CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Modernist Cuisine is a movement, as well as the title of a six-volume cookbook.
Sous vide (pronounced sue-veed) cooking is one of its methods. "What makes sous vide cooking modernist is grasping what precise temperature means for your food," says Chef Maxime Bilet, a co-author of "Modernist Cuisine."
The volumes are a reference work, yet surprisingly fun to read.
I determined to choose an egg recipe and prevail in mastering it, no matter how daunting, how time consuming, inconvenient or expensive.
Because of my own limitations and insecurities, I had to find a cooking partner with the patience and skills to help me execute our work.
What Pete Ostaseski, showroom manager of Ferguson's Bath, Kitchen & Lighting Gallery, and I undertook is perfectly doable for the average person, but it's just a beginning to what you can achieve at home using basic sous vide cooking methods.
Sous vide is French and it means "under vacuum." "You remove the air and the combination of vacuum sealing and the water bath gives you access to a precise temperature," explains Chef Bilet.
If you have the money, you can order "Modernist Cuisine" and buy the equipment we used and start on your own modernist culinary journey.
Eventually, "Modernist Cuisine" will be available in public libraries, but in the meantime, you can learn a lot about sous vide cooking from other sources.
If you need to take things slowly, you can start with a metric scale, and a few minimal pieces of equipment: a pot, a thermometer, clothes pins, binder clips, a Hefty Zip-Lock bag and an electrical outlet.
Sous vide is a cooking method discussed exhaustively in the books and works for everything from steak to eggs and seafood. It's particularly effective at softening tough cuts of meat. Steaks get a quick sear for dimension, color and flavor.
It is the manner of preparation for the finest restaurants in the world -- circulating water to gently transfer heat to a precise temperature, cooking food in its own juices.
An example: If you went to the St. Regis Hotel in New York and ordered two eggs with toast, steak and juice with a bit of hollandaise sauce, the food will be prepared sous vide. You will pay $120 plus tip for breakfast for two.
You can also make astonishing seafood and steaks and lamb, entrees that range from $20-$50 in restaurants locally.
So why not enhance your life and learn to do it at home?
Chef Bilet and sous vide cooking
The prospect of interviewing a serious French chef -- co-creator of one of the most important contributions to food writing of all time -- and following his recipe to the letter was terrifying.
French chefs are very serious people, and while I only knew what I'd seen in subtitled movies, I feared the worst.
They are mercurial. They are sensualists and sybarites. They know everything about women, and they are impossible to impress or to handle. They are impatient, judgmental and quick to show contempt and throw things.
I am not a food writer, or a physicist or even a qualified short-order cook.
Chef Bilet was nothing close to a food terrorist. He was very kind. He even expressed that he is not personally that interested in fine dining, per se.
Far from a food snob, he cares to eat only at places where people are connected to the food they prepare and serve to others, and frequents only several places in the Seattle area where he knows that the catch is fresh, and a passion for the food is present.
He gently explained, "Water is the best medium and the more precise and gentle way to transfer heat."
While he is able to visually recognize the right texture for hollandaise and eggs, you and I cannot.
Cooking sous vide (a term he interchangeably uses with bain marie, or "water bath") allows one the ability to cook at nearly a professional quality using exact measurements of heat in our own home to know precisely when something is done.
"Modernist Cuisine" has extensive charts that tell you exactly what temperature to cook certain amounts of food until it is perfect.
"Once you have tried a few simple things," he says, "you feel more and more confident until you have refined your techniques and it becomes easy to produce your food this way."