"Modernist Cuisine" gets top honor at Beard awards

Six volumes, 2,438 pages, 46 pounds and $625 added up to two hefty awards Friday for Nathan Myhrvold's cookbook, "Modernist Cuisine."

The massive and much lauded tome on the science of food and cooking by a former chief technology officer of Microsoft was named cookbook of the year by the James Beard Foundation, a nod to the growing influence over food culture being wielded by the so-called molecular gastronomy movement.

"Modernist Cuisine" also took home a second Beard award in the category of cooking from a professional point of view.

When it was released early last year, Myhrvold's work left many in the food world awe-struck at both its breadth and eagerness to question and test many of the assumptions under which both home and professional kitchens operate, from the shelf life of lettuce to the best grilling techniques.

Some critics panned it for catering to a tiny subset of chefs fascinated by an often laboriously deconstructive approach to food, using gels, foams and fancy laboratory equipment the likes of which few cooks — even restaurant pros — ever will encounter.

But Myhrvold has defended his book — which has more than 1,500 recipes and thousands of rich, sometimes stunning photographs — saying it helps readers, even those who have no interest in modernist-style cooking, to understand what is happening behind the scenes when they are cooking.

The foundation's awards honor those who follow in the footsteps of Beard, considered the dean of American cooking when he died in 1985. The ceremony was held in New York, where the Beard Foundation is based. Friday's ceremony honored winners in media and publishing; a separate ceremony on Monday will be held for chefs and restaurants.

Novelist and Gourmet magazine writer Laurie Colwin's "Home Cooking" and "More Home Cooking," were added to the foundation's Cookbook Hall of Fame on Friday. She died in 1992.

Food Network personality Ted Allen took home two Beard awards, one in the studio television show category for his show "Chopped," the other for top food media personality.

Gabriel Hamilton, chef/owner of New York's Prune restaurant, won the writing and literature award for her acerbically funny memoir, "Blood, Bones and Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef," while longtime food writer Paula Wolfert won the international category for her cookbook, "The Food of Morocco."

New media also were represented at the ceremony. National Public Radio's The Salt food blog (http://npr.org/blogs/thesalt) won for group food blog, while Elissa Altman's Poor Man's Feast (http://poormansfeast.com) took the award for individual food blog.

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