Nathan Myhrvold is CEO of Intellectual Ventures, a company dedicated to new inventions. He was previously chief technology officer at Microsoft, and is co-author of Modernist Cuisine, a five-volume guide that covers history, ingredients, techniques and recipes.
It’s a massive book. Why did you want to publish it in one go?
I realised that in the course of the past 10-15 years, what could be a new foundation for cuisine in the 21st century had been created by a whole variety of people – chefs like Ferran Adrià and Heston Blumenthal, food scientists and people developing technology – but the information was scattered all over the place. The idea was to put it all in one place to make it accessible.
How long did it take to produce and what was the cost?
For the past three years we’ve had 18 people working full time on the book. It was a big effort. Exactly how many millions of dollars it took to make, we’re still tallying that up … The joke was that as a coffee-table book, it’s so big it actually is a coffee table.
Who is this book for?
We tried to make a book that anybody who was curious about food would find appealing. At least half of the recipes are pretty straightforward to make in a home kitchen; if you’re willing to buy a little bit of equipment you could take that up to three-quarters. The rest of the recipes are hard – but it’s meant to be that way, we didn’t want to dumb down.
Where did you get the equipment?
A lot of the stuff I buy at bankruptcy auctions of biotech start-ups, or on Ebay; things like centrifuges, freeze-driers, rotary evaporators.
How much cooking were you doing at Microsoft?
At one point while I was at Microsoft I took a leave of absence and went to chef school in France. But when you have a very high-level, executive job, it’s hard to have as much fun cooking, and that was one of the factors that led to me retiring from Microsoft in 1999. I started cooking a lot more after that, and studying. The way I learn is probably different to other people – to learn about how heat went through food, I wrote thousands of lines of computer code.
What are your favourite recipes from the book?
I love our striped omelette. I make that about three times a week. It’s a great example of a dish that Escoffier could have made – it’s modernist in its outlook, but it’s also something that’s timeless. And I’m addicted to our pastrami dish, it’s cooked for 72 hours sous-vide.
What is your approach to dining out?
Today I was in Barcelona and we went to the Boqueria market, bought Spanish ham and ate it on a park bench. But then tonight I’m going to El Celler de Can Roca.