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Rachel Belle

Fascinating Food Photography with Modernist Cuisine

It seems like everyone is posting pictures of their food these days. But a new exhibit at the Pacific Science Center puts all those Instagram shots to shame. (Ryan Matthew Smith/Modernist Cuisine LLC)
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Nathan Myhrvold is rumored to have the bones of an actual, complete Tyrannosaurus Rex assembled in the foyer of his Eastside home. But at this point, that might be the least interesting thing about the brainy, hyper curious former Microsoft exec.

A few years ago Nathan released a six-volume, $650 cookbook called Modernist Cuisine, that made his name a staple amongst the molecular gastronomy and food loving community. The book dumbs down nothing, and includes all manner of science, pie charts and history.

"Getting people to understand that mac & cheese has science in it. That using a blender, there's a different hidden view," said Myhrvold. "The inside of the blender, although it's not necessary to understand for using, it's still kind of cool!"

And the book, that has sold 100,000 copies since 2011, is also famous for it's unique and beautiful photography. But at $650 a pop, not many people have access to it. So Myhrvold recently released The Photography of Modernist Cuisine, a massive $100 book of photographs that you can see on display now through February 17, at Seattle's Pacific Science Center. But these aren't the kinds of food photos you'd see in a cooking magazine.

"What's going on when you cook carrots in a pot? Or when you steam broccoli? Or when you make a pot roast? Doing photos that would actually show, and give you this idea of, the magic Superman vision that lets you see inside the pot and see all what's going on so that you can label it. We wanted to show people a view of food they haven't seen before. We have cut pots and pans, even whole ovens, in half to give you the magic view of what you can see inside the oven, inside your pots, inside the food itself."

And people are convinced the shots are Photoshopped because, how could you possibly cut a BBQ in half?

"People look at this and say, 'Wouldn't those coals fall off?' and the answer is: yes, of course they fell off! We had a guy sitting below here with tongs and when they fell off we put them back up. One of our philosophies is it only had to look good for a thousandth of a second. If it all went to hell afterward it was perfectly fine."

One of the coolest photo sequences in the book lets you watch a single kernel of popcorn unfurl into a fluffy snack, frame by frame.

"The popcorn kernel is a steam rocket! So you have this kernel just shooting straight up like a rocket. But as it shoots up you can watch it expand and all of a sudden it opens up like a flower. And when it finally opens up, most people go, 'Gasp!' It's very familiar but because our eyes work the way they do, you never see that detail."

Some of the photos are so close up, you have no idea what you're actually looking at.

"That is a trichinella worm ingested in pork flesh. Once you discover that you say, 'Oh my God, that's gross!' But we managed to make it look kind of cool. That's part of the world of food also."

The Photography Of Modernist Cuisine: The Exhibition runs through February 17, 2014 at Seattle's Pacific Science Center.

You can check out a past story I did about Modernist Cuisine here.

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