Nathan Myhrvold Threatens to Out-Alton Brown Alton Brown

"First we cut ze duck very fine with ze laser beam."
Former Microsoft executive Nathan Myhrvold granted The New York Times a rare peek into the Bellevue laboratory of his money-losing IP fund Intellectual Ventures. You like gadgets? You enjoy the culinary gizmos improvised by TV chef Alton Brown? Well the cherubic polymath Myhrvold is determined to go even farther. We've already written about his schemes to control Gulf Coast hurricanes and halt global warming with a giant space hose. But what about freeze-dried ice cream and essence of rose petals? How can they be monetized into patents?

Well, by writing a cookbook, of course! One that Myhrvold and a team of culinary mad-scientists are devising at Intellectual Ventures. He describes the effort thusly to the NYT: "It's basically like a software project." Only the manual--er, book--will be 1,500 pages long! And with characteristic modesty, Myhrvold declares, "There's not a chef on Earth who won't learn something from this." Do you hear that, Anthony Bordain and Mario Batali? It is on! And get a load of the high-tech arsenal Myhrvold is bringing to the battle...

Where other chefs wield knives and sauce pans, Myhrvold wants us to deploy ultrasonic welders, autoclaves, and cryosearing technology in pursuit of the art of "molecular gastronomy." He hasn't put a price on those tools, or on the book, which his company will self-publish next year (if it can hold to that release schedule).

But unlike Myhrvold, not all of us can afford to fool around in a lavishly equipped kitchen while supported by our old Microsoft stock and new investors. In our current recession, many prefer to emulate the Alton Brown example of repurposing the humble tools at hand--like using ordinary coffee mills to grind flour. Quicker and simpler is sometimes better. Just ask Google.

But that's not the Myhrvold way. He wants to be smarter, more comprehensive, more thorough in the kitchen. And if 1,500 pages aren't enough, his team will just keep researching and writing, no matter how long it takes. They can always add more features and complexity to their product, just like his old employer did with Word and Windows. Which raises the question, if and when his cookbook is ever published: Will every recipe be patented? And will we then owe him a royalty each time we cryosear a duck to those specifications? If so, we're sticking to peanut butter sandwiches eaten over the sink. No patent required.

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