By Angie Georgeff
I know this column has some devoted readers because many of you come into the library asking for “that book you wrote about in the paper.” Since I work on the column two or even three weeks ahead of publication, I sometimes have trouble figuring out which book you mean, but keep on asking! Recently, however, I learned that it reaches a wider audience than I had realized.
The column published on June 12 that reported the results of our best book/worst book poll takes the cake—or perhaps I should say bread …
One of the respondents had voted for “Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking” by Nathan Myhrvold, Chris Young and Maxime Bilet as his or her favorite. I was not familiar with the title, so I did some research and I was enchanted. It is a 2,438-page, six-volume encyclopedia of cooking filled with the most amazing photographs. If “we eat first with our eyes,” as the ancient Roman gourmand Apicius claimed, this title proves to be a potent appetizer and an incentive to get to work in the kitchen.
Unfortunately, I was not able to turn the pages in person because the price is beyond our library’s modest budget. The nearest copy I could locate was at the Knoxville Public Library. Well, not anymore!
Stephanie Swane, the publisher, posted a comment on The Erwin Record’s website offering to donate copies of “Modernist Cuisine” and “Modernist Bread.” She and Nathan Myhrvold, the founder and co-author, support libraries and wanted to make the books available to our patrons. Of course, I promptly accepted her generous offer and within a few days, we were unpacking both sets of books.
At first, I admired the photos, but then I started to browse the content. Cookbooks provide a set of instructions. With volumes focused on History and Fundamentals, Techniques and Equipment, Animals and Plants, Ingredients and Preparations, Plated-Dish Recipes and a Kitchen Manual, “Modernist Cuisine” not only explains in detail how to prepare food, but why it should be done that way. And then there is “Modernist Bread,” by Nathan Myhrvold and Francisco Migoya. What “Modernist Cuisine” has done for plated dishes, “Modernist Bread” does for the staff of life, in six volumes and 2,642 pages.
I have not yet begun to plumb the depths of these books, but what I have seen and read so far has certainly whetted my appetite. My favorite volume to date is the first volume of “Modernist Bread.” The history of bread is fascinating and I found the homages to Carl Warner’s food landscapes and the still-life portraits of 16th century Italian painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo enormously appealing. I know our patrons will enjoy having these resources available and on behalf of all of them I want to thank Ms. Swane and Mr. Myhrvold! Thank you so much!