I’m told that Asahi Newspaper is the most prestigious newspaper in Japan. They reviewed the Japanese edition of my book: Ｃｏｏｋｉｎｇ ｆｏｒ Ｇｅｅｋｓ [著]ジェフ・ポッター／味わいの認知科学 [編]日下部裕子・和田有史 The writer of this article is YAMAGATA Hiroo (山形浩生), who is a famous critic and translator. Photo by MIZUHARA Bun; translation by TAMAGAWA Ryuji from Osaka, Japan.
Cook Like Science Experiments
It is quite popular to see stories in cooking comic books (mangas) where a gifted and passionate super-cook super-hero fights against a scientific cook who uses theorem and computers. Of course, the hero always wins and says, “Cold science never touches people’s soul!”
But a large part of cooking is done with chemical changes and it is obvious that chemical knowledge is useful. Though intuition and trial-and-error are important, scientific knowledge shows you the right direction to avoid mistakes. That is the reason why we have so many guide books.
“Cooking for Geeks” by Jeff Potter is outstanding in quality and quantity. It is truly a book for geeks, with rich contents such as how to adopt various cooking tools and surprising cooking methods. The book also covers related topics like organic foods and dishes that have less of an impact on the environment. In this book, recipes are demonstrations and experiments.
I do not recommend this book for cooking novices. There are no color pictures. The recipes look like science experiment manuals and do not seem delicious at the first glance. You should start with easy cooking guides. However, you will not understand the real fun in cooking until you start to make your own changes to recipes. Then, the explanations in this book come to the rescue.
“Cognitive science of Taste (Ajiwai No Ninchi Kagaku)” is more theoretical. It is a collection of papers which dives into the taste cognition system in the brain and completely an academic book. The contents are far beyond from being useful for cooking, but if you want to dive deep, you should read this.
The analytical approach of these books gives you strange feelings if you are used to popular recipe books. Some people will like this approach while others will not. But the process of institutional trials -> theoretical analysis -> reorganization is an essential process for any learning. These books will certainly help you in the process. And when you do, you’ll find that the dishes that result from the “cold science” aren’t bad. Give it a try!
I’m delighted to announce this month’s Awesome Food grant has been awarded to a great project that helps get the word out about using food stamps to buy supplies for growing your own food. Here’s the press release! -Jeff
My life continues to be full of unexpected surprises. A few days ago, I received an email asking if I was single and “would you be interested in being the star of a TV show where a bunch of beautiful women try to cook their way to your heart?”
Dear Internet: what questions do you have about food? Or food science? Ever wonder why certain foods cook the way they do? Or certain dishes call for the ingredients they do? Or maybe you have a recipe that you can’t get to turn our just the way you like. Please leave your questions in the comments below, or use the “contact me” option to email it.
And yes, I’ll give away a hint: this is for a project I’m working on. It’ll be fun! Can’t wait to see where this one goes… 😉
I’m delighted to announce that Awesome Food (of which I’m a trustee) has selected our first $1,000 micro-grant: CompostMobile. I had the great joy of calling Jennifer to tell her the good news, and let me just say that I could get used to calling people and telling them they’re awesome, doing awesome things, and that we’re giving them $1k to make the world a more awesome place.
(In case you missed my post about Awesome Food: Awesome Food helps the world realize awesome ideas that further food and culture by awarding a no-strings-attached $1,000 microgrant to people who want to pull off awesome ideas involving food. To learn more or to apply for a grant, visit www.awesomefood.net.)
We had over 600 applicants, many of which were truly, well, awesome. (It’s a “rolling pool,” so we’ll still consider the other applications in future deliberations.) Perfect ice cubes? Random sandwiches? Gardens for schools? Lots of awesome ideas; enough to call someone every day instead of once a month!
Here’s the announcement we sent out—please help spread the word!
Mmm… delicious, delicious ethyl [4-[ p -[ethyl ( m -sulfobenzyl) amino]-α-( o -sulfophenyl) benzylidene] – 2,5 -cyclohexadien – 1 – ylidene] ( m -sulfobenzyl) ammonium hydroxide …
I’m giving a talk in Melbourne, Australia next week on food dyes and am looking for good stories and experiences with food coloring and dyes.
What fun and interesting things have you done with food coloring? Red milk on Halloween? Green eggs and ham for St Patricks Day?
Do you have any great uses of natural food colorings? Think beet juice, blueberries, etc.
How do you feel about industrial uses of food coloring? Coloring candies? Cereal? Dying the outsides of oranges to be orange? Pumping up the coloring on sausage casings? How about feed farm-raised fish pigment so that they’re peach-colored (well, salmon colored) instead of grey? (Let’s say, hypothetically, that farm-raised fish could be done sustianably in a way that was zero-impact on the environment, but the fish came out grey. Would adding coloring agents at that point to make it acceptable be ok?)
Do you know anyone who’s had ADHD or behavioral problems that they believe are related to food coloring? Details? (The FDA has stated that there’s not proof that it’s the food coloring that causes behavioral problems… changing diet changes more than just the consumption of food dyes.)
Awesome Food, a chapter of the worldwide Awesome Foundation, officially launched on Wednesday, July 20 and is now accepting grant applications from around the world to further food awesomeness in the universe. Visit awesomefood.net to learn more and apply at awesomefood.net/apply. The first round for application deadline is end-of-day, Friday, August 5th.
Each month, Awesome Food will give one applicant $1,000 to help pull off an awesome idea involving food. The ideas must relate to food in some form, and the definition will be more inclusive than exclusive. Examples could include educating the public about DIY-farming, creating an ad-hoc eatery in a subway car, or recording videos of immigrants’ recipes.
Anyone is eligible to apply: For profit, non-profit, individuals, companies, schools, adults, children. The $1,000 grants are not be loans or investments. They are not expected to be paid back. They are no-strings attached grants. The Awesome Foundation has a FAQ on how the grants work.
Yes, that’s a monster donut being hoisted around by a crane…
There are some things in life one never expects to do, and one of them is making a giant donut for a TV show for Food Network. This is the story of how I ended up doing exactly that. (Television, as I’ve written before, is a very, very weird place.)
Last fall, while on book tour for my book Cooking for Geeks, I received a call from a casting agent who was looking for a “food science geek” for “a network that deals with food” (*cough* Food Network *cough*). They were creating a show about two chefs who get into crazy bets with each other and calling it Monster Kitchen. Upon accepting the challenge, each chef would head back to their respective kitchens and, with the help of a pastry chef and a food geek, attempt to pull off the challenge.
It’s a fun spin on a reality TV competition with the potential of getting a MythBusters / Food Detectives-like angle on what’s happening scientifically. The exciting bit for me is to get people to think scientifically in the kitchen. Not sure how to make a giant donut? Break it down: can you make a one foot donut? What works at that scale, and what fails?
I recently spoke about Cooking for Geeks at Google’s Cambridge office, and they’ve posted a video of the talk on YouTube. If you’d like to hear me speak about food science and the kitchen, this is the video to watch. Enjoy!
I’m sitting in a café in sunny LA with the goofiest of grins on my face, because of an email I just received:
I received your book as a present from my 12-year-old brother for Christmas last year and it was perfect for me! After reading the book, I decided to take your preface to heart and share it with others. Except instead of passing your book on, I hosted a party based on the book. We started out with the taste and smell experiments (had some trouble with counting our taste buds), Then I had everyone bring three ingredients and we all had to make a dish based on those random items using tips from your book. And dessert was made on an antigriddle. Overall we had a blast! I just wanted to thank you for writing this book and show you our party:
I shot a segment showing me making this “30-Second Chocolate Cake” for The Cooking Channel‘s show Food(ography), with the “30 second” bit referring to how long it takes to cook, and possibly eat, but definitely not how long it took to do the shoot. I’ve had a number of requests for the recipe, which I’m including below, and figured I’d do a short little write-up about the shoot itself while I’m at it.
Hello, Internet. I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted much of, well … anything. I’m sorry. It’s been a busy few months; I missed you too.
The book came out, and then ran out of stock, then came out again, then ran out again, then again and … well, someone said something about sixth print run recently. No, this does not mean I’m rich. I calculated my hourly salary the other day based on my royalties thus-far: $4.90 / hour.* If you’re not familiar with the book world, this is actually higher than most authors are lucky to ever see. (I didn’t do it for the money…)
What sales like this does mean is that I get a lot of emails from all over the world with random questions, comments, offers (multiple marriage proposals; don’t ask), and suggestions. I love hearing from readers (usually); I love learning who’s reading my book and understanding what they’re thinking.
For most questions, I answer them by turning my stack of trusty literature (and occasionally, www.lmgtfy.com). But then there are questions like the one below where, frankly, I don’t have the connections to give any good answer.
Getting to the point: does anyone have any recommendations for students looking for food science internships?
*My mom pointed out that I failed to account for expenses. With expenses factored in—direct out-of-pocket costs, like printing review copies—I’m currently at -$0.78 / hour. That is, I’m still in the red… sigh.
For my book, Cooking for Geeks, I interviewed food scientists, researchers, and chefs; but one of my favorite interviews was the one I did with Adam Savage, co-host of Discovery Channel’s MythBusters. And yes, Adam is just as much fun and as animated in real life as you’d suspect from watching the show.
Jeff: How do you go about testing a myth?
Adam: One of the earliest things we realized on the show is that you always have to have something to compare to. We would try to come up with an answer like: is this guy dead, is this car destroyed, is this an injury? And we would be trying to compare it to an absolute value, like X number of feet fallen equals dead. The problem is the world is very spongy and nonuniform, and trying to nail down a value like that can be really difficult. So we always end up doing relative tests. We end up doing a control under regular circumstances and then we test the myth under identical circumstances, and we compare the two things. In that comparison, we get to see our results. Continue reading An Interview with Adam Savage of Mythbusters
In a nutshell: sous vide the turkey breast and slow-cook the turkey legs. Fifteen minutes of “chef” time; perfect texture and flavor every time.
Turkeys are “hard” to cook because different parts of the bird are composed of different ratios of proteins that happen to require different temperatures and cooking times to obtain ideal doneness. You can cook the “perfect” thanksgiving turkey by splitting up the bird into the two main parts—the breast and the legs—and cooking each of them separately.
If you’re only going to try one thing from my book, Cooking for Geeks, I’d recommend sous vide—essentially ultra-low temperature poaching. By holding foods like eggs at precise temperatures, you can control which proteins will cook and which ones won’t. Perfect soft-poach egg? Perfect medium-rare steak? Perfect fish? These all become super-easy with sous vide.
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High-end restaurants use this technique all the time, and with a little care, you can safely do sous vide cooking at home as well. You do need to be aware of proper time-at-temperature guidelines to safely pasteurize any pathogens that might be present, but honestly, it’s quite easy. If you want more details on sous vide, I highly recommend checking out Douglas Baldwin’s “Practical Guide to Sous Vide.” (Or see the first half of chapter 7…)
The pros use a piece of chemistry lab gear called an immersion circulator (units by PoliSci; around ~$1k new). For consumers, there’s at least one unit on the market (Sous Vide Supreme, ~$450). If you have the cash and want something that just works, it’s certainly not a bad option. But if you’re not ready to shell out that much, or want bragging rights to a hacked slow cooker, you can wire up your own version that’s almost as good. Here’s how:
Soups don’t have to be complicated, as this simple pumpkin soup shows. This was originally a butternut squash soup recipe in Cooking for Geeks, but like any good geek—that’d be anyone who’s curious how things works and is willing to play with things—I thought, “Hey, pumpkin is a gourd, too; so that should work!” Sure enough, it does. And with hundreds of millions of pumpkins showing up on doorsteps across our nation today (November 1st), it’s also a great way to reuse, reduce, and recycle!
“There’s no biz like show biz”—ain’t that the truth—and live national TV is like nothing else. The Today Show broadcasts 4 hours of live content each day, five days a week. I cannot imagine the amount of work that goes into finding talent and producing content.
What’s it like being a guest on a show like The Today Show? In a word: incredible.
The work started a few weeks before my appearance. A phone call, after seeing the piece on my book in USA Today: “Would you be interested in being on The Today Show?” Of course. Then there’s a flurry of short emails: “What can you show our viewers in five minutes? Something fun, visual, and interesting?” They had a copy of the book and suggested “Brownies In An Orange.” Fun? Check. Visual? Check. Interesting? Depends. There’s not a lot of deep connections to food science here (well, caramelization, oven temp, and how flavors go together). But viewers just want to be entertained, and the producers know what will work on their show. Check.
The day before—4:30 PM. Rehearsal. One of the show’s food stylists (they have two) and the segment producer (they have many) and I meet on-set to do a run through of the segment. Kathie Lee and Hoda aren’t present; this isn’t a full rehearsal. It’s mostly a coaching session and prop run-through. (It’s really awkward to realize you’re missing a whisk or bowl when on live TV with millions of viewers watching.)
Brownies In An Orange might not strike you as being geeky at first glance, but there’s tons of food science at work as those brownies cook. And if there’s one thing which defines a geek, it’s curiosity and wondering how things works—which is why knowing even a little bit of food science can help you turn out a better meal!
Henry Tenenbaum from KRON Channel 4 and I had a lot of fun this past weekend in San Francisco making French Toast on their weekend morning show. Here’s the recipe for those who’ve requested it.
The secret to great French Toast is to soak the bread long enough for your egg mixture to fully soak the middle of the bread. (And use real bread, folks—pre-sliced sandwich bread isn’t thick enough to get that wonderful eggy custard.)
I’m exactly halfway through my DIY Book Tour for Cooking for Geeks—day 22 of 44—and life on the road has already been an amazing experience.
To date, I’ve given talks in Washington DC, Ft Lauderdale, Austin, Houston, Toronto, New York City, Pittsburgh, and Chicago. Visting so many places in such a short time span is a real study in the diversity of our country (and Canada). Food habits, culture, and attitudes definitely differ. Austin is a runner’s town; Houston, decidedly not so. Food trucks in Austin are more than trendy, they’re actually shockingly good; Chicago is still trying to overturn ordinances banning them. Washington DC was a pleasant surprise; the community has a great collegiate feel to is.
Across all these cities, one thing is constant: I’m amazed at just how incredibly kind people are everywhere. To my new friends in Austin, that evening with a great bottle of wine on the lake’s edge was just amazing. To the guys in Houston, I had a great time (and sorry about the mess ;-). Pittsburgh’s Waffle Shop was a blast; I hope to get video of the interview posted here in the next week or so. Continue reading Life on the Road
T Minus 24 Hours until the start of my “Do It Yourself” Book Tour. First stop? Washington D.C. Then Florida, Texas, Toronto, New York, Pittsburgh, Chicago… and then the western half of the country.
Here’s the first half of my book tour. Live in one of these places or know somebody who does? Please help me get the word out! I’ll be doing book talks, demos, Q&As, and exploring the local food scenes in each of these places. Snag a book—preferably one from me, but happy to sign any copy, of course!—and come meet me.
My october schedule will be out in a few weeks. Live in the LA Area, Seattle, Portland, or the Bay Area? Want to help out? Help me organize a talk.