Kitchen Scientific

The Photography of Modernist Cuisine captures breathtaking moments in food physics. 

There’s no denying that Nathan Myhrvold’s first massive tome, Modernist Cuisine, The Art and Science of Cooking, is beautiful. All 52 pounds and 2,438 pages of it—much of which is photographs.

“I decided early in writing that it would be heavily illustrated using one of my other lifelong pursuits: photography,” Myhrvold says. “The idea was simple—if the photographs were good enough, then maybe we could lure people into the book.”

The images in Modernist Cuisine were so impressive that Myhrvold and his team at the Cooking Lab in Bellevue have published a brand new art book, The Photography of Modernist Cuisine, culling their favorite photos from hundreds of thousands shot at the Cooking Lab. One hundred of them will be on display in an exhibit at Pacific Science Center opening this month.

Myhrvold, a former chief technology officer at Microsoft, has been obsessed with food since he decided to cook his family’s Thanksgiving dinner at age nine. The older he got, the more his love of cooking was influenced by his scientific vocation.

“Food, like anything else in the physical world, obeys the laws of physics, in particular chemistry,” he says. “You can cook better if you understand what is going on, particularly if you want to deviate from the ways that people have cooked before.”

Myhrvold was inspired by the molecular gastronomy movement and groundbreaking chefs like Grant Achatz and Ferran Adrià. His books highlight cutting-edge techniques like sous vide, gelling and cryo-cooking with liquid nitrogen. He was equally innovative when it came to photographing those techniques.

The results are surreal depictions of everyday foods: a kernel of popcorn, captured at the moment of bursting with a high-speed video camera. The pale pink sacs of a grapefruit, magnified into succulent stalagmites. A cross-section of a rainbow of root vegetables still planted in soil, bubbles rising in a pot of boiling water. Kitchen appliances cut in half to show their innards and the function within. Moments in time, frozen as surely as if they’d been dipped in liquid nitrogen.

Modernist Cuisine opens Oct. 26 at Pacific Science Center and runs through Feb. 17.