Reminiscent of the "Good Eats" TV series, this book delves into the whys and wherefores of food and cooking rather than simply presenting instructions and a pretty picture (though there's a bit of that too). Armed with this knowledge, it's possible to then hack recipe "code" to suit your resources and tastes. With geeky tips such as how to calibrate your oven with sugar and the Optimal Cake-Cutting Algorithm for N People, info on how much whipping will turn your cream to butter, and any amount of the science behind how foods react to the application of heat over time, this book really lives up to its name. As for how good the recipes are: my fussy four year old declared the buttermilk pancakes the "most delicious things I've ever eaten" and asked for seconds and thirds.
When you think about geeks, you rarely think about them cooking; most people instantly imagine them with pizzas or crisps, not in front of ovens. Jeff Potter, the author, explains why most geeks are shy of kitchens. Being a geek himself, he explains cooking in software development terms; compiling food, defining vegetable variables, overclocking the oven, and looking at recipes as source code. He explains everything with a sense of humour that is a joy to read. This book had me hooked right from the beginning, so when he started to talk about cooking with stuff that can kill you; liquid nitrogen ice cream or electrocuted hot dogs, I couldn't put this book down.
Jeff starts off the book with easy recipes, with the explanation that if you want to learn a programming language, you don't start off by writing an operating system. The same thing goes for cooking; start off small, learn to read a recipe and learn to change elements to suit your style. Source code isn't static; you can always change it to suit your style. Jeff takes you through it step by step, but he goes one step further. Geeks aren't just interested in following steps, they want to know, and need to know why. Why do you need to cook at a certain temperature? Why do you need to add an ingredient before another one? Cooking isn't just about blindly following recipes, its science!
Cooking for Geeks isn't a reference book. Whilst it does contain recipes throughout the book, it isn't a book that you will idly pick up to make a meal for friends. You will learn what sort of a cook you are, and help you focus on what you are good at. It will help you select kitchen hardware depending on who you are and on what you want to do. It will help you prepare and calibrate your tools, especially your oven. Once you are comfortable with the basics, you learn more advanced techniques, finishing with some extreme science. Scattered throughout the book are short recipes to keep you curious, clear illustrations and interviews and contributions from famous geeks or scientists (notably Adam Savage from Mythbusters and Tim O'Reilly, the CEO of the publisher).
One of the many things I loved about this book is the fact that all weights, temperatures and measurements are in both imperial and metric, meaning that everyone can dive in straight away.
I knew how to do basic stuff in the kitchen before reading this book, but never really enjoyed cooking. For me, it was just to prepare a basic meal, something I had done over and over. After reading this book, I have a whole new view on my kitchen. I now know exactly why I need to use a particular tool, and find myself really enjoying preparing food. I now understand why I need to cook at a certain temperature, but more importantly, this book has also awoken my curiosity. Yes, you can be a geek and a cook at the same time. However, this book isn't just for people who don't know cooking, far from it. I showed a chapter to a close friend who is very good in the kitchen, and who can easily make her guests jealous of her cooking skills. She admitted that while she could bake just about anything, the oven was black magic for her. She isn't a geek, but she loved what she read, and she now understands what happens, and more importantly, why.
Don't just make food; understand the science behind cooking, and create food.
I found a pdf of this book by accident searching for Heston Blumenthal recipes i was after and i went on about it so much my gf ended up just buying me the hard copy version :)
For a start this isn't a recipe book, sure there are a few example recipes but the book is mainly there to explain the science of cooking, how to improve upon and make the best of the recipes you already have.
If you've ever watch any of Heston Blumenthals shows or have his 'At Home' book Heston Blumenthal at Home then this could be a kind of companion book to one of those, explaining in better detail why stuff does what it does, why meat which is 60c in the centre will be more tender than one cooked at a constant high heat for example.
This book is best suited for someone who loves cooking, they don't really have to be a geek to use it, just curious about how food works. I've been cooking for just over 25yrs now (since i was 5) and i love tinkering around with recipes and i've tried several of the techniques in here already (thanks to Blumenthal) and they do make a difference but having an in depth explanation of the science behind it allows you to expand on the recipe with other meat, veg, sauces ect.
A great present for anyone who loves cooking, with a bit of showing off.
This book is packed with fascinating information, I have been a keen cook for many years but even so have learned loads of useful stuff that I never knew. The only reasons why I'm not giving it five stars are that I find the writing style a little annoying and at times patronising, and also the format of the book just feels wrong - the pages are too wide, which I found made it a little awkward to read.
Thoroughly excellent for the geeky chef. I've also read the 4-hour chef but found this a bit more in-depth (4 hour chef seemed aimed at someone who was reluctantly learning to cook). Both books are excellent though.
I was supposed to be the geek. But my wife, who is an excellent cook, is constantly dipping into my book, finding unusual facts about food chemistry and history - as well as recipes. Inevitably, the contributors vary in the level of their contributors, but I guess there's something for everyone here.