Nathan Myhrvold: Cut your food in half | Summary and Q&A

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Nathan Myhrvold: Cut your food in half


A chef and author showcases the intersection of science, techniques, and creativity in cooking through stunning cutaway photographs, explanations of physics and chemistry, and unique recipes.

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Questions & Answers

Q: How does the speaker challenge the traditional approach to cookbooks and culinary education?

The speaker highlights the limitations of traditional cookbooks and culinary schools in capturing the science, techniques, and creativity of cooking. He emphasizes the importance of understanding the chemistry and physics of cooking and explores avant-garde techniques developed by innovative chefs that are not taught in conventional culinary education.

Q: What is the significance of the cutaway photographs in the speaker's book?

The cutaway photographs offer a unique perspective on food preparation by exposing the hidden processes and inner workings. They aim to seduce readers into exploring more technical and scientific aspects of cooking while providing informative explanations of the physics, chemistry, and techniques involved.

Q: How does the speaker create the cutaway photographs in his book?

Rather than relying on Photoshop, the speaker and his team use a machine shop to cut various objects, such as kitchens, ovens, and barbecues, in half. They photograph the objects in two halves and digitally remove the edges to create a seamless cutaway effect. In some cases, they also use glass or Pyrex to allow a clear view of the inner workings of the food being prepared.

Q: What are some examples of the scientific explanations provided in the book?

The speaker's book delves into a range of scientific explanations related to cooking. For instance, it explores Fourier's law of heat conduction, which involves a partial differential equation. It also explains the physics of grilling and how the characteristic char-grilled taste primarily comes from fat pyrolyzing or burning. Additionally, the book includes tidbits about James Watt's biography and the concept of wattage in appliances.

Q: How does the speaker approach the concept of a hamburger in his book?

The speaker believes that no dish is inherently better than another, and thus, he devotes equal care and technique to making a high-quality hamburger as he would to a more sophisticated dish. The book includes a 30-hour hamburger recipe, which involves various steps and techniques, such as marinating the meat and making homemade buns. The speaker explains the physics and chemistry behind cooking a hamburger, including the role of fat in creating the char-grilled taste.

Q: How does the speaker incorporate gels into his book?

The speaker includes a chapter on gels and provides a recipe for ballistics gelatin, which mimics the properties of human flesh when subjected to impact. The speaker mentions using a high-speed camera to capture interesting moments with the gelatin, showcasing its behavior. This example demonstrates the scientific principles at play in cooking and adds a unique twist to the book.

Q: What is the size and format of the speaker's book?

The book consists of six volumes, with a total of 2,438 pages. The pages are large in size, and there is also a sixth volume with washable, waterproof paper designed for kitchen use. The speaker jokes that some may find it too big and pretty for the kitchen.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • The speaker discusses the limitations of traditional cookbooks and culinary education in capturing the science and techniques of cooking.

  • He introduces his approach of using cutaway photographs to reveal the inner workings of food preparation and explain the physics and chemistry behind cooking.

  • The speaker shares examples from his book, including cutaways of steamed broccoli, the calculation of heat distribution in barbecues, and a 30-hour hamburger recipe.

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