Cooking for Computer Geeks Teaches You How to Cook Better
If you are interested in not only how to make food taste great, but also why certain methods and ingredients work the way, check out Cooking for Geeks by Jeff Potter . The book can help you start experimenting in the kitchen and immerse yourself in food science to become a better home chef.
This is part of the Lifehacker book review series . Not all life hacks can be described on a blog, so we decided to look at some of our favorite life changing books to dive deeper into the most important topics in life.
Cooking for Geeks was first published in July 2010 and has been substantially revised by author Jeff Potter for the second issue last October. This is one part of a cookbook, one part of an explanation of nutritional science and laboratory guidance, and another part of celebrating a meal with your favorite geeks (Adam Savage and Jacques Pepin among them). Collectively, it is a unique book that combines the science of food preparation with the art of food preparation.
Who is this book for?
Don’t be misled by the title: This book is not like hosting a dinner party for geeks (or perhaps worse, with geeks). This is a book written for computer geeks, whom Potter defines as curious and intelligent people. If you have these two qualities and are interested in cooking, you are the geek for whom this book was written. Whether you are thrilled to create your own sous video setup , optimize your oven, or explore the chemical similarities between flavor-enhancing ingredients , this book is perfect for you. This is for people who watch Good Eats, read Serious Eats’ Food Lab, and are fans of America’s Test Kitchen . This is for people who ask: “What is the difference between pans made of different metals?” or “why do we bake some things at 350F and others at 375F?” and then uses the answers to make food preparation decisions.
Food science is not a new topic for any imagination. But until a few decades ago, this area was mainly studied by university researchers and food industry professionals. These days, home chefs have become scientists in the kitchen – or at least have access to a lot more knowledge of the science behind cooking, thanks to the likes of Harold McGee , Christopher Kimball , Alton Brown, and J. Kenji Lopez- Alto. …
As challenging as it is, Cooking for Geeks is an accessible book for people who want to learn how to cook better, regardless of whether you know the difference between an ion and an atom. You will need a willingness to experiment (and possibly play computer sports) in the kitchen, exploring things like the “ optimal n- person cake cutting algorithm ” and unusual techniques like dishwasher cooking . In return, Cooking for Geeks promises “real science, great chefs, and good food.” (The second edition replaces “big khaki” in the slogan for “great chefs” – a sign of the times, with “scribblers” falling out of favor thanks to the abuse of the term, but food scribblers are in the best sense of the phrase.)
What do you get
Cooking for Geeks, 450 pages , explains the basics of food and cooking, from how to read a recipe to how to manage food chemistry (making your own liquid smoke!). Each chapter contains tips and tricks, interviews with famous scientists and chefs, experiments you can do, and recipes. Here’s a quick overview of what’s covered in each chapter:
- Hello Kitchen! The book starts with the basics: identifying your cooking style, overcoming your fear of cooking , calibrating the oven , basic kitchen tools, the ideal amount of countertop space you should have (three racks, each at least 4 feet long), and how to present and serve. food. Favorite tip: Follow the order of the recipe. “3 tablespoons of chopped chocolate” is not the same as “3 tablespoons of chopped chocolate”. Also, always follow the recipe the first time, but don’t follow it blindly .
- Taste, Smell, and Aroma: This chapter explains the basic tastes that our tongue detects (salty, sweet, sour, bitter, savory / umami) and how to use this knowledge to create balanced meals . It also explores the role of scent in creating scent and suggests an experiment you can do to test how well you know your scent. The book also talks about seasonality and French maternal sauces. Favorite tip: Learn to improvise by simulating the flavor of another dish. For example, if you like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, you might like grilled chicken skewers topped with sweet jelly and sprinkled with chopped peanuts. Or, if ingredients A, B, and C are combined in a dish, but the second dish has ingredients B and C, consider adding A.
- Time and Temperature: Learn to manage these two key cooking parameters and understand that it all depends on heat transfer (conduction, convection and radiation). This chapter examines the reactions in food at different temperature stages and also discusses food safety recommendations . Favorite tip : Match your cooking technique to the shape of your dish. For example, a whole chicken can be baked because the heat comes from all sides. On the other hand, frying only heats up one side at a time, so it is more suitable for flat chicken breasts.
- Air and water: two other key variables, especially when it comes to baking. In this chapter, you will learn how hard or soft water affects baked goods, how to control gluten, and all about baking ingredients like egg whites, flour, and baking powder . Favorite tip : Beat the egg whites in an up and down circular motion if you’re trying to form a foam (it traps and traps air). Whisk the ingredients in flat, circular motions to blend without adding air (for dishes such as omelette).
- Fun with Hardware : This chapter is for those who are familiar with kitchen gadgets – the chapter focuses on pressure cookers, vacuum cooking, dehydrators, blowtorches, and liquid nitrogen . Favorite tip: Make your own cookie cutters from aluminum cans or chocolate and cornstarch sugar molds.
- Playing with chemicals: The final chapter deals with food additives, preservatives, thickeners, gelling agents, emulsifiers and enzymes. It’s almost like Chemistry 101, explained through food and food manipulation. Favorite tip: Beat an egg in a copper bowl, not a glass one, for the best froth for meringues and soufflés – advice Harold McGee shared when he got it from Julia Child.
This is definitely an interesting book filled with information and diagrams that will make science lovers swoon. At the same time, it is also a basic introduction to cooking with many recipes and tips, simple if not obvious for more experienced home cooks, such as how to sharpen knives or make a salad of basil, tomato and mozzarella. It’s an unusual combination of practical information, compelling scientific explanations, and simple recipes.
As someone who regrets not completing his chemistry lessons in college but has a growing interest in food science, I value this book the most because it teaches me the sciences through cooking while improving my cooking skills. Some laboratory experiments, such as making ice cream with salt and ice or making sugar snack sticks, are things that parents can do with their kids to stimulate interest in STEM and food. However, I would not buy a book for the recipes themselves. (For that, I would recommend J. Kenji Lopez- Alta ‘s The Food Lab or Cook’s Illustrated’s The Science of Good Cooking , both of which contain more recipes and carefully grounded methods and explanations.)
Nonetheless, Cooking for Computer Geeks is a fun and educational read, and an excellent introduction to nutritional science. Writing well, interviewing experts add more meaning to the book, and you’ll probably find some interesting advice to try on just about any page. This is very useful for this kind of book, where you are more likely to jump between pages, although you can definitely read it straight.
While the second edition is better organized and contains more content than the first, I’m not sure if you need to get it if you already own the first edition. You can find out what’s new in the updated version here . Plus, if you’ve also read a lot about culinary science, or perhaps experimented with molecular gastronomy, you may already be familiar with the many in the book. (In that case, you can grab Harold McGee’s classic On Food and Cooking if you haven’t already.)
For everyone else, perhaps the best gift from Cooking for Computer Geeks is a strong incentive to experiment with food and the scientific understanding to do it well.