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Modernist Cuisine

The future of food technology writ large

Released in March 2011, Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking consists of six volumes, 2,438 pages, more than 650,000 words and thousands of photographic images. Many believe it is the most important food publication in history. The influential Hartman Group in the US implores food manufacturers and marketers alike not to make “the dangerous mistake of overlooking works like Modernist Cuisine, as well as the budding consumer interest in such technologies. This is not about molecular gastronomy or technoemotional cuisine — those are simply restaurant trends. This is about the future of food technology writ large.”

RIGHT DOWN THE STREET from our offices, inside the warehouse that serves as Intellectual Ventures headquarters, is the most sophisticated kitchen laboratory in the world.

Working inside this lab for the past four years, Nathan Myhrvold, Chris Young and Maxime Bilet, along with a staff of more than 40 others, have produced what many believe is the most important food publication in history.

Released this week [March 8, 2011], Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking consists of six volumes, 2,438 pages, more than 650,000 words and thousands of photographic images.

As suggested in the title, this masterwork deploys history, science and technology both to refine our current understanding of food preparation techniques, as well as to pave the way for a future of potentially limitless innovation. “We pretty much begin with the discovery of fire, and go from there,” Myhrvold explains.

To really understand the level of detail and passion in this work consider that this crew repeatedly cut cooking vessels in half—everything from a standard pot to a Weber grill to a $5,000 oven—simply to study how heat transfers into and around food as it cooks.  

Lest you make the mistake of thinking this level of detail is beyond your qualifications or interest, there is a lot of attention paid to more traditional techniques found inside most homes, such as pressure cooking, slow cooking and most everything else that falls into the home cook’s repertoire of techniques.

But of course there is also the desire to better understand many of the techniques and trends of our current culinary epoch. There is an entire chapter devoted to ingredients such as thickeners, gels, emulsions and so forth. Not surprisingly, liquid nitrogen and sous-vide get a lot of attention, as well…..

……Read more of this article here [but it is these following and concluding paragraphs that should get food marketers and producers thinking! Ed]

Importantly, works like these offer a glimpse into what could be a vast opportunity space for the packaged food and beverage industry. Processed food sales have flattened in some categories in the US, with many companies looking to marketplaces in developing countries for growth support.

At HartmanSalt, we believe the primary driver behind sluggish sales is the fact that food technology, as it is used today, is no longer relevant to how Americans prefer to eat. It is ironic that the same technologies championed, discussed and “discovered” by explorations such as On Food & Cooking and Modernist Cuisine have been commonplace in the processed and packaged food industry for 60 years. In other words, these iconic reference tomes have systemized and reimagined food technology that is now “old news” to those in the processed and packaged foods business.

Yet, rather than demonstrating the interest or passion to use these techniques to make great, exciting food products, packaged food brands seem content to deploy their tools to make food more consistent, more shelf stable, more convenient and more affordable. These packaged and/or processed foods captured our attention 50 years ago when notions like consistency and convenience seemed novel. But today’s consumer is nonplussed by uniformity and consistency, and is increasingly able to choose a higher quality, fresh option when convenience matters. If the only real value-add of processed food technology as it is currently deployed is to keep prices low, your business model is going to find it increasingly difficult to compete with private label.

We’re inspired to ask, why can’t the real innovators of these technologies use them to recapture the imagination of the American consumer?

So we implore food manufacturers and marketers alike, please do not make the dangerous mistake of overlooking works like Modernist Cuisine, as well as the budding consumer interest in such technologies. This is not about molecular gastronomy or technoemotional cuisine—those are simply restaurant trends. This is about the future of food technology writ large.

Source: The Hartman Group

Read more about Modernist Cuisine here

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