A few hundred miles to the north of Unicorn Precinct XIII, Nathan Myhrvold is conducting molecular gastronomy experiments that Powell can only dream of. Myhrvold, the former chief technology officer at Microsoft, is probably about as close as you could get to Powell's reverse image in the world of technology. He has written in favor of intellectual-property rights in the Wall Street Journal and was a major figure in a company that most hackers love to hate. Both men share the same love of MG for its own sake. The difference is Myhrvold has essentially infinite resources with which to do it. His home in Washington State is equipped with a 2,000-square-foot food-science lab and every cutting-edge piece of equipment in the world. His lab homogenizer, for example, is like a superblender -- "I can get particles a full order of magnitude smaller than even the best blender in the world," he boasts online. "One-micron droplets!" Myhrvold resists the name geek gourmet, although he really admits to being "a huge food geek." Rather, he sees the movement as "scientifically or rationally oriented cuisine."
Myhrvold knows what he's talking about when it comes to science. He has a PhD in theoretical and mathematical physics, and he studied cosmology, quantum field theory in curved space-time, and quantum theories of gravitation with Stephen Hawking at the University of Cambridge before eventually landing at Microsoft. (Myhrvold also has degrees in geophysics, space physics, and mathematical economics.) But when it comes to cooking, he's learning as he goes. Everyone in the field is; even a culinary superstar like Adria (whom Myhrvold once engaged to create a 42-course meal) is working is a field that is in its infancy. Myhrvold is a regular on eGullet.com and trades tips and suggestions with other users around the country.
But Myhrvold -- bearded, cheerful, bespectacled -- is never happier than when puttering around in his lab, using science equipment to make food. He uses his ultrasonic cleaner, the same kind of powerful instrument used to clean jewelry, for tasks as different as making stock and emulsifying oil and water. He cooks short ribs inside a vacuum-sealed bag for 36 to 40 hours, and then, when they are completely reddish pink and medium rare all the way through, sears their surface on an induction range that superheats pans through magnetism, without ever giving off radiant heat. He has an ultraviolet sterilizer to free his environments of incubating microbes. He uses a custom-built cold smoker to experiment of salmon, as well as liquid nitrogen to make frozen cream puffs. But his goals are much loftier than just adapting science tools: Like any molecular gastronomist, amateur or professional, he wants to re-create food from the level of its tiniest particles.
Myhrvold writes rapturously of fluid gels, or liquids that act like solids until the moment you pour them, and mozzarella powder ("You can eat it with a spoon!"). Some of the equipment he uses is beginning to find its way into ordinary restaurants and even the homes of some especially ambitious gourmets. He writes approvingly of the Pacojet, a machine that grinds and pulverizes frozen ingredients, creating incredibly smooth mousses and sorbets out of practically anything. And he adores the ultimate kitchen appliance, the Thermomix, an all-in-one gastronomy engine that chops, grinds, mixes, blends, steams, heats, stirs, weighs, times, kneads, whips, stews, and homogenizes -- sometimes doing two or more of these things simultaneously.
To be continued (if my reader-base is still interested)...