Disclaimer: I am not a cook or chef. Nor do I aspire to be one. I love to eat and have been intrigued by the Food Network but I'd rather stop in at Iron Chef Michael Symon's Lola for lunch than try and recreate his menu.
That said, I am a Geek and there is a significant amount of science and tech in the world of cooking. The author of Cooking for Geeks: Real Science, Great Hacks, and Good Food mixes in a lot of science with the recipes and cooking techniques. Foodies may skip the science and techies may skip the recipes but that would be a mistake. Both parts are important.
I like the numerous interviews that are strewn throughout the book. For example, Potter interviews Cornell prof Brian Wansink about why and what we eat. Did you know that, according to Wansink, the "nutritional gatekeeper" (the person in the home who buys and makes the food) controls about 72% of the food their family eats? Or that people tend to pour 32% more into a short wide glass than a tall skinny glass? There are a lot of interesting tidbits like that throughout the book.
Even former Microsoft CTO Nathan Myhrvold shares his cooking philosophy and techniques.
The book covers all the basics which is important for non-foodie geeks like me. Potter treats the kitchen and its tools as any other laboratory with instruments. You want the best, most accurate, most precise instruments in your lab - and in your kitchen.
He then covers the ingredients with sections on taste (what the heck is savory?) and how Flavor = Smell + Taste (Geeks like equations!) Some parts are like Chemistry lessons with detailed info on heat transfer methods and times for various foods and the reactions of salt, sugar, acids and bases and alcohol.
Every techie book has to include something on gadgets and this book has a Fun with Hardware section. Of course the hardware is not microprocessors and hard drives but some of the tools and gadgets available for your cooking. I don't think I will ever use his Cooking in a Dishwasher technique but I might give the Bake a Brownie in an Orange method a try.
As a mathematician, I liked Meg Hourihan's (the co-founder of Blogger.com) attempt at the perfect chocolate chip cookie. She took about 40 chocolate cookie recipes and averaged the ingredients and instructions. Some results were weird - 2.04 cups of flour, 0.79 teaspoons of salt and so on. Her "Mean Chocolate Cookie" (pun intended) turned out "pretty good" she said.
Another fun part for me was the algorithm to Cut a Cake for N people. Those of us with siblings faced this situation often while growing up.
The book is 400 pages that will interest foodies and techies alike. And if you happen to be both - this book is really for you.
As for me...Will I make my own Mozzarella Cheese? Probably not. But it was interesting to read how I could if I wanted to. I think I need a snack.
Great Lakes Geek Rating:3.5 out of 5 pocket protectors.
Reviewed by Entreprenerd Dan Hanson, the Great Lakes Geek
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