Christmas is almost here, are you still trying to find a perfect gift for the foodie who seems to have every cookbook, gadget and gourmet pantry ingredient known to mankind? My pick for the ultimate foodie Christmas gift is the epic app, Modernist Cuisine at Home. This isn’t just another collection of recipes and time honored cooking techniques — it’s the cookbook of the future. This book brings what many know as “molecular gastronomy” into the home kitchen, and it’s guaranteed to blow the mind of the savviest home cook.
At a price of $79.99, people might think twice before purchasing it for themselves, which makes this app a very nice gift to give. Keep reading to learn more about why Modernist Cuisine at Home is worth every penny.
The Story Behind Modernist Cuisine
I remember watching all my chef friends flock to get a copy of Modernist Cuisine when the six-volume book set was published in 2011. This James Beard Award winning tome spurred a culinary revolution by explaining the art and science behind molecular gastronomy techniques used by renowned chefs like Ferran Adrià and Heston Blumenthal. Aimed at culinary professionals, the set retails at over $500.
As precision cooking equipment became more affordable and avant-garde ingredients more widely available, Modernist Cuisine became accessible to the home cook. The follow up cookbook for home cooks, Modernist Cuisine at Home, was published in 2012 and retails for about $120. The next innovation came in 2013, with the release of the eponymous app for iPhone and iPad at a cost of $79.99.
So who’s behind this Modernist revolution? It all started with Dr. Nathan Myhrvold, who retired as Microsoft’s first Chief Technology Officer in 1999 and pursued his love of cooking in earnest by staging in renowned restaurants and going to culinary school in France. Working for Zagat as Chief Gastronomic Officer brought him even closer to Modernist chefs and avant-garde cooking.
He went on to create The Cooking Lab, a team of chefs, scientists and creatives aimed at advancing the culinary arts using scientific knowledge and experimental techniques. Headquartered in Washington State and lead by head chef Maxime Bilet, The Cooking Lab is the driving force behind Modernist Cuisine.
I really had no idea what to expect when I downloaded Modernist Cuisine at Home onto my iPad. Upon launching the app I was reminded of the interactive eBooks, Betterbooks, whose apps I’ve reviewed before. You see, the team behind Modernist Cuisine at Home also created the Betterbooks apps. But this isn’t just more of the same from Inkling; Modernist Cuisine offers an evolved, more in-depth experience with video tutorials, step-by-step photography and interactive diagrams.
The app is named after the book, but they promise it’s “not a condensed version of its predecessor.” You’re getting 260 more recipes, 359 more images, 37 cooking technique videos, plus the recipe scaling tool and shopping lists that sync between all your devices. What I love about this app is that it teaches home cooks to critically think in the kitchen by demonstrating proper technique and showing what happens when things go wrong and why. It encourages home cooks to use science as a base for exploring new ideas in the kitchen, which is pretty exciting stuff.
In Part One: Stocking The Modernist Kitchen, I found detailed descriptions, buying guides and how-tos on essential Modernist cooking tools, appliances and pantry ingredients. Modernist cooking is all about getting the most functionality out of everyday appliances and discovering how to use new gadgets to be more efficient and get the best flavor out of your ingredients. I love the edgy graphics of appliances sliced in half to analyze what’s happening inside.
The tone is straightforward, casual and easy to understand — quite an achievement for such a scientific subject. It is a lot of text, a lot of reading for the mobile device. I wish Inkling would reimagine some of the content and design it to be more mobile friendly. For example, Further Reading is just a very long list of books that could be much more engaging.
The Glossary Of Cooking Terms is another long list, but I like how the search button can be used just to search the glossary, and the fact that it’s so reactive, displaying results while I was typing (great for words that are difficult to spell). Another way to search is to use the Recipe Finder, where you can enter in several tags to refine your search, like pressure cooker, beef, tomato.
By the end of Part One I had learned several valuable new techniques, from using a blowtorch to make peeling hard-boiled eggs easier to everything I need to know for cooking sous vide at home. The Unusual Ingredients blew my mind, changing my views on cooking forever. A full breakdown on ingredients like xanthan gum and buying guide help to demystify these foreign ingredients. Hyperlinks provide definitions of unfamiliar words and connect you to purchasing sources online.
Part Two: The Recipes features several chapters, including Eggs, Pressure-Cooked Vegetable Soups, Steak, Pizza, Risotto and much more. Home cooks will especially enjoy the attention given to elevating comfort foods, like Mac and Cheese and Chicken Noodle Soup. Meat lovers can geek out on the science of making the perfect hamburger or cooking steak. Learn how to make sauces like the chefs using your pressure cooker and agar powder. The Egg chapter alone is a fascinating lesson in the science of cooking. The desserts are limited to custards and pies and focus on infusing these dishes with flavor using Modernist techniques.
Each recipe gives detailed information on yield (by weight and serving size), time to cook, storage notes, level of difficulty and special equipment. Some recipes include step-by-step photo tutorials and most recipes give several variations on the theme. One thing that really sets this app apart is the recipe card. First, you can scale recipes based on how many servings you need. Unlike traditional recipes, Modernist Cuisine lists ingredients with the corresponding steps.
The recipe format is meant to be straightforward and easy to follow while focusing on precision cooking by encouraging users to weigh ingredients. This recipe format takes a bit of getting used to, but it will make you a more organized, precise cook in the long run. It’s convenient to add ingredients to the Shopping List with the touch of a button, but I do wish the app offered some timer functionality within the recipes. The app does hyperlink techniques and ingredients within recipes as a reference, which is helpful.
Modernist Cuisine at Home is a visually stunning app looks at cooking as an art and a science. All the recipes and techniques come from solid research performed in the state of the art Cooking Lab. The eBook goes into every detail of cooking, from the chemistry to the artistry of the plate. The photography is a huge part of what makes this app special, capturing the inner workings of equipment and steps in the cooking process. The best part of Modernist Cuisine at Home is how it makes avant-garde techniques accessible to the home cook, whether you’re willing to go out and spend thousands of dollars on equipment or you’re cooking on a budget with a bare bones kitchen.
The app is expensive, probably too expensive when you compare it to other offerings in the Appstore. If you think of it in the context of the cost of Modernist Cuisine books (hundreds of dollars) and you take into account the massive amount of research and scientific detail, the price seems appropriate. Whether you’re a beginner or an expert in the kitchen, I guarantee you’ll learn a great deal from Modernist Cuisine at Home. It’s the perfect gift for the foodie who has everything.