon-to-be medical student I can't afford it at the moment, but I'm hoping one day my parents might want to give me a really nice present :) Love the blog!

I've had my copy on order since mid November and apparently have another month to wait....

Do I sense Modernist Cuisine at home as your third blog project developing?

"I am not inherently a creative or craft-driven person. And yet, I want to learn. There's the adage "write what you know." I find that to be bollocks. I get bored writing what I know and doing what I know. "

But you ARE writing what you know -- how to have fun and have an adventure in something challenging. You write about YOU doing these things, and the reason you're successful at it not only because you jump in and TRY, but because you've included a lot of you, from your thoughts to your musical preferences. And that familiarity makes your posts a breeze to read.

I was hoping you would say something about this book, for obvious reasons. I knew you were going to get it.. :-)

honestly, I don't quite know what to think about it. First, I cannot afford to buy it, so that pretty much settles the issue, but I've seen quite a few recipes and reviews around, and... I do have a small table-top centrifuge in the lab that hasn't been used in years and is just sitting in a corner collecting dust...

ah, temptations!


I so appreciate your take on this, as I have been on the fence about whether to get it.

Carol, source for the Sagan quote? Like the first commenter, I'm a publisher, and that's a quote I'd like to use, if I might.

The quote is from an episode of "Cosmos"-- I believe it was called "The Persistence of Memory."

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