One of Modernist Bread's cutaway photographs, in this case showing a slice of bread in a toaster
One of Modernist Bread's cutaway photographs, in this case showing a slice of bread in a toaster

Modernist Bread rises to the top of the James Beard Awards

Nathan Myhrvold's five-volume baking study won best Restaurant and Professional book at this year's awards

When the technologist and culinary researcher Nathan Myhrvold told his friends he was writing Modernist Bread, they usually said something along the lines of “Did you say 2,500 pages? On bread?”

In fact, the five-volume set actually ended up being 2,642 pages, though Myhrvold’s intricate devotion to this everyday foodstuff was justified a few days ago, when he and his co-author Francisco Migoya were awarded best Restaurant and Professional cookbook at the 2018 James Beard Media Award Winners.

“Bread may seem simple,” explains Myhrvold, “but in fact it is highly technological and scientific – it’s actually a biotech product whose creation requires harnessing the power of microorganisms that ferment.”

 

Dough proofing. An image from Modernist Bread
Dough proofing. An image from Modernist Bread

In the book, Myhrvold and Migoya atomise that creative process, digging into the ancient history of baking, the lifecycle of gain, as well as the processes of successfully making everything from sourdough to Ethiopian injera.

Crucially, the book both celebrates and criticises the artisanal bread movement, which, from the authors’ point of view, both saved good baking from industrial breadmaking, but also shackled it to tradition and nostalgic dogma.

“It can’t possibly be true that all the best ideas in bread baking have already been discovered,” writes Myhrvold. “Science and technology aren’t enemies of great bread. The laws of nature govern baking just like they govern everything else in the world. Knowing which laws affect your bread helps; understanding technology helps too.”

 

Modernist Bread
Modernist Bread

It seems as if one of America’s leading culinary institution now agrees with Myhrvold and co. If you’d like a taste of the kind of brilliant baking available to us all today, order a copy of Modernist Bread, here.