Cookbook author (and geek) Nathan Myhrvold talks about his magisterial work, “Modernist Cuisine” — and shares the secret of its cool photographic illustrations, which show cross-sections of food in the very act of being cooked.

Nathan Myhrvold is a professional jack-of-all-trades. After leaving Microsoft in 1999, he’s been a world barbecue champion, a wildlife photographer, a chef, a contributor to SETI, and a volcano explorer.

Since leaving his post as Microsoft’s Chief Technology Officer in 1999 (with fortune in tow), Nathan Myhrvold has been a professional exemplar of the spirit of the “Renaissance Man,” proudly following his interests wherever they’ve led. His dispersed passions have triggered an impressive list of accomplishments, including world barbecue championships, major archeological finds (several Tyrannosaurus rex skeletons), prize-winning wildlife photography, building a section of Babbage’s Difference Engine #2, s, and a new and consuming interest in the sous-vide cooking technique.

Malcolm Gladwell’s 2008 New Yorker profile of him revealed an impish but truly inspired character whose latest company, Intellectual Ventures — which brainstorms and patents a wide array of inventions — has been accused in some quarters of acting like a ‘patent troll’ but is described by Myhrvold as “a disruptive organization providing an efficient way for patent holders to get paid for the inventions they own, and… for technology companies to gain easy access to the invention rights they need.” After funding big-vision projects such as the Allen Telescope Array, exploring active volcanoes and investigating penguin digestion, Myhrvold insists that his hobbies aren’t as discursive as they seem. They do have a common denominator, after all: him.