Nathan Myhrvold, Cooking Smarty Pants

Though he was once the CTO of Microsoft, Nathan Mhyrvold now brings his expertise in science and technology (and his love of mac and cheese) to the cooking world, namely several fancy volumes of scientific cookbooks called Modernist Cuisine, all of which aim to breakdown the latest applications of both cooking tools and ingredients for the home chef.

Mhyrvold, in conversation with Times staff writer Jeff Gordinier, as part of the Food & Wine Festival, had the middle-aged audience eating out of his smooth, white, engineering palms in the very first minute, launching into a story of his attempt to cook his first Thanksgiving dinner, at nine years old, by using the Escoffier cookbook. He quickly found out that Escoffier wasn't quite the turkey go-to he was looking for. He followed this up with a story of his favorite childhood dish: Firecracker Surprise, where he would make a meal, serving it covered under a dome, while his younger brother would light a firecracker under the table. He omitted his parents reaction but I can only imagine.

The new volume, Modernist Cuisine at Home, looks like it might be a wee bit more accessible than Mhyrvold's encyclopedic, six-volume set published in 2011, is still expensive, but it certainly had me wishing for a kitchen worthy of stocking with agar agar (seaweed extract used in place of gelatin), sodium citrate (which makes cheese melt as a solid instead of a pool of grease) and a whipping siphon (for creating beautiful stable foam).

The hour and a half went far too fast for me, Mhyrvold could easily be the star of his own call-in radio show, not just to answer silly at-home chef questions but to regale us with stories like when he hyperdecanted wine in a blender (A BLENDER!) to prove it's better than a fancy glass decanter or that feeding ducks being primed for foie gras isn't cruel (the visual alone is brilliant), or even how to get that BBQ grill taste on vegetables (spary olive oil on the charcoal). Mhyrvold captivated the audience and had this girl laughing until her cheeks hurt. If he cooks as good as he talks, I can't wait for him to open a restaurant. Fingers crossed that's his next move.