From the Archives: Molecular and Physical Gastronomy

gastroWhen you hear the phrase “the archives,” I’m sure you think of old, moldy books hiding in the basement of the library somewhere, and you wouldn’t be entirely wrong (except most of our books are on the second floor, and none of them are moldy). However, we also have the library’s rare book collection, which includes several recently published books. One of my favorites is the Modernist Cuisine series by Nathan Myhrvold, Chris Young, and Maxime Bilet, published in 2011. These books may seem like cookbooks from the outside, but they are also a collection about “molecular and physical gastronomy,” or the science of food. These books go in depth into the ways ingredients are physically and chemically transformed while cooking, and then go on to engineer food in new ways that may be more efficient or just more delicious. Often, machines we would typically consider lab equipment are used in these engineering exploits (such as liquid nitrogen), or just everyday equipment that doesn’t seem like formal cooking at all (like a microwave). The collection does include select recipes in case you want to try out “how to make the perfect hamburger,” which includes pre-cooking the patty sous vide, freezing it in liquid nitrogen, and then frying it in a pan, to create a super-juicy piece of meat. One of the most stunning aspects of the collection (even for those of us who really know nothing about food) is the photography. The use of macro photography, high-speed photography, clever plating of dishes, and cut-aways of kitchen tools we don’t normally get to see inside, such as grills and your basic pot, are really what make the books.

So if you’re ever in the mood to learn when veggies are in season, what sort of diseases you can get from food, or you just want to look at amazing pictures of food, stop by the Archives & Special Collections during our open hours (Wednesdays 1-7pm and Thursdays 9-11:30am).

By Morgan Ford

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