Chefs Secrets from Food Scientists: Dr. Nathan Myhrvold and Chef Christopher Young of Intellectual Ventures
Secrets from Food Scientists:
Dr. Nathan Myhrvold and Chef Christopher Young of Intellectual Ventures

November 2009

Cryo-rendering, hot fruit gels, constructed (dairy-free) creams, puffed pork skin—all cooking solutions from the culinary and scientific minds behind the think-tank/laboratory Intellectual Ventures (IV), namely Dr. Nathan Myhrvold and Chef Chris Young. The two introduced several of their kitchen exploits and topics in their upcoming massive tome of a cookbook (1,500 pages no less; due out in 2010 but still untitled) to the International Chefs Congress main stage audience to this past September.

The presentation gave us a glimpse not only into the massive kitchen lab at IV (see more of it in the video from our exclusive interview/tour![link to tour video]), but also into the philosophy and inquisitive thinking behind so many of Myhrvold’s and Young’s pursuits. How can you render duck fat from breasts and not overcook the meat? How do you cook a pork roast and still get a crisp skin? How can you consistently melt cheese without it separating? Pretty basic—even age-old—culinary questions; Myhrvold and Young apply basic principles of science and a good dose of modern cooking techniques and equipment to find the answers.

The IV team has broken ground in the area of cooking proteins. It boils down to “using cold in balance with heat” and Dr. Myhrvold summarized on the Congress main stage. Techniques like cryo-rendering and puffed pork skin are their answers to crisp skin and super-succulent, tender meat.

It’s not just about technique, but also the equipment. Young uses the AccuTemp griddle for the rendering and searing. The steam-heated griddle is ideal for its “incredibly even” and precise heat distribution, and its ability to restore heat quickly when a cold item—like a semi-frozen duck breast—is placed on the griddle. Quick and efficient heat is an essential element to getting the proper sear on the duck skin. Chef Young extols the virtues of the griddle in greater detail in the video laboratory tour.

The second, perhaps even more important piece of equipment is the CVap oven. As Young explained: you can sous vide the breast meat, but the problem is that when the duck is sealed in the bag, the gelatinized collagen absorbs liquid from the meat, which you then have to cook off and that process will make the skin soggy. The beauty of the CVap is that it can do two tasks at once: cook the breast meat and continue to crisp the skin—it’s simply a matter of setting the oven to the right doneness temperature and browning level. (Tip: Young wraps the meat in plastic and leaves the skin exposed as it cooks in the CVap.) The end result is a juicier, more tender, and—more  importantly—less shrunken duck breast with perfectly crisp skin.

The lessons and innovations from the IV kitchen are many. It’s no wonder that it took Myhrvold’s culinary team three years to bring all of their ideas, discoveries, and conclusions together to create what will surely be a seminal book on cooking.