Nathan and his Amazing Technicolor Modernist Cuisine Gallery
Interview courtesy of the Jeff Wagner Agency
(Honestly, how often do you see chard this close up?)
Photographer, chef, scientist, and author Nathan Myhrvold has announced he will open the Modernist
Cuisine Gallery at The Forum Shops at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas in May. The gallery will sell limited-edition prints of food photography taken by Myhrvold and found in the books he has co-authored: "Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science," "Modernist Cuisine at Home," "The Photography of Modernist Cuisine," and the forthcoming "Modernist Bread," on sale fall 2017. This will be the first gallery in the world to solely display and sell food photography by a single artist. An interview with the photographer/chef/scientist /author follows.
At what point did you realize that you could go from cookbooks to a photography book to the world’s first gallery featuring only food photography?
When I decided about a decade ago to create a cookbook, I saw an exciting opportunity to do something new in food photography—to portray food in new and unexpected ways that simultaneously draw readers in and illustrate the science at work in cooking. Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking was a big, crazy bet, as were its two sequels, Modernist Cuisine at Home and The Photography of Modernist Cuisine. But so far, about 250,000 copies are in print worldwide across all editions. And the crazy bets keep coming: this autumn we will release my latest cookbook Modernist Bread, a six-volume, 2,500-page book all about bread.
Almost immediately after our first book appeared, people started asking us where they could buy prints of the photos. That seemed like a reasonable enough request, and we did include a few prints with later books. My team and I looked into the idea of selling prints, but we honestly struggled with that because the marketing and distribution of art is so damn weird. After a lot of research, it became clear that the only way forward would be to open our own gallery.
What were your reasons for choosing Las Vegas as the destination for your first gallery? Why did you choose The Forum Shops specifically?
Several things made Las Vegas an irresistible location for us to open the Modernist Cuisine Gallery. Las Vegas has become an incredible food destination that draws people from around the globe. Where else can you find 10-foot-tall portraits of famous chefs lit up on towering hotels? It’s also a city that has been receptive to artists who have blazed a trail before us and created their vision of how to sell their art.
Within Las Vegas, there is no better place than The Forum Shops at Caesars Palace for a concept like this. The Forum Shops showed the world what a premier retail experience could be when it opened. The incredible architecture transports you to another time and place—right in the middle of the Las Vegas strip. And the concept works. The Forum Shops are filled with people at all hours, day and night.
Knowing that Las Vegas is a global destination, do you think certain photographs will resonate with different cultures or do you think your photography is universal?
One of the things that connects us with food is how it reinforces our culture. The foods that we grew up with are part of our cultural identity. People from different parts of the world will identify with certain images in the gallery based on the foods they grew up with.
While some people will want the familiar, others will gravitate toward the exotic. We’re always on the hunt for charismatic foods from all corners of the world. It could be the case that these photographs will expose some gallery visitors to ingredients they’ve never seen before, which is also very exciting.
Which photograph in the gallery collection was the most difficult to compose, light and shoot?
It turns out that every shot has its own set of challenges. The the most difficult shots to take are the action shots where everything happens in a fraction of a second. It requires a lot of attempts, persistence, and making a huge mess. We have a motto that it only has to look good for a thousandth of a second.
Is there a food subject that you have not yet photographed that you think would make for a stunning addition to your collection?
Of course. The world of food is incredibly diverse. I would argue that it’s more diverse than almost any other photographic subject, particularly because our vision of food is not just the raw materials—it’s all aspects of food and cooking. That includes how foods are prepared, grown, gathered, and eaten. We’re interested in food on different scales, from the microscopic to the enormous, and over different time frames, from the ultra-short to the very long-term. Some of our photographs, such as our cutaway shots, are really more about the equipment than the food. Others focus on farming and the origins of food. You’ll see images of seeds and plants in the gallery as well as photos that capture ingredients in the markets and cooking in action. All of these aspects of food are important; it’s such an incredibly wide-ranging topic.
Do you plan on shooting a Vegas-inspired food item?
Vegas is an incredible food destination. It’s inspired us to shoot a lot of that food, including a martini in mid-splash, and we will continue to shoot more of it.
Your gallery will soon be amongst many of the world’s highly acclaimed chefs and their restaurants. Do you see partnerships aligning with them in the future?
We’ve gotten to know many great chefs since publishing Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking in 2011. We share a love of food with chefs as well as their customers, and we all explore it in different ways. For us, that exploration includes the visual arts. We’re looking forward to new possibilities and building relationships with even more people who share our love of food.
What’s next? Where would you like to open more galleries?
We would like to open more galleries in other food destinations around the world.
Modernist Cuisine Gallery visitors will be able to purchase large, limited-edition prints of Nathan Myhrvold’s photography—printed in a variety of sizes, formats, and frames and shipped worldwide. The photography includes images featured in Modernist Cuisine books plus new works that will debut at the gallery’s opening. Updates and more info on the gallery and Modernist Bread will be posted on modernistcuisine.com.