I’ve been aware pretty much from the beginning that my mind does not work like other people’s. But, like other people, I can learn almost anything, if it is explained to me in a way that makes sense. This is why I so often gripe about the constant complaints that older people “just don’t get it,” when what the older people really need is a better explanation! What does this have to do with reviewing a cookbook? Cooking for Geeks, Second Edition , is designed to explain cooking to people who think in technical and scientific terms and who are therefore convinced they can’t cook because recipes are complicated and cookbooks don’t explain things properly. Does it succeed? Read on and find out.
Initializing the cookbook
When I review ed the first edition of this book, I’ve found that it was fun to read and fun to review and had some darn good recipes, too. What more could a reader ask? Well, for starters, a revised and expanded second edition that’s even more fun to read than the first.
You’ll find some of the chapter names in this new edition use a little less technical vocabulary, but the content’s still aimed at explaining the mysteries of the kitchen to people who are accustomed to the scientific method.
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There’s also an impressive list of interviews with people like Adam Savage (“Mythbusters”) and Bridget Lancaster (“America’s Test Kitchen”) and Douglas Baldwin (applied mathematician) and Lydia Walshin (food writer). Those are interspersed throughout the book, providing insights and explanations as needed. There is also a page devoted to each interviewee, laying out his or her credentials and areas of expertise.
The book begins with a table of contents that lists all the recipes. They’re separated into categories like “Breakfast” and “Mains,” which contain what you might expect, but also “Components & Ingredients,” and a “List of Labs” which points the way to the scientific experiments in the book. Want to check out your taste buds, find your perfect cookie, or calibrate your oven or freezer? That’s all there, plus much more.
Although the author, Jeff Potter, encourages people to just jump to whatever section of the book appeals to them, I would say, based on experience with cooking-averse family members, that if you’re really new to cooking you’d do far better to start with Chapter 1 and read through till you’ve begun to understand how things work. For most true geeks (which Mr. Potter defines as “smart and curious”) this will not take long.
Begin by finding out whether you “think like a geek” (there are instructions) and carry on to defining your kitchen style, how you approach recipes, and dealing with “fear in the kitchen.” Even if you are already at ease in the kitchen, reading through this first chapter is definitely worthwhile. Besides, the interview with Adam Savage is in there. Yes, he loves to cook!
Mr. Potter also encourages people to not follow the recipe. I can see his point, but I think this approach works best for people who’ve had more experience in the kitchen. You can’t tell what would be a reasonable way to “wing it” if you’ve never done anything like it before. Does following recipes kill innovation, as Mr. Potter insists? Not if you’re still in the process of learning how to cook from a recipe, at least in my experience (I’ve been cooking for almost 60 years now). I always follow a recipe exactly—the first time I make it. After that, anything goes. :)
I must admit I laughed when I saw the section about the “3 x 4 Rule of Countertops.” I have never in all my life worked in a kitchen that had that much counter space. In fact, the kitchen I’ve used for the past 20 years doesn’t even have one counter with that much space in it.
There is an excellent section that talks about all the equipment you will need for your kitchen. And it doesn’t just give you a list; it takes each component (knives, pots, etc) and explains why you need them and how to take care of them. This section alone is worth the price of the book.