3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
This review is from: Building a Meal: From Molecular Gastronomy to Culinary Constructivism (Arts and Traditions of the Table: Perspectives on Culinary History) (Paperback)
This is the culinary equivalent of an autopsy and a detailed scan of the body rolled into one.
Here the author, in a surprisingly light-hearted, jargon-free manner for such a technically-advanced book, manages to get the reader to start questioning everything about food, even if they don't know it so far. At the heart it is almost deeply psychological. Why do we eat? Why do we cook how we cook? Why do we cook what we cook? The answers might sound superficially simple yet do we really, truly know or understand the answers? Are the answers really so simple either? Sure, there can be technical reasons for some, there can be sociological reasons for others and without a doubt somethings can strain the definition of rationality.
Within the pages of this relatively-slim book the author, who is a renowned chemist and broadcaster, uses his laboratory - said to be the first of its kind to be devoted to molecular gastronomy - to great effect, to simply (!) consider the preparation of six bistro favourites. Boiled egg with mayonnaise, simple consomme, leg of lamb with green beans, steak with French fries, lemon meringue pie, and chocolate mousse are put under the culinary microscope, the exact chemical properties that tickle our senses and stimulate our appetites are isolated. Consideration is made to the 'invisible' connection between brain and stomach, an examination of why some things appeal more than others and much more besides.
The book can be as complex as you like. Clearly there is a lot of scientific language, theory and descriptive writing. The casual, less-informed reader may find it hard going yet hopefully they can in any case get a sufficient overview to whet their appetite, if you pardon the pun, that might encourage them to investigate the subject in greater depth. That said, the text is structured to be accessible unlike many academic books of a similar statue. Yet in many ways the book is unstructured, charmingly so. Within the various chapters you get the feeling of a slightly absently-minded professor, giving out a lot of great information and haphazardly changing the subject, going off on a tangent and then returning back to the subject without a second thought. One can be quite forgiving to this approach, particularly when you consider the quality and depth of the information on offer. It certainly does encourage page-by-page reading rather than dropping in and out.
The publisher too deserves a special credit for not putting a high price on this clearly academic, groundbreaking book. Lovers of food and cooking can equally and easily share in the book's knowledge at their level to further perfect their art. Those of a more scientific bent will then get, based on the typical price of academic books, a damn good bargain too.
For those who have heard the term 'molecular gastronomy' but don't really know what it entails, this is a highly recommended book that will serve as a great starter to a relatively new subject. For everyone else it is is just highly recommended.