Cooking for Geeks - Jeff Potter

I was this at a friend's and thought it looked awesome. Come my birthday, I received a copy, and indeed, it was awesome!

This book is about cooking with science. It's kind of like what the New World did to wine. The French go on about terroir and all that, making wine a bit mystical, and laughing at foreign imitators. The New World people hire a bunch of French people, analyse what they're going on about, convert it into a scientific approach, and then use it to produce good wine without the magic.

At heart, this book's the same. What it emphatically is not is a list of recipes where the mechanism is unknown. Here, it's all about controlling temperatures and times in order to cause certain chemical reactions at specific temperatures. By understanding precisely what reactions happen at what temperatures, my understanding of cooking was transformed, with a nice connection with biochemistry allowing me to think about cooking in a new way. It motivates sous-vide extremely well. The book does have plenty of (tasty-looking) recipes, but they illustrate the concepts being talked about.

By taking a scientific approach, the book can get into many more detailed corners than a normal cookery book can. Food safety gets a much more in-depth treatment than usual, and there are great sections on industrial-style additives and funky equipment. The book is clearly American. As well as supplying quantities of solids in 'cups' (don't worry, weights are available too), there's a bit of fun trying to translate the words (of techniques like 'broiling' and 'grilling', and of ingredients). The somewhat unsubtle typical American palate does come through in places, although overall the book is aiming for a bit more sophisticated than that.

Sadly I haven't had the time, and am unlikely to have the time, to exercise the book fully, so I can't say how the book translates into practice. In terms of reading, though, it was fascinating, inspiring, and mouth-watering.

Posted 2013-05-19.