★ ★ ★ ★
Cooking for Geeks: Real Science, Great Cooks, and Good Food by Jeff Potter | July 2010 | O’Reilly Media | EPUB (Barnes & Noble Nook) $38.99
Why, exactly, do we cook the way we do? Are you curious about the science behind what happens to food as it cooks? Are you the innovative type, used to expressing your creativity instead of just following recipes? Do you want to learn how to become a better cook?
When you step into the kitchen, you’re unwittingly turned into a physicist and a chemist. This excellent and intriguing resource is for inquisitive people who want to increase their knowledge and ability to cook.
Please note: This review is for the FIRST edition of this title. There is now a 2nd edition, which incl. an additional 150 pages of new content!
This book includes an interesting combination of super basic recipes (hard boiled eggs, no-knead bread) and complicated or time-intensive recipes (duck confit sugo, 48-hour brisket). The focus in all the recipes, regardless of required skill/interest level, is how the cooking techniques work.
For example, Potter doesn’t just tell you that the “shock and awe” method of hard boiling eggs produces better-tasting eggs with shells that are easier to peel off; he walks you through the thermal gradient of the egg and what the shock of hot/cold water will do to the insides as well as the shell.
That being said, I have to confess that I have not actually tried any of the recipes in this book yet (no, not even the supposedly super-scientific perfect eggs). I hesitate to “review” a cookbook without having tried the recipes, but here’s why I went ahead and did it anyway:
1. Cooking for Geeks isn’t just a collection of recipes. It includes interviews, lots of tips for beginners, kitchen organization + equipment advice, and all kinds of science-y info on topics like taste, heat conduction methods, and food safety.
2. I just wanted to finish my last review for both my TBR Pile Challenge and Foodies Read goals.
Since reason number 2 is boring, let’s talk some more about reason number 1.
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I especially liked the sections on tastes (like bitter, sweet, sour, etc.) and the kitchen organization + equipment info. These are not topics that most “cookbooks” delve into but they’re still very important to successful cooking. I would recommend this book to beginner cooks, despite some of the more complicated recipes, simply because these sections are so dang helpful.
Potter encourages experimentation. There’s a lot of “What happens if we… ?” and “Try X, Y, or Z instead and see how it turns out!” going on here. That’s cool with me, but if you’re looking for extremely precise or strict recipes (and some people do prefer that!) you’ll just want to be aware that this is more of an experiment-friendly book.
The recipes themselves aren’t even written in the traditional cooking time | ingredients list | steps | notes kind of way, nor will you find a lot of big glossy photos of pretty dishes. The focus is all on figuring out how stuff works and how you can make it work even better.
(That said, I love cookbooks with pretty pictures and would have appreciated some more illustrations/photos. Still, since I was reading this on my Nook + phone, I wouldn’t have been able to fully appreciate them anyway!)
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Also, keep in mind that a lot of the “geek” references are geared more towards developer/hacker types. Like, if you think of yourself as a geek or nerd or whatever because you read a lot of comics and play tabletop RPGs, cool, let’s be friends, but also you might miss out on some of the references meant for the more computer-y species of geek.
Despite those geek species-specific references, this book covers a lot of science and techniques that you don’t have to know anything about coding to get. I’m saying that with a background in the natural sciences so basic household chemistry doesn’t scare me anyway, but I truly think that as long as you have an interest in the subject of kitchen science you’ll be able to understand all or most of the topics in this book.
- Cooking for Geeks blog
- Jeff Potter’s portfolio website
- The New Yorker book review
- The Atlantic book review
- Wired book review
So, what do you think? I’m open to recommendations for other geek-friendly cookery books!
Publication information: Potter, Jeff. Cooking for Geeks. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly Media, 2010. EPUB.
Source: Purchased from Barnes & Noble.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.