A couple of weeks ago, the Williams-Sonoma team went up to Bellevue, Washington to visit The Cooking Lab, a research laboratory dedicated to advancing the culinary arts through scientific knowledge and experimental techniques. The Lab is known for publishing Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking and Modernist Cuisine at Home, two beautifully photographed and comprehensive guides to the art and science of cooking. After a tour of one of the best equipped kitchens in the world and an innovative tasting menu, we walked away inspired and hungry for more.
“We visited The Cooking Lab because there’s an intellectual curiosity about what’s going on in food and equipment,” said Jean Armstrong, Williams-Sonoma’s Brand Marketing Director. “When we go into chefs’ kitchens, there’s an opportunity for us to see what restaurant chefs are doing that we can learn from and help our customers utilize their products even better.”
The Cooking Lab was founded by Nathan Myhrvold, a former Microsoft technologist who self-published the Modernist Cuisine books (he studied under both Stephen Hawking and French chef Anne Willan). While researching for the book, he decided he needed more space, along with a full team. The Cooking Lab was born, with a centrifuge, homogenizer, and more scientific equipment used to study and create modernist cuisine.
During our visit, we toured the photo studio, where the photography for the books was shot and edited. To show the methods at work in the books’ recipes, Myhrvold used a band saw to cut dishes and appliances in half. The images in both books are so stunning and illuminating that they’ve warranted another book on their own: The Photography of Modernist Cuisine, to be released in October.
Our team ate lunch right in the lab. The nine-course tasting menu was comprised of some of the Lab’s favorite recipes, showcasing foods that have been deconstructed and reconstructed to create something entirely new. Here’s what we ate:
freeze-dried corn, brown butter, lime
Crème Fraîche Panna Cotta
constructed savory cream, Ranier cherries, lemongrass
Centrifuged Pea Broth
spring vegetables, pickled Meyer lemon, sheep’s milk ricotta
72 h sous vide, sweet onion sauerkraut, fresh wasabi
Caramelized Carrot Soup
pressure caramelization, young coconut noodles, coconut foam, chaat masala
pressure-cooked corn polenta, corn oil, ricotta salata
constructed egg strips, shiitake marmalade, scrambled egg foam
pressure confit vegetables, jus gras
pistachio cream, amarena cherries
“The food was very interesting, with different flavors and unusual textures,” said Jean. “For us, it’s not so much about creating this level of recipe for our customers, but telling a more interesting story about what you can do with a blender, or a new technique or idea.”