Nathan Myhrvold

Nathan Myhrvold

Pushing Boundaries

To some, Nathan Myhrvold is one of the wizards behind Microsoft or a ferociously creative scientist who holds over 500 patents. To others, he is the author of Modernist Cuisine. Never one to sit still, Myhrvold is tackling a new subject in that book’s sequel, Modernist Bread. He fills me in on his knead to keep moving forward.

Why bread? After we survived the ordeal of Modernist Cuisine, we were casting around for ideas on the next book. We were thinking dessert, maybe regional cuisines. Then baker Charlie van Over visited our lab in Seattle, and that chance visit convinced me bread was my next subject.

The world of bread is obsessed with the past. That’s largely a reaction to factory-made bread, but now people are convinced the best bread is found in the past. That’s constraining the future. Top restaurants pride themselves on creating unique dishes. But top breadmakers aim for a level of sameness – at high quality, of course. With Modernist Bread, we have an opportunity to go somewhere new.

Did you know that the Italian ciabatta is only about 35 years old? It was created by an Italian baker, who wanted a universal bread to represent all Italy. Everyone just assumes it’s a centuries-old peasant bread. And here’s another thing. Kneading is a fraud. It doesn’t do what you think it does. 

People love variety. But we’re reaching a point where we’ve imported almost everything everywhere – food, clothes, art, technology. So if we want more variety, we are just going to have to invent it. 

We were successful at Microsoft because we were willing to try things. We failed a lot. But if you can’t cope with failure, then you’ll never try anything risky, and if you never try anything risky, you’ll never do anything that’s really important.

I’m incredibly curious. I find dinosaurs fascinating – I have a replica of a T-Rex skeleton at home – and I found myself thinking the other day that eating dinosaur would probably taste like eating ostrich. Which tastes quite nice.

I’ve made many breads for Bill Gates. His favourite so far has been a bitter chocolate and cherry sourdough. He also likes our carrot soup.

Nathan Myhrvold