Nathan Myhrvold and Francisco Migoya’s Modernist Bread is over 2,000 pages, costs $625, and is about bread. By the end of this article, you will want to buy it.
Myhrvold is the former chief technology officer of Microsoft, and also happens to be obsessed with bread. This includes, but is not limited to, the history of bread-making, the science of bread-making, the smell of bread, the taste of bread, and the general craft behind bread.
This guy. This is Myhrvold. / Photo by Ruth Fremson Via the New York Times
Myhrvold loves bread so much that he recruited the head chef of Cooking Lab (Myhrvold’s research kitchen), Francisco Migoya, to help him write the new tome. Migoya is also a bit of an obsessive, having spent seven years perfecting his recipe of pâte à choux (God bless you).
Migoya. / Photo by Ruth Fremson Via the New York Times
As Tejal Rao of the New York Times notes “the history of bread has been ugly at times.” Modernist Bread covers some of this history, from Pompei to Florence to France all the way to 1970s California, where the fancy artisanal bread movement has its roots. I assume this has something to do with expensive breads at delis, such as ciabatta and focaccia. That’s the extent of my bread knowledge.
Myhrvold and Migoya’s book, however, goes far beyond the history of bread. It explores the science of making bread (one chapter begins “Baking is applied biology”), providing pictures of rarely observed phenomena such as the mysterious processes inside pressure cookers, and incredibly detailed accounts of flour and fermentation.
This is all in service of finding a future for bread makers. Myhrvold and Migoya are convinced the best days of bread are not behind us. Regarding the current, fashionable obsession over wood-fired ovens (which Myhrvold calls “an absurd fetish”), Myhrvold told the New York Times, “My rhetorical question is, ‘What’s next, stone tools?’”
Though he is frustrated with current state of bread-making, Myhrvold does admit his 2,000 page behemoth doesn’t contain all the answers. “I’m not quite pompous and narcissistic enough,” he says, “to say, ‘Here is where bread is going.’”
Photo by Ruth Fremson Via the New York Times
Though Myhrvold may not know where bread is going, he can be certain where my next paycheck is going: to him. Because I want this freaking book.