Nathan Myhrvold, iconoclastic millionaire author of the mammoth tome "Modernist Cuisine" and its just-released little sibling "Modernist Cuisine At Home," has no patience for sentimentality in the kitchen.
That was the basic takeaway of the TimesTalk he gave with New York Times reporter Jeff Gordinier in New York this past Saturday. Myhrvold skewered cuddly preconceptions left and right.
When Gordinier asked him how he felt about foie gras, for example, he dismissed the idea that it was cruel to force-feed poultry just because humans would find it unpleasant. He noted that foie gras has been produced since the time of the ancient Egyptians, and described a visit to a foie gras farm at which the birds were eager to be fed through the fattening process known as gavage.
Even more outrageous, though, was his stance on the decanting of red wine. He thinks that, because wine is "treated with this kind of reverence or mystique that's like a weird religion," many people are too cautious about trying new ways to serve wine. He calls one cherished method of wine service that some find abhorrent "hyperdecanting." It involves pulsing a bottle of red wine (especially a cheaper recent vintage) in a blender to speed up the process of aeration.
"In the church of fine wine," he said, "This is desecration."
But Myhrvold is so confident that the technique works that he once tried it out on the favorite vintage of a Spanish winemaker. He had the vintner taste the hyperdecanted wine side-by-side with traditionally-decanted wine blind. And the winemaker was horrified to discover that he preferred the bottle that had been spun around in the blender.
Yet as daring as the hyperdecanting manifesto was, it may not have been the most controversial thing Myhrvold said at the talk. That medal might have to go to his statement on cooking aromas. Gordinier said that one reason he dislikes sous vide cooking is that one of his favorite parts of cooking was filling his house with the smell of dishes in progress. (Because the food is packed in a vacuum seal with sous vide, no aromas escape.) But Myhrvold scolded him for his attachement to fragrance.
"If your kitchen smells good, your food lost something," he said.
Myhrvold explained that every aroma molecule that winds up in the air would be more useful if it were perfuming the food itself. That didn't sit well with Gordinier, though; he compared Myhrvold's stance to the Grinch stealing Christmas.
But not everything Myhrvold said was quite so upsetting. He offered one tip that brought him close to his philosophical antithesis, Alice Waters. When Gordinier asked him what the best way to dress a salad, he advised using your hands.
"No immersion circulators here," Gordinier quipped. "Just hands!"