12.14.2010

Book Review: Cooking for Geeks by Jeff Potter

This book is perhaps the polar opposite of the last book I read, Culinary Artistry. It wasn't quite as jaw dropping or awe inspiring, but I think I probably learned more from it. Cooking for Geeks is all about food science. The book explains why some dishes are cooked at 325°F, and others at 375°F; it teaches you why beef stew is better with cheap meat; and it delves into the insane world of sous vide cooking, among other scientific cooking techniques.

I'll start with the good. The main portion of the book is very well written, and to somebody with a basic or even rudimentary knowledge of the sciences, Potter makes all of the food science concepts incredibly clear. I learned a lot about cooking, baking and recipe selection (especially important with the huge range of recipes available on the internet). More importantly, I didn't forget it all once I put the book down. Potter has a way of making it so intuitive that it actually sticks. So while I've read at least 20 times before that baking soda is basic and baking powder is neutral, this is the first time I've been sure I've got those the right way around.

Still, the book isn't perfect. Personally, I found the first two chapters, basically an introduction to the kitchen and cooking, to be somewhat patronizing. Of course, Potter recommends that those of us who have some practical kitchen experience skip the first chapters—but why would you buy a book to not read a third of it?!

Also, by the time I got to the chapters on sous vide cooking and cooking with chemicals/additives, I had lost interest. Perhaps these chapters were too irrelevant to my life right now (my pantry barely has room for whole wheat flour, let alone ordering liquid nitrogen!), or perhaps it was because I read the book in about 3 days, but they just weren't that interesting.

Finally, unless you've taken some computer science, expect to miss some of the humor. In fact, I've taken computer science and I STILL missed some of the humor.

The highlights:
- a very clear presentation of basic food science
- lots of cool, easy experiments to try at home
- witty humor and funny interviews with chefs

The verdict:
This would be a perfect book to check out from your local library. It's an easy read, so you should be able to finish it in the typical two week loan period. If your library doesn't have it, it's a good enough read to buy, especially if your bookshelf is lacking in food science books. Still, it's not really a reference book, and is well enough presented that you don't need to keep it, you just need to read it.

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