An Exhibit of Photography from Modernist Cuisine

The first public exhibition of photography from Modernist Cuisine is open through 14 August in Hong Kong. Sixteen images from the book, printed in large format, are on display on Chater Bridge and East Bridge, Central. For a map and contact information, see the write-up at CNN Go.

Accompanying the exhibition is the “Taste Matters New Recipe” Competition. Create your own recipe featuring one of the ingredients on display in the exhibition. Chefs from several of Central’s restaurants will select winning dishes in each of the 10 ingredient categories. The chefs will then reinterpret the winning recipes and serve the resulting dishes in their restaurants for one month. All winners will also receive HK$10,000 worth of gift certificates. For more details on how to participate, see the competition website. Adds Six Great New Features

We’ve been thrilled by the reception that Modernist Cuisine has received–not just in sales, which are a lot faster than we initially expected, but also in the rapid growth of a community of cooks who have joined us here on, on the MC-related threads at eGullet, on Facebook and Twitter, and elsewhere online. We’ve received lots of terrific suggestions from readers about ways in which we could enhance the website and better support them as they explore the recipes and techniques suggested by Modernist Cuisine and other Modernist cookbooks. Today we’re excited to announce the launch of a bunch of these new features, with even more to come soon.

Check out the freshly minted Cooking with MC area of the website for:

  • Getting Started with the Recipes, which suggests recipes you might tackle first in Modernist Cuisine, whether you are just starting out as a cook, want to try using modern ingredients, or are looking for a real culinary challenge;
  • a Modernist Gear Guide for cooks who are looking to outfit their kitchens with some new tools like those covered in the book;
  • a Recipe Library that allows you to quickly find all the recipes that the MC team has published here so far–a collection that will grow over time as we periodically release new recipes and step-by-step guides to Modernist techniques;
  • a remarkably useful Recipe Finder that includes a complete list of all 1,500 or so recipes in the Kitchen Manual and allows you to instantly hone in on those that use any ingredient, tool, or technique that you choose;
  • a full Index to the Kitchen Manual, which is the addition most requested by readers and is supplied in PDF form so that you can print it out and keep it with your set;
  • a Keyword Search (technically, a concordance) that searches the full text of the book for any term you enter and displays each page number on which it appears, along with some surrounding words for context.

All of these new features are free. But to get the most out of them, and to gain access to the Cooks Forum and Reader Gallery that we’re currently constructing and expect to open soon, please register as a member of the site. Registered members can choose to receive new recipes by email before they appear on the website. If you have a copy of the book, be sure when you create your account to provide information about where and when you purchased your book, and then answer a validation question to gain Confirmed Owner status, which qualifies you for exclusive offers.

We hope you enjoy all of these new features, and we look forward to your comments and suggestions.

The Photography of Modernist Cuisine, Part 3

Arriving at Our Style

[See part one of this series for rec­ol­lec­tions by pho­tog­ra­pher Ryan Matthew Smith about how he came to join the MC team, and part two for his account of the lessons he learned about shooting food.Ed.]

One question people ask me again and again is: “Why did you choose to shoot most of the images for Modernist Cuisine on a solid black or white background?” There is no simple answer to this. Five main factors drove us toward this approach as the best solution for our design.

  • Efficiency
    MC is a really big book, it is heavily illustrated, and we had just a couple of years to complete the photography. So every day I had to complete a huge volume of shots (we took some 147,000 during the course of the project). Having a solid, consistent background kept the shooting moving along quickly. We had to light just the subject, not an entire set, so we didn’t have to spend a lot of time setting up lighting.
The solid black also allows for maximum contrast for certain subjects
  • Consistency
    One of the design challenges for a multi-volume work like Modernist Cuisine is the need to unify the diverse parts of the book with a common visual language. For a book of such wide scope with so many photos, common type styles and illustrative elements aren’t really sufficient, the images need to all share some common “look” so that readers never turn the page and suddenly feel like they have dropped into a different book. By using a small number of backgrounds, we hoped that photos spanning a wide range of subjects would nevertheless share a family resemblance.
Especially nice for liquids, a solid backlight can really bring out the fine details of a splash
  • Flexibility
    Many chapters in Modernist Cuisine are chock-full of complex layouts, in which half a dozen or more art and text elements must fit on the page in a clear and attractive way. These jigsaw puzzles are a lot easier for the designer to solve when the photos have a solid background that matches the page. Photos in which the subject extends to the edges of the frame, what photographers call “full bleed”, images effectively limit design options to devoting most or all of the page to a single photo or segregating the images in boxes. Photos on solid white or black backgrounds, in contrast, can float around text blocks and run smoothly off the page.
When filling a spread with annotations, a solid background helped keep captions easy to read
  • Isolation
    Throughout the book, but especially in the many step-by-step photo sequences, we tried to maximize the clarity and impact of the photographs by emphasizing the foreground subject. We found that with the background blank, the reader’s eye is naturally drawn to the focal point of the image, which makes the step-by-step instructions much easier to follow.
Keeping the viewer looking at the intended focal point is key for step-by-step photographs
  • Style
    I have always preferred a minimalist approach to photography. I like the subject to stand alone as the center of attention. Solid backgrounds thus resonated with my personal aesthetic.
One of my personal favorites from Modernist Cuisine

Of course, every design choice has its trade-offs. Our initial attempts to shoot on white paper and black velvet left some subjects looking like they were floating in space. We fixed this problem by changing shooting surfaces to white or black glass. The glass throws up subtle reflections that ground the subjects.


That solution brought its own challenges, however. The reflections were often too strong, sometimes even mirror-like in intensity. So we simply toned down the reflections in Photoshop by using gradients and soft paintbrushes.

A subtle reflection helps provide a sense of ground

MC Wins Top Award for Print Quality

The Benny AwardWe are proud to announce that Modernist Cuisine has won another best-in-the-world award, this time a coveted Benny (as in Ben Franklin), which is the top honor given in the prestigious Premier Print Award competition. The annual competition, run by the Printing Industry of America trade society, recognizes the highest-quality printed pieces in various categories from around the world. Modernist Cuisine took the highest prize in the cookbook category. Our printer, Artron Enterprise Group, also won Bennys for its work in art books, stochastic printing, and three other award categories.

The award will be formally presented in September at a gala in Chicago.

Drew Carey Is Winning Bidder for the Modernist Cuisine “Experience”

Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo

Modernist Cuisine author Nathan Myhrvold and his wife, longtime benefactors of the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, donated a copy of the book, signed by all three of its authors, for the zoo’s annual fund-raising auction. To sweeten the deal, they also threw in a private guided tour of the culinary research laboratory in which the book was developed. The winner may bring up to five guests on the tour.

After active bidding, Drew Carey, the renowned actor, comedian, and host of “The Price Is Right,” won the prize with a bid of $7,000, all of which goes to support the zoo and its programs. The whole team at The Cooking Lab is looking forward to Mr. Carey’s visit.

Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo
Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo

Which Printing Do You Have?

Now that copies of the second printing of Modernist Cuisine are shipping to customers, readers have been writing in to ask how they can determine whether their copy came from the first printing or the second. (Note that Modernist Cuisine is still in its first edition, so the differences are minor; see the Corrections and Clarifications page for details.)

The answer is simple: check the colophon, which appears near the back of volume 5 on page LIV. In the first printing, the colophon begins, “This first edition of Modernist Cuisine…”

In the second printing, the colophon starts, “This first edition, second printing of Modernist Cuisine…”

When we move on to a third printing, this will be reflected in an updated colophon as well.

Second Printing Has Begun to Arrive

Last week, several readers who had back-ordered Modernist Cuisine sent us word that they had finally received their copies from the second printing. Most of these readers placed their orders with Amazon back in March.

So, where is your copy, you ask? Depending on when you ordered, it is probably on a truck or boat headed your way, and if not, it will be among the 1,000+ copies sailing weekly from our printer in China. We expect that everyone who has ordered to date will receive their copies by mid-August. And we anticipate that by the first week of September, retailers will be fully stocked and able to process new orders. Perhaps a few will even put copies out on shelves!

Nathan’s Modernist Cuisine TED Talk

As enthusiastic as any proud parent, Nathan presents Modernist Cuisine during his TED Talk for TED University in March. This is one of the first times anyone saw a copy of Modernist Cuisine. Focusing on the major concepts of the book, as well as giving a few behind-the-scenes glimpses of how MC‘s iconic cutaway shots were made, Nathan reveals his passions for cooking, photography, and science. This TED Talk follows up on Nathan’s exploration of his varied interests, which he discussed in his 2008 talk.

Nathan also was a guest on NPR’s Science Friday with Ira Flatow on July 1, explaining some of the scientific aspects of barbeque. You can listen to the entire podcast here.