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Cigar Infused Cognac? It’s Modernist Cuisine!


Remember last year when I told you about a $650 cookbook called Modernist Cuisine? It’s a five volume, forty pound monster of a book, cooked up by Eastsider, and local tech brain, Nathan Myhrvold. He succeeded in creating a cookbook like no other, that uses some complicated, specific, scientific methods to create amazing food.

Well, if you were pining after the $650 version, but didn’t want to drop the cash, good news! There is now a simpler $140 version called Modernist Cuisine at Home. Here to talk about the new book is Scott Heimendinger, director of Applied Research at Modernist Cuisine. Scott, 29, recently made Forbes Top 30 Under 30 List in the Food and Wine category.

When I met Scott a few years ago, he worked at Microsoft. But his passion was in food. He has a blog called Seattle Food Geek based on his experiments with, what I would call, molecular gastronomy, but what he says is actually called modernist cuisine. His basement and kitchen have become his laboratory and earlier this year he convinced Myhrvold to hire him over at Modernist Cuisine. A place that also doubles as kitchen and lab.

“Our spice cabinet looks like it’s closer to something from Breaking Bad than from Julia Child. It’s these racks and rows of white powders. A lot of hydrocolloids, things that we use for creating different textures: thickening, gelling. They allow you to do things with food that you couldn’t do otherwise.”

Like, concoct this inventive, creative and strange drink.

“People drink cognac and smoke cigars together, so what if we infuse cigar flavor into cognac? Wouldn’t that be really cool? So we attempted to infuse Swisher Sweet ash into Courvoisier. The infusion worked marvelously. But it was the worst tasting thing that I have ever put into my mouth!”

But the new cookbook is a little less crazy. Scott says it focuses on cooking everyday foods.

“One of the principals of Modernist Cuisine is that you can apply the same type of fussiness to casual food. This stuff doesn’t need to be relegated just to duck confit and that kind of stuff. You can apply the same type of rigor to making a better hamburger, making better french fries. That’s one of the the things I love about it.”

The book has an entire chapter on mac and cheese. Anyone who has ever made it from scratch knows that to make a cheese sauce you start with butter and flour, add milk, and then cheese. But Scott says those additions take away from the cheese flavor.

“Scientifically speaking, starch in the flour that you’re adding in inhibits your ability to perceive some flavors. So it actually dulls the flavor of the cheese. The Modernist Cuisine method uses an ingredient called sodium citrate. Used in very, very, very trace amounts it will actually stabilize the emulsion and prevent it from breaking. So instead of adding all this flour, you end up with this cheese sauce that is overwhelmingly…cheese!

It’s the perfect book for geeks who love science as much as they love cooking.

To hear my entire interview with Scott, and I highly recommend it because these concepts are too complex to break into little soundbites, listen to my weekend show at 5pm, Saturday, January 5, 2012 or listen to the podcast at

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