Book Review: Cooking for Geeks

Jeff Potter’s book, Cooking for Geeks, was published last year and received quite a bit of praise over the web. As a Geek who is into food, I was interested in picking this one up and reading through it.

My taste is cookbooks is a bit specialized. I don’t tend to care much for books that are simply collections of recipes. My favorite cookbooks have been Michael Ruhlman’s Ratio and Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything. But these cookbooks, which do both contain recipes, are more about the process of food. Of what differentiates classes of recipes from one another.

Cooking for Geeks falls solidly in this class of cookbooks. Yes, there are plenty of recipes, as there are in those others, but it’s much more about imparting a deep understanding of the science of food. And it’s done through interviews with known chefs and scientists and geeks, including Tim O’Reilly and Adam Savage.

Potter effectively shares the language used in the food world. In the chapter on Wine, there is significant discussion with a sommelier about the reality of wine pairings and descriptive characters that are used inside of the industry. He goes into detail on ‘molecular gastronomy’, both in the sense that it’s used today to mean ‘using chemicals in cooking’ (by which metric, the Twinkie is probably the pinnacle of food), but also in the sense of hard science that’s being done on food to better understand the reactions that take place inside of food.

I kid a bit about molecular gastronomists, and while I respect the skill of chef’s like Wylie Dufresne, there have been people practicing molecular gastronomy for far longer that aren’t chefs, and approach the problems from a purely research perspective. However, the techniques of both are discussed, and presented in ways that left me interested in them, and thinking critically about what I’m doing while cooking.

That is where Cooking for Geeks really excels. If you’re into geek, and by that I mean you eat, drink and breathe geek, and you’re also into food (or want to be), then I think you’re likely to enjoy this. It goes into enough detail to sate your desire for information, while driving it home time and again that just like whatever else you’re doing, it’s okay to experiment, and even fail. After all, like Potter points out, even if you’ve created an inedible atrocity (and believe me, I have), pizza is only a phone call away.