Behind the Scenes at the Nathan Myhrvold's Modernist Cuisine Cooking Lab

[Photographs: Ryan Matthew Smith and J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

If you've already had a chance to look at the photos insane dinner I had at the Modernist Cuisine Cooking Lab in Seattle a couple weeks back, you may be interested in knowing what goes into preparing all that food, and the book.

Before the meal, we took an extensive tour of the massive warehouse space that houses the Cooking Lab. Here's an excerpt from the Gourmet Live article I wrote about the trip (see the first half here):

As the tour progresses through a machining shop, Michael Voltaggio stops to examine one of the massive tools. "We could use this thing to build an airplane propeller if we wanted to," says Myhrvold, showing off the 5-axis machining center used to build some of the custom-designed equipment for both the Cooking Lab, and for ongoing projects through Intellectual Ventures. Current work includes a zero-emission nuclear reactor, as well as a half dozen projects designed to detect and eradicate malaria—the last room we walked through housed a plexiglass network of mosquito cages. The 5-axis machine is huge—it's got a footprint easily larger than the average New York bedroom—but slipped between a high-powered water-jet cutter ("this thing can cut through anything") and a 3-D printer ("this can build a physical version of any computer model"), it's easy to forget its scale; In this context, it's no more out of place than a microwave stuck between a toaster oven and a stand mixer.

Now this is one of the most useful tools in the whole room," says Myhrvold, pointing out a box about the size of one of those instant photograph booths at the mall. Known as a spark machining tool, it can cut through metal with thousandth-of-a-millimeter accuracy. "we used it to cut all our pans in half." Early on in production, the team came up with idea of the cutaway as an effective method of demonstrating what's going on inside your food as it's being cooked. It's a design element that appears over and over again. "We bought all kinds of equipment just so that we could cut it in half," he says, pointing at a half a microwave cut so that you can observe not only the magnetron and stirring chamber, but also the bag of popcorn split neatly down the center inside it. Like Willy Wonka's office at the Chocolate Factory, the lab is littered with halved objects: pepper mills, iSi whipped cream canisters, pots, pans, woks, even a pressurized deep fryer from KFC.

You'll have to download the Gourmet Live app (unfortunately only available on iPad at the moment) for the rest of the story, but the slideshow above will give you a behind-the-scenes look at everything that goes on in that building.

Ever seen a microwave cut in half?

Continue here for the slideshow!

p.s. Make it through to the last photo, and take a peek at what I think is probably the funniest photo from the whole trip.

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