Patty's Reviews > Cooking for Geeks: Real Science, Great Hacks, and Good Food

Cooking for Geeks by Jeff Potter
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's review
Nov 09, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: nonfiction
Read in November, 2010

Cooking for Geeks*: Real Science, Great Hacks, and Good Food by Jeff Potter is sort of a cookbook, but there's few recipes compared to the amount of writing, so you can just read it straight through, which is what I did. This is a book geared at everyone from people who don't know how to boil water to professional cooks, because most of the focus is on the science behind food, which I think few people know. But which is really cool! For instance, did you know that the reason your eyes hurt when you chop onions is because destroying the onion cells releases tiny bits of sulfur, which react with the water in your eyes to form sulfuric acid? (THAT IS KIND OF HORRIFYING, ACTUALLY.) Or that the reason many recipes call for tiny amounts of salt, even in sweet things like cookies and cakes, is that salt masks any bitterness present, thus causing the food to taste even sweeter? I really loved all the science.

The less useful parts, for me, where the chapters on more industrial types of cooking, things like sous vide and modernist cuisine. I guess it is interesting to know that if I had liquid nitrogen, I could make really tasty ice cream, or how to make my own liquid smoke. But realistically, I am never going to do that. I am also not going to buy anything like sodium alginate or methylcellulose for the kitchen. Anything that comes with the warning "be very sure you get food-grade!" concerns me. This problem extended into the recipes; most of them are designed more as experiments than as actual food. They vary from the very simple (there is literally a recipe for scrambled eggs, for instance) to the way-too-complicated (liquid nitrogen ice cream, anyone?), with very few that the average person is actually going to make.

There's also lots of interviews with cooks, scientists, food critics, bloggers, and other relevant people, which I did enjoy. Also, an xkcd comic is used to illustrate one point, which automatically makes this a pretty cool book. I liked it, but it's better for people interested in the science than people looking for real recipes.

*Geek in this instance turns out to mean computer programmer. So there are a lot of references to C+ and programming languages and other stuff I do not understand, and few mentions of, say, science-fiction or vampires. Alas.

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