Nathan Myhrvold, erstwhile Microsoft CTO and now patent powerbroker extraordinare, has hit the news this weekend, but it’s not for his latest licensing deal with a mobile phone maker, or for a lawsuit against a tech company (or three) that refuses to pay up for patents that his company, Intellectual Ventures, owns — but for a different kettle of fish altogether.
Myhrvold has won the James Beard Foundation book award for cookbook of the year — the top prize in one of the industry’s most prestigious accolades — for a book that deep-dives, appropriately enough, into the science and technology of cooking.
His book, the self-published Modernist Cuisine, is a six-volume, 2,438-page effort that he co-wrote with Chris Young and Maxime Bilet (and a 20-person team of cooks), which is selling for $625 (or $455.11 on Amazon).
Myhrvold, it turns out, has been a foodie for decades, starting some serious amateur training in Burgundy, France at the La Varenne cooking academy, while he was still at Microsoft.
According to this lengthy profile in Men’s Journal, Myhrvold’s basic interest was then further concentrated (geddit?) after meeting and befriending Heston Blumenthal, the British chef famous for popularizing the whole concept of molecular gastronomy — the art of applying science and technology to figuring out why food tastes the way that it does, and how to use scientific techniques make that even better.
If Myhrvold’s contribution to the tech world has been one of inventions and — perhaps more controversially — a certain kind of business acumen to leverage his and other’s inventions, then his Modernist Cuisine is perhaps the culinary equivalent:
Molecular gastronomy has made its way to the forefront of haute cuisine, with restaurants like the Fat Duck, El Bulli and Noma leading the charge, and as that trickles down to the masses you can see how Myhrvold’s tome could be useful to the wider world of chefs keen to apply some of these methods in their kitchens. As for the content: “water baths, homogenizers, centrifuges, and ingredients such as hydrocolloids, emulsifiers, and enzymes” are very much the norm in this book.
In its most positive and optimistic light, the book and the whole effort gives a totally different spin to a man many commonly think of as a patent troll. As Men’s Journal writes: “If Myhrvold wants to bridge his ideas to reality and not be deemed a mere opportunist, or monsteret, what better route to the public’s love than through its stomach?”
On a more cynical note: do you think Mhyrvold looked into whether any of these cooking ideas can be patented — and if so, have they been?
Intellectual Ventures is a private company founded in 2000 to invest in “pure invention.” Its goal is to develop a large patent portfolio rather than to actually develop new systems. Its employees are predominantly patent attorneys, physicists, engineers and biotechnologists. They also have hired prominent scientists to perform invention including Robert Langer of MIT, Leroy Hood of the Institute for Systems Biology, Ed Harlow of Harvard Medical School, Danny Hillis of Applied Minds, and Sir John Pendry of Imperial...
Nathan Myhrvold founded Intellectual Ventures after retiring from his position as chief strategist and chief technology officer of Microsoft Corporation. He personally holds more than 18 U.S. patents and has applied for more than 100.