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The Science of the Oven (Arts & Traditions of the Table: Perspectives on Culinary History) [Hardcover]

Herve This
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

9 Oct 2009 Arts & Traditions of the Table: Perspectives on Culinary History
Mayonnaise "takes" when a series of liquids form a semisolid consistency. Eggs, a liquid, become solid as they are heated, whereas, under the same conditions, solids melt. When meat is roasted, its surface browns and it acquires taste and texture. What accounts for these extraordinary transformations? The answer: chemistry and physics. With his trademark eloquence and wit, Herve This launches a wry investigation into the chemical art of cooking. Unraveling the science behind common culinary technique and practice, Herve This breaks food down to its molecular components and matches them to cooking's chemical reactions. He translates the complex processes of the oven into everyday knowledge for professional chefs and casual cooks, and he demystifies the meaning of taste and the making of flavor. He describes the properties of liquids, salts, sugars, oils, and fats and defines the principles of culinary practice, which endow food with sensual as well as nutritional value. For fans of Herve This's popular volumes and for those new to his celebrated approach, The Science of the Oven expertly expands the possibilities of the kitchen, fusing the physiology of taste with the molecular structure of bodies and food.


Product details

  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press (9 Oct 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0231147066
  • ISBN-13: 978-0231147064
  • Product Dimensions: 21 x 15 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 791,642 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

What Herve This aims for is to use fairly high-powered yet accessible science not only to analyze what transpires in traditional cooking but also to adapt his unique brand of analysis to flavors, textures, colors, and more, therefore entering new realms of culinary epistemology. -- Albert Sonnenfeld, translator of Culture of the Fork: A Brief History of Everyday Food and Haute Cuisine in Europe For people with a (very) serious interest in food, this is satisfying stuff. The Australian 10/31/09 Another tour de force by a favorite polymath that will be valuable to all who love to cook and dine on good cooking... Highly recommended. Choice 3/1/10 This is one of those books that could be great for holiday reading by the curious as well as being an essential part of academic study. Yum.fi 10/11/2012

About the Author

Herve This is a physical chemist on the staff of the Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique in Paris. He is the author of Building a Meal: From Molecular Gastronomy to Culinary Constructivism; Kitchen Mysteries: Revealing the Science of Cooking; and Molecular Gastronomy: Exploring the Science of Flavor, among other books. Jody Gladding is a poet who has translated more than twenty works from French.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A good, challenging read. 17 Dec 2012
By I. Darren TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
It might sound obvious at first glance, yet if you have to really answer the question you might be stumped and struggle to give a proper answer. Such as "What happens in the oven when you cook something?"

Highly-acclaimed physical chemist and author of many well-respected gastronomy books Hervé This has put his mind to many vexing questions and produced a book for us all to help answer the question. Written in a great style whereby it can be read by both expert and amateur alike, you tend to find that your mind just skips over anything overtly-technical without missing a beat, yet without feeling that you are missing out on something. This book has not been dumbed down either, so the scientist or researcher can see exactly what makes a given thing tick - the amateur just understands and accepts that something ticks. A great balancing art.

The level of detail in this book is particularly pleasing, especially in the way the author just casually, almost embarrassingly, just slips it in the book. Take, for example, the section on the senses. Why do we roast a piece of beef? Obvious, you may say, but the reasons and outcomes can be contradictory. Sure, the meat is roasted to kill off the pathogenic microorganisms that naturally inhabit the surface. So, you put this tender meat in to roast and you start to harden it in the process. Why make something tender a lot harder? But then the roasted meat takes on flavour. But flavour is not throughout as we would associate it to be. The edge develops a crust with a strong, marked taste that does not go through the meat. Yet our body tends to sense the crust's flavour and conveniently ignores the rest.

Would you think HOW you carve the meat can make a difference? It does.
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Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is by a French writer. He tries to make the subject romantic and French when the Anglo Saxon would prefer brass tacks. The translation is not good. Certain information is however very interesting but not as well explained by Heston Blumenthal!
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Amazon.com: 4.1 out of 5 stars  9 reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very enlightening 27 Oct 2009
By Debbie - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I received this book as a review copy from the publisher. "The Science of the Oven" explores the chemistry and physics of cooking (and eating).

The author's main focus was on how the scientific understanding of cooking and eating can lead to new possibilities in food experimentation. He discussed new scientific findings, explained how this information could be used to make cooking more effective or exact or varied in taste, and then sometimes offered experiments a reader could do in the kitchen to demonstrate the point or create a new taste for his/her eating pleasure.

The introduction was very chatty and funny with asides in the middle of sentences. The asides decreased in the main part of the book, but the author's enthusiasm for the subject still shone through.

The book is easiest to follow if you have at least a basic understanding of chemistry. However, he did explain scientific terms as he went along and assumed he was talking to a non-scientist. He generally kept the explanation simple or gave a summary statement in nontechnical language after giving the technical explanation. There was a short glossary of terms at the back to help with this.

Chapters 1-4 reported in detail on a series of scientific studies and so were a bit heavy on the technical language. Chapters 4-7 still focused on the science but were more conversational in language and easier for me to follow.

Chapter One explored how our various senses affect how we perceive taste. Chapter Two discussed some studies on how various foods affect our health. Chapter Three discussed how food growing conditions and different food varieties affect our taste.

Chapter Four and Five got into specific examples like how tannins in wine change over time and how that affects their taste, why some corks spoil the wine's taste, why eggs cook the way they do and some experiments one can do with eggs, and the science involved in kneading dough, making of noodles, and jelling liquids. Also, how to effectively tenderize squid, keep the "fresh" bright green color in vegetables when cooking, why re-heating can change the taste of meat, how to effectively flavor meat with liquids before cooking, the conditions where a lute seal does work, why lobster shells turn red when cooked, how food thickeners affect taste (like in yogurt), and experiments in making new sauces.

Chapter Six explored (among other things): how cooking in earthware changes food taste; "new" types of milk coagulants for cheese; the chemistry of making cheese, fondue, and spreadable cheeses; the chemistry of creating pickles; how bread gets stale and how this is prevented commercially; the optimal time to beat egg whites for meringues; the color of emulsions; how champagne bubbles develop; the color and taste of port wine; and preserving the smell of fruit jams.

Chapter Seven discussed cooking with hard water, how food color and smell changes when the pH changes, and future possibilities in cooking.

I enjoyed the book, but I didn't always agree with his opinions. (For example, he's down on people who prefer 'natural' sources in their foods whereas I can see how food chemistry has overall improved people's lives but I still think natural is better if you can get it.)

Overall, this was a slower read than normal, but I had many fun "so that's why!" moments. I think this book would be most interesting and useful to people who like to experiment with creating new dishes, industry professionals, and those who are both scientists and cooks.

Reviewed by Debbie from Different Time, Different Place Book Reviews (differenttimedifferentplace. blogspot. com)
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but unorganized 16 Dec 2010
By Kanu Suguro - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I found the content of the book very interesting, but felt it was structured more like a series of notes, or voice recordings and didnt read like a well written book. At many points it starts to sound like a speech..

Herve this introduces the concept of molecular gastronomy, its history, and possibilities. Throughout, he uses many examples, but not much that is immediately useful, or eye opening. He does talk about mayonaise a lot.

Overall, the book ends up being more of this's ideals of what molecular gastronomy ought to be, and what science ought to be, rather than a book packed with tips for everyday use. (which the book does not claim to be) Much more conceptual than practical. To his credit, he does make a clear distinction between a scientist and a cook, so perhaps its no surprise he keeps talking about science in gemeral.

A word of caution.. The book is extremely poorly translated, which could be part of the reason why the text seems to be unstructured. The translation makes the book very hard to read, and is irritating to say the least. This seems to be a problem of his other books as well.. Hard to imagine in this day and age there wasnt a good french english translator.

His recent book only released in french, where he goes through the 25,000 cooking precisions, or proverbs, to test their accuracy seems much morr interesting and practical. I respect his work in the field, but this book definitely does not do him justice.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another fine Herve This molecular gastronomy book 26 Oct 2009
By Michael A. Duvernois - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This book is focused on the oven, baking and roasting mostly. It's probably not the best introduction to molecular gastronomy (try Building a Meal: From Molecular Gastronomy to Culinary Constructivism (Arts and Traditions of the Table: Perspectives on Culinary History) or Kitchen Mysteries: Revealing the Science of Cooking (Arts and Traditions of the Table: Perspectives on Culinary History), both by Herve This as well), but is excellent at covering what happens, in time and temperature with foods. It's the physics and chemistry of food, for those without a lot of science background.

As an amateur chef and professional scientist, this book is a revelation of the facts behind the recipes. Of the reasons for the kitchen rules. What is a sponge of eggs? What's happening inside chemically? What is the cooking of meat all about?
5.0 out of 5 stars A good, challenging read 17 Dec 2012
By I. Darren - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
It might sound obvious at first glance, yet if you have to really answer the question you might be stumped and struggle to give a proper answer. Such as "What happens in the oven when you cook something?"

Highly-acclaimed physical chemist and author of many well-respected gastronomy books Hervé This has put his mind to many vexing questions and produced a book for us all to help answer the question. Written in a great style whereby it can be read by both expert and amateur alike, you tend to find that your mind just skips over anything overtly-technical without missing a beat, yet without feeling that you are missing out on something. This book has not been dumbed down either, so the scientist or researcher can see exactly what makes a given thing tick - the amateur just understands and accepts that something ticks. A great balancing art.

The level of detail in this book is particularly pleasing, especially in the way the author just casually, almost embarrassingly, just slips it in the book. Take, for example, the section on the senses. Why do we roast a piece of beef? Obvious, you may say, but the reasons and outcomes can be contradictory. Sure, the meat is roasted to kill off the pathogenic microorganisms that naturally inhabit the surface. So, you put this tender meat in to roast and you start to harden it in the process. Why make something tender a lot harder? But then the roasted meat takes on flavour. But flavour is not throughout as we would associate it to be. The edge develops a crust with a strong, marked taste that does not go through the meat. Yet our body tends to sense the crust's flavour and conveniently ignores the rest.

Would you think HOW you carve the meat can make a difference? It does. The English method would cut parallel to the bone, giving a relatively consistent cut (and associated flavour/appearance) whilst the French Entrecôte style cuts perpendicular, giving you effectively many different tastes from the same cut. When it is pointed out to you it might be head-slappingly plainly-obvious... and who better to point it out than Hervé This.

The book continues in this vein, examining the so-called chemical art of cooking and how it all goes together. This is one of those books that could be great for holiday reading by the curious as well as being an essential part of academic study. It deserves a wider audience even though the book itself, in its current form, can look quite austere with its acres of relatively small text. The book is already very powerful but if it was accompanied by some photographs that are the same calibre as those in Modernist Cuisine and oh, Oh, OH!!

If you have an interest in food, in science or just like learning something new for learning's sake, buy this book. Nothing more needs to be said.
5.0 out of 5 stars This says it: Making the Pianococktail 17 Dec 2011
By ThirstyBrooks - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Herve This writes books that wander, in coffee table book style. The Science of the Oven starts with good information about how humans perceive tastes, and raises various ideas about bending ingredients into the food equivalent of trompe de l'oiel. He offers enough description to support the credibility of his concept, and not a systematic catalog of current research progress.

As he nears his conclusion, he raises the concept of making the pianococktail ...a set of ingredients designed first in written form without worrying about the properties of the ingredients. The results of this first foray were exactly what I would expect '...hmmmmm. Pretty good, but needs salt."

The Science of the Oven contains lots of good ideas and heads them toward avant garde experiments in post modern food. But it's more of a manifesto than a comprehensive textbook on the topic. This should not surprise us either. The stuff that's the farthest "out there on the cutting edge" wasn't written down when Herve This wrote the Science of the Oven. If you want an example of where all this leads, check out [...]
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