Saturday, September 04, 2010

Cooking For Geeks

If you are the kind of cook that thrives on improvisation and experimentation in the kitchen and cannot be bothered to follow recipes then Cooking For Geeks is be the kind of "cookbook" you will enjoy. On the other hand if you are the uber-geek who wants to get everything exactly right - this is a great book for you too.
Often the simplest things like a perfectly soft-boiled egg are hard to pull off with consistently high quality time after time. Traditional recipes simply don't get into the science of egg yolk and egg white phase transitions as a function of temperature. Jeff Potter takes the mystery out of this any a lot else by taking a scientific approach to cooking. Geek or not, you would likely find that more helpful than the inexactitude of conventional recipes that leave something to the cook's imagination and capabilities.
The ground this book covers is impressive - from your basic scrambled eggs and pancakes to making your own Earl Grey infused whipped cream, Mozzarella Cheese and Beurre Noisette Ice Cream. Along the way you find nuggets such as the "Optimal Cake-Cutting Algorithm for N People" and electrocuting a hot-dog.
Early in the book, Potter emphasizes the importance of knowing what type of cook you are to help simplify the learning process. His main division are the "cook" and the "baker". The cook being the kind of person who prefers the "intuitive toss it into the pot approach" and "course correct along the way". The bakers are much for methodical and organized. To the "cooks" among us, Potter says "A recipe isn't a strict protocol, but do understand the suggested protocol before deviating".
Cooking For Geeks is a lot more than a cookbook. Along with the recipes and how-to, it is also cultural commentary on modern American society obsessed with perfection. Being a "good enough" cook is not enough any more in a time where Martha Stewart-esque perfection is the gold standard to aspire for. The author encourages the reader to fail because "Failure in the kitchen is a better instructor than success".

The book defies a conventional genre definition and is a very refreshing detour from the over-crowded cook-book space.

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