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Guest Thread: Modernist Cuisine's Scott Heimendinger

The thread that inspire this one is here: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/873806

And for added context, here are the questions, and answers from Scott from that thread:

By delys77 on Oct 16, 2012 02:16 PM

Hi all
My partner was kind enough to order the new Modernist Cuisine at Home for me as a surprise. I do most of the cooking at home and I have been quite curious about this book and Myrvhold grand opus Modernist Cuisine, but I have to say that even with the simplified approach of the at Home book I'm not actually sure I will cook from it.
Typically I am not afraid of a challenge, but after perusing the book last night a few issues came up:

1. Eventhough many of the recipes don't call for any special equipment, there are unfortunately a very large number that do. I have a well equipped kitchen with good quality, pans, pots, mixers, food processors, immersion blenders, and various other implements, but many recipes call for pressure cookers, air syphons, blow torches, juicers, and sous vide machines (more on this letter). While I would consider adding a pressure cooker and maybe even a blow torch they aren't traditionally that high on my list. To cook from the book however the pressure cooker is an absolute must, and a sous vide set up would be great also.
2. It's all a little precious. I always try to plate food as best I can, being conscious of the composition of the plate, colours etc, and while the pictures are beautiful I don't think I am likely to ever plate as they are doing. Of course I think it is beautiful, and more power to anyone that is willing to take on the task of these presentations, but I'm not sure it is for me.
3. Years ago I read Michael Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma, and while I don't want to seem too old fashioned (I am 35 after all), I'm not sure I like the idea of cooking in plastic bags and using certain additives (otolyzed protein etc...). In the past few years I've attempted to eat locally and organically as much as possible and to avoid foods that have been engineered or subjected to extensive processing. The author states clearly that cooking in plastic bags is entirely safe, but somehow I am more likely to trust the wisdom of a good old cast iron pan. Plus some of his suggested methods for jury rigging a sous vide machine at home would have you rewiring your slow cooker, or have you maintain a constant temperature for hours on your stove top, which simply don't seem practical.
4. In my circle of friends and family I am often regarded as a very adventurous cook who isn't afraid to roll up his sleeves and take on arduous preparations in the kitchen. That said, I think I have met my match. To me Modernist Cuisine at Home seems like it might still be just too much. It is undeniably a beautiful book that was meticulously researched, is full of interesting recipes and techniques, and would likely yield superior results, but will the braised Korean BBQ be noticeably better than the one I already make. I'm not so sure.
5. Lastly, some of these recipes may be better, even perceptibly so, but to make a steak I may need to cook it sous vide for an hour and then remove from its bag to sear in a pan or use a blowtorch. Right now if I want to cook the steak (outside of BBQ season) I pull out cast iron pan and heat it till it is searing hot and then pop my steaks in for a few minutes a side. Then into the oven they go to finish, before coming out for a quick rest. End to end the steak will be in my plate in 15 minutes, it will have a beautiful crust and still be nice and pink inside. True, the doneness will not be perfect since the bottom and top of the steak will have been closer to the heat source than the centre, but again I'm not so sure this will make a big difference.

The jury is still out for me, I plan to spend a few more days with it before I decide to return it or not, mostly because some of the slow cooker recipes just might be worth it to me, but also because my partner went to the trouble of getting me a nice gift. That being said, at over $100 and nearly 10kg it needs to be a book I am going to use.

Has anyone else had any experiences with the book?

Scott's Answer:

Scott from the Modernist Cuisine team here. First, I wanted to thank you for posting this. There are lots of folks who have made up their minds about Modernist Cuisine and Modernist Cuisine at Home before they've ever opened the books, so it is incredibly meaningful to see that you're really giving the book a shot before making up your mind. We appreciate that greatly!
Now, let's see what we can do to address the issues you mentioned.
1. Special equipment. Yes, you are correct that, to really cook the book cover-to-cover, you'll likely need to add some gear to your arsenal. There are several recipes that require a pressure cooker or a whipping siphon, and even more that benefit from a sous vide machine. Although we include lots of alternative methods and improvised setups, it’s true that the recipes work best with the right gear.
But, even in the absence of all of the equipment called for in the book, we think it’s interesting just to know about those techniques. In the original Modernist Cuisine, for example, there are whole sections dedicated to the centrifuge, the rotary evaporator, the spray drier, etc. Very few people own or cook with those tools. But, lots of folks still think it’s neat to understand how they work, even if they’ll never buy one.
In Modernist Cuisine at Home, we had the same philosophy, but we wanted to pick a set of tools that _could_ reasonably be found in most home kitchens. Sure, sous vide baths and pressure cookers are not as popular as microwave ovens and slow-cookers (at least not yet). However, if we were to remove those tools from our repertoire, we would also have to eliminate many of the most interesting, unique, Modernist techniques from the book, and that’s no fun. So, for us it was a balance. Should we include sous vide? How about centrifuges? Ultimately, we drew the line at tools that were available at Sur La Table, Williams-Sonoma or similar stores. We do hope, though, that we can show the value of investing in additional tools, and guide you in the right direction when making a purchasing decision.
2. Preciousness. I think we’ll have to take this one as a compliment . Our chefs are natural-born food stylists, which is a very handy thing when making a cookbook. We believe that most people “eat with their eyes” first, so we do like to make our plateups look nice... perhaps even precious, at times. It’s one of the hallmarks of Modernist cooking – embracing the aesthetic aspects, the “art” aspect, of cooking. However, we hope that our presentation can serve as an inspiration, as opposed to a standard of success or failure. Trust me, your dinner guests will love the mac and cheese regardless of how nicely the topping is coiffed.
3. Not quite ready to embrace sous vide. Sous vide can be a very polarizing thing. Although the current body of scientific research assures us that cooking sous vide with the proper types of plastic is perfectly safe, some folks are opposed to plastics for other reasons. In those cases, we advocate cooking foods sous vide in mason jars, topped off with oil to seal the food. The cooking time will be longer, but no plastic is involved. Alternately, home combi-ovens can approximate the precision of sous vide cooking, but without any plastic whatsoever.
You’re correct that cooking sous vide without a sous vide machine can sometimes be a tedious endeavor. In those setups, you’re playing the role of the human thermostat, monitoring the temperature of the water and adjusting it up or down accordingly. Interestingly, you’re even more of a human thermostat in traditional cooking methods – cooking a fillet of salmon in a skillet, for example. However, with traditional cooking, the consequences for getting your heat or timing wrong are typically more severe. Salmon can go from undercooked to obliterated in just a few moments on the high heat of a skillet, but sous vide, even improvised, is much more forgiving. Although you may not want to go to the trouble for every meal, we think it’s worth knowing how to produce those results, even if you choose to use that method infrequently.
4. Are the recipes worth the trouble? Generally speaking, yes. It’s probably painfully obvious that Modernist Cuisine at Home doesn’t offer the “easiest way” do make those recipes. In fact, we’re just plain uninterested in the easiest way. What we care about is the method that achieves the best results, even if it requires more effort. However, I can attest to the fact that the extra effort is not in vain. If you take the time to follow them, the recipes from Modernist Cuisine at Home produce results that outshine simplified methods in just about every instance. Part of this is evident in our attitude about purity. Take the mac and cheese sauce recipe, for example: we leave out everything that isn’t cheese, such as cream, butter and flour. The result is a cheese sauce that is intensely cheesy. The same principle applies in throughout the book: the home jus gras recipe, the pistachio gelato recipe, the caramelized carrot soup recipe… these foods do require a little more effort than their traditional counterparts, but in return, you get an unparalleled intensity of flavor.
5. Sous vide takes a lot of time. Yes, sous vide cooking is almost always slower than traditional methods. But, a) it produces better, more reliable results, and b) it involves very little _active_ cooking time. Although a steak may take an hour to cook sous vide, only a few minutes of that time require your attention. And, should your partner or dinner guests happen to be running late, in most cases, your food doesn’t suffer if it sits in the bath a while longer. Personally, I find sous vide cooking to be extremely liberating. However, it’s a very different approach to cooking. It rewards planning and patience over the ability to juggle a stove full of skillets. I don’t use sous vide all the time (it makes terrible toast) but it can be a hugely valuable and rewarding method for home cooks.
Again, we really value your thoughts and feedback. We know that Modernist Cuisine at Home is a very different book than most cookbooks, and that’s exactly the point. Even if you don’t decide to take the plunge with new equipment, we hope that the insights from our recipes will work their way into your everyday cooking.

By mrbitterpants on Oct 19, 2012 12:57 PM

Hi Scott,

To your point about sous-vide being more forgiving, when using the stovetop method, what is the tolerance level? Say if i only check the temp every 15 minutes and adjust +/- 10 deg will it still be OK? Would like to try it out before investing in a sous-vide machine.

Got the book as a gift and love reading it so far but haven't had the time yet to actually cook something.

Scott's Answer:

The level of forgiveness depends entirely on the food you're cooking and how much temperature fluctuation it experiences. 10 degrees F in internal temperature can make a huge difference in delicate foods like fish or eggs. But, in most cases, it's the peak temperature that makes a difference in doneness. On a skillet or in an oven, the internal temperature of your food is (almost) always climbing and can overshoot the desired doneness temperature in the blink of an eye. With sous vide, because the food heats more slowly, and because the temperature of the water bath is usually the temperature you want the food to reach (+/- a degree or two) the risk of overshooting the desired temperature is much lower.

We actually recommend the camping cooler method. Heat a large pot of water to the right temperature for the recipe you're making. Then, fill an insulated camping cooler with the hot water. Add your bagged food, close the lid, and walk away. As long as the ratio of water to food is high, the water will cook the food and you don't need to adjust the temperature much, if at all.

Oct 22, 2012
CHOW HQ in Home Cooking

New Feature Coming: Been There/Wanna Go buttons

Hi everyone - thanks for the feedback. It has been very valuable to us and we appreciate all of the comments. The feature will have an optional privacy setting that you can adjust in your profile - under the Lists category you will see a Restaurants link. Under the Restaurant section you will see two tabs, one for Been There and the other for Wanna Go. To the right of these two tabs, there will be radio button where you can chose 'private' or 'public'. This will make both lists (Been There and Wanna Go) either public or private, whichever you choose. Hopefully this will make the feature a more usable. Again thank you for the feedback!

Jun 01, 2011
CHOW HQ in Site Talk

New Feature Coming: Been There/Wanna Go buttons

In the next week or so we will be launching a new feature we're calling Been There / Wanna Go. This feature will allow you to create lists of the places you've been or want to go. Those lists will be visible in your profile page. Check out the annotated page to see a full visual description of the feature:
http://www.chow.com/may-updates

And let us know what you think!

May 19, 2011
CHOW HQ in Site Talk

Feedback Wanted on New Feature Coming Soon

rworange that is a great idea! We have talked about additional dependencies on the moderation tools but your suggestion will definitely be added it to the feature requirements.

Apr 28, 2011
CHOW HQ in Site Talk

Feedback Wanted on New Feature Coming Soon

Hi Everyone,

This is great feedback, thank you so much for taking the time to share your opinions.

First we want to make sure that you all understand why we ask for feedback when planning new features. User feedback is a critical part of developing and launching great features. We want to hear opinions, both positive and negative. We strive to create tools that will help users, not hinder them and/or promote popularity contests. Actually this is what we are trying to avoid.

The feature is intended to extract ‘helpful’ information, rather than highlight people. We hope that users police themselves for the most part. However we know this isn’t always the case – that is why we rely on our amazing community of moderators (thank you guys!) and a brilliant Community Manager in Jacquilynne.

Threads and posts on the boards are conversations that have a cadence, and we don't want to interrupt that. But we do want to offer users a way to quickly scan the conversation for useful/helpful pieces of information. In the long term this feature is meant to branch out to small screen portable readers (mobile, tablets, etc.) In the future it will allow users to highlight the exact phrase that they found helpful as a way to pull out specifics about a restaurant -- like what dishes people should order. But in the short term we have to start small (on the website) developing simple functionality (a link with a number).

This isn't meant to undermine the main premise of the boards or go against the manifesto. That would go against the grain of everything we are trying to accomplish: to provide the tools to make every bite count.

Apr 28, 2011
CHOW HQ in Site Talk

Feedback Wanted on New Feature Coming Soon

Hi limster - we completely agree that the digests are a wonderful tool that aren't visible enough - we are working on promoting the digests in a better way thank you for your feedback.

Apr 26, 2011
CHOW HQ in Site Talk

Feedback Wanted on New Feature Coming Soon

Hi Chowhounds! We've noticed that many users would like an easy way to acknowledge informative posts without necessarily jumping fully into the conversation or cluttering the thread with a bunch of '+1' or 'thank you' or 'I agree' posts.

So we're thinking about allowing users to mark a post as "helpful." Pretty straightforward, nothing you haven't seen on other sites, but something that could come in handy. And down the road we'll do more with the data, as a way to bubble up the most relevant or informative parts of the thread.

The button would be next to the reply and permalink buttons underneath the text box and would look something like this when 212 people clicked the link -

Helpful (212) | Permalink | Reply

Let us know what you think!

Apr 25, 2011
CHOW HQ in Site Talk

Unreadable information in the restaurant records

Hi rworange - We aren't testing any new functionality on the restaurant pages at this time. And while it could be interesting, we don't have any plans to make an update like that any time soon. I would guess that its a Skype setting of some sort. Thanks for alerting us.

Apr 13, 2011
CHOW HQ in Site Talk

truncated i-phone site?

Hi Melanie, I filed a bug on the maps too. I should know in the next day or two if it will be fixed for your trip.

Apr 05, 2011
CHOW HQ in Site Talk

truncated i-phone site?

Hi Melanie, our apologies for not responding for so long...looks like there's some issues with the mobile version of the site. I will log a bug and hope to have this fixed in the next release on 4/21. Are you still on the road?

Apr 04, 2011
CHOW HQ in Site Talk

truncated i-phone site?

These changes we have introduced are all towards the goal of simplifying the UI for a small touch screen. Having to touch exactly on the post name or the board name or the number of replies requires too much dexterity for most people. So, we changed it so that you can touch anywhere on that line and you go to the thread which is the most common desired action.

However, we realize that the power users want all of these additional capabilities. So, we will add back in the the option to opt out and go to the full advanced site view.

Feb 11, 2011
CHOW HQ in Site Talk

Release 08/10/2010 - Restaurants and Bars

Hi Melanie, we have been working with our Restaurant data provider to get us good and viable data for months. We hear your concerns and are equally interested in resolving the data issue. We are close to having a process that will update the restaurant data on a routine basis and correct a lot of the errors in our data base. We appreciate all of the work you have done to send us the lists and are working diligently on resolving the this issues so that our records are current and up to date. Hang tight we hope to have the new feed and a good stream of data up and running sometime in the next month.

Oct 10, 2010
CHOW HQ in Site Talk

Release 08/10/2010 - Restaurants and Bars

Hi Melanie - thanks for alerting us we apologize for the delayed response. There is a bug filed against it and we hope to resolve it in the November release (launch date TBD).

Oct 10, 2010
CHOW HQ in Site Talk

Who else has teeny tiny font when writing a reply?

Hi septocaine queen - this was a bug from the release yesterday and not the intended user experience. It got resolved today - but let us know if you are seeing it still. Thanks for alerting us!

Sep 16, 2010
CHOW HQ in Site Talk

"There's a 'SEARCH THIS BOARD' link at the top of each board and thread -- it's next to the name of the board. "'

Hi Melanie and squid - that was a known bug that we were very happy to resolve this release. If it happens again let us know, that is not the intended experience. Thanks for alerting us.

Sep 16, 2010
CHOW HQ in Site Talk

I hate the new release

Update here - some fixes are coming please see this thread for details - http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7241...

Aug 11, 2010
CHOW HQ in Site Talk

RELEASE COMING!

Hi Everyone -

Thank you so much for all of the feedback since launch, we really appreciate hearing the good and the bad and we are working really hard to fix bugs.

On a quick note, the things that will be included today in another release will be -

1. Fixes to make the font size smaller, thus saving some of the vertical space on posts.
2. Minimize the padding around posts, again to minimize vertical space.
3. Put the darker grey background back, to help with bleeding eyes.

There will be more fixes coming in the next few days and the coming weeks. Thanks again for all of the feedback! The Chow Team

Aug 11, 2010
CHOW HQ in Site Talk

I hate the new release

Hi Jfood - We are just as invested in developing a better Blackberry experience as the Iphone and Android experiences. The goal is to have the Blackberry site redesigned by the end of the year.

Aug 11, 2010
CHOW HQ in Site Talk

Has Supertaster Disappeared Entirely?

You can now read all Supertaster stories here:

http://www.chow.com/food-news/superta...

Aug 10, 2010
CHOW HQ in Site Talk

Search - 08/10/2010 release

Hi rworagne - this is great feedback. We are looking at ways to optimize the search experience and appreciate that you 'stumble' upon content via search. Thanks for the feedback! Keep it coming!

Aug 10, 2010
CHOW HQ in Site Talk

too much white space

We will be resolving these issues over the next couple of days.

Font size, line spacing and the amount of white padding in each container are currently off and will be addressed.

Concerning the amount of white space you are seeing, We did not add in any white space to what was on the page before, what we did was remove the grey coloring that was appearing between the edge of the page and the browser window.

We will monitor the comments here and if needed we can potentially reintroduce that shading to the sides of the site.

Thanks for your patience while we fix these details, we know how much of a difference these details make to readability and will correct them asap.

Aug 10, 2010
CHOW HQ in Site Talk

I hate the new release

Hi LGN212 -

--The saved list putting the board names into one single long column is a bug that we are working on fixing along with the fact that it overwrites the header.
--the edit feature should allow you to remove multiple at a time. However we are working on functionality to allow the user to rank them in any order they want. It didn't make this release but will be coming in the following couple weeks.

Thanks for alerting us about these bugs.

Aug 10, 2010
CHOW HQ in Site Talk

RELEASE COMING!

Thank you to everyone for this really useful feedback on Tuesday's release. We are so thrilled to hear that you're excited about a few of the new features! But here's the requisite cover-your-ass statement: it's a huge release, and we might have some hiccups after launching. (So yes, perhaps a little downtime, perhaps some janky interactions, perhaps some funny-looking design stuff.)

The release should be live by midday Pacific time. And then you should be able to get right back into the site and start getting used to the new features. Please, please do let us know if you see problems. Feedback is always welcome; if it's a bug we will get it into the queue to fix, and if it's a request for change or enhancement, we will refer to it when mapping out future releases.

A few people have mentioned the mobile site. This release includes an iPhone/Android version of the site that fixes a lot of the problems the current mobile site has, and allows users to reply to threads and post new threads from their phone. It's not an app (that's in the works, of course), but you'll be able to visit the site on your iPhone or Android and it'll automatically detect the mobile version. There are a few things we're still working on; in the next week or so you'll be able to: upload photos to a review; upload photos to a restaurant page; use the swipe motion to scroll through photo galleries. We haven’t enabled video on this version, yet; we're expecting to have that done in the fall.

I'll be checking in constantly and will try to be as responsive as possible.

Aug 09, 2010
CHOW HQ in Site Talk

RELEASE COMING!

That is great to hear rworange, it is our feeling as well! The feature is very useful in theory, but in practice it's almost unusable. Pretty sure that you have figured out ways to work around its limitations but it will be great when we can get it working to its full potential. Thanks for the feedback - keep it coming!

Aug 06, 2010
CHOW HQ in Site Talk

RELEASE COMING!

We aren't revising any of the Hot Posts functionality in this release. Thus, It should work as its always worked in the past even though you access it from your profile now. However we will be improving/optimizing the Hot Posts experience in the next couple cycles of releases.

Aug 02, 2010
CHOW HQ in Site Talk

RELEASE COMING!

Changes are afoot.

We've got some changes coming soon! Our August 10 release includes some updates to the site that we hope will make navigation and browsing easier. For a peek at what’s coming down the pike, check out the annotated pages here: http://www.chow.com/release_announcement

Some things you’ll notice right away: the CHOW and Chowhound parts of the site are given more distinct identities, though CHOW content will still appear in the right column of Chowhound (because we know you love those jalapeno poppers images ...). The drop-down menu to navigate through the boards is going away, and instead you’ll navigate around the site via a module that sits at the top of each page. And you can quickly save your favorite boards to the module so it’ll take fewer clicks to get where you normally go.

Search is changing too. The search box that sits at the top of every page on Chowhound will be specific to discussions and restaurants. When you refine, it’ll immediately refresh without having to click Search again. “Best match” will be the default result; it means that it will return the most relevant and most recent results.

On the CHOW side, the home page is going to look rather dramatically different. We really scaled it back. And the rather useless distinction between stories and blogs will be a thing of the past.

We’ve done all of this with you in mind, and the goal of easing navigation. You’ll tell us what you think when it goes live on August 10. For now, take a look at the annotated pages: http://www.chow.com/release_announcement

Jul 29, 2010
CHOW HQ in Site Talk

Problems with video link on the sidebar, possibly making browser crash

We believe we solved the issue, but let us know if this pops up again.

Jun 09, 2010
CHOW HQ in Site Talk

New behavior of posts under Stories

Thanks Bob for the suggestion to put a poll on to the Stories page to see what users think about the new behavior, that is a great idea. When we post the poll we will be sure to let the thread know so everyone will have a chance to vote.

May 24, 2010
CHOW HQ in Site Talk

Floating, pop-up windows.

Thank you Servorg for sending the URL this is very helpful.

May 20, 2010
CHOW HQ in Site Talk

Problems with video link on the sidebar, possibly making browser crash

Hi Jasmine - thanks for letting us know. We just recently moved to a new video player which may be causing this bug. We will investigate this issue and fix as soon as we have a solution.

May 20, 2010
CHOW HQ in Site Talk