What It’s Like Shooting For TV: 30-Second Chocolate Cake

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.

Shooting for TV is a lot of work. I’ve done live TV a couple of times (which has its own quirks), so shooting this segment was really insightful just in the contrasts from live TV alone. It was a 7 am call, actually started at 8 am, and shot until noon. That’s four hours of on-location time for four minutes of final tape.
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Know Anyone Looking for Food Science Interns?

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.

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An Interview with Adam Savage of Mythbusters

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.
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How To Cook The Perfect Thanksgiving Turkey in Fifteen Minutes


Yes, that is a saw in my drying rack.

Listen to an interview with me about this on KPCC!

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.

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Hacking Your Slow Cooker: D.I.Y. Sous Vide Setup

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:

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Behind The Scenes: The Today Show

“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.)

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Brownies In An Orange

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!

Making this quick—and kid-friendly—dessert is easy. Here’s how.
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French Toast with KRON’s Henry Tenenbaum

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.)

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Life on the Road

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.
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Book Review in The Atlantic

The Atlantic ran a fantastic review of my book, Recipes of the Nerds.

Clear, fact-packed, and engaging … Cooking for Geeks offers an improbable victory of text over the standard food porn.

For me, the book is hard to put down. Its overall clarity and organization, as well as its success, may point to a sequel (or a 2.0 version) of sorts. It seems to me that this is a real phenomena. In the past two weeks, Google matches and Twitter mentions on this particular title have risen exponentially, to a level normally reached only by books from well-known chefs and personalities—and after a much longer time period. It’s evidence of a lot of creativity and brainpower connecting to the cooking world through books, TV, and above all, the Internet. It will be interesting to see what the nerds cook up next.

One interesting experience of reading reviews about your work: you get someone else’s perspective of your work (duh), which is like seeing yourself in a mirror—but where the mirror is warped and instead shows you how other people see you (not so obvious).

Here’s one example of this. Ike DeLorenzo, the author of The Atlantic review of my book, has an amazingly nice way of summing up something about the way I feel that I’d never been able to pinpoint before: “On the whole, Cooking for Geeks offers an improbable victory of text over the standard food porn.”

I love this quote. It says so much about me, about society, and, well, about me and society. When it comes to food porn, Continue reading Book Review in The Atlantic

Book Signing on August 16th at Toscanini’s Ice Cream

Spread the word! Please re-tweet, re-blog, re-everything… -J

 

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Video of Cooking for Geeks talk at Next HOPE

Jeff Potter talking at Next HOPE about Cooking for Geeks

Every few years, 2600 organizes a HOPE conference under various names. This year’s was called The Next HOPE and was the fourth one I’ve gone to, but the first one I’ve talked at.

For those that missed it, here’s a video of my talk. It’s about 50 minutes long and 100MB+ big, so consider yourself warned. And yes, this is talk that Gizmodo covered.
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They’re HERE!!! First box of Cooking for Geeks arrives

“Hot off the press,” as they say. (No, I don’t know who “they” are, and I don’t know why “they” say things off the press are hot. If the book were printed on a laser printer, I’d understand…)

I’m so used to shipping bits (e.g. software) that shipping atoms (e.g. books) seems so… foreign. The publisher sends the files for the book to the printer. The printer ships the books to the distributor (Ingram Books, in my case), who is a completely separate company from the publisher. Brick-and-mortar and online bookstores order copies from the distributor; once they get them, they turn around and ship a copy to you. From start to finish, the process takes upwards of a month.
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SXSW Article: Jeff Potter and The Mad Scientist’s Approach to Cooking

I had nothing to do with the title, but it makes me laugh. Article by Jason Cohen; reprinted from SXSWorld with permission. -J

SXSWorld Magazine - 2010“Staying home and making pizza” can mean lots of things. Frozen. One of those pre-cooked crusts with sauce packets. Homemade toppings over raw dough from the grocery store. Or creating everything from scratch—perhaps including sausage and fresh mozzarella. But even foodies who are comfortable with meat grinders and rennet rarely go as far as SXSW Interactive panelist Jeff Potter, who broke the lock on his oven (warranty be damned!) to make pizza in the cleaning cycle, which runs at the more crust-friendly, brick-oven-simulating temperature of 900°F. Sure, the glass pane on his over door eventually imploded from repeated thermal shock, but all hacks demand on-the-fly adjustment—it was easy enough to order a custom cut piece of PyroCeram, which is rated to 1400°F. “It’s the same stuff they used on missile nose cones in the 1950s,” says Potter, a computer scientist by training who has worked for various companies and start-ups around Cambridge, Massachusetts. “It’s amazing what you can buy on the Internet. And it didn’t even cost that much!”

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SXSW Preview: Food Hacking 101

Reprinted (Reblogged?) from sxtxstate.com by permission of Bonnie Hart, Texas State.

Do you want to retrofit your oven to bake pizza’s at 900 degrees? Would you trick out your Brita filter for better vodka? Do the words methylcellulose, maltodextrin, or meat glue make you giddy? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may have a new hobby called food hacking. Jeff Potter is a food hack. He’s the creator of Cooking for Geeks, a blog dedicated to the idea of epicurean experiments.

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Watching My Lemons

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We’ve been doing a number of interviews here at The Institute for Cooking for Geeks and Other Fun Stuff.

Carolyn Jung, over at www.foodgal.com, shared her experiences as a food writer, both in the print world and now online. One of her more unexpected hits? Preserved Lemons. Her writeup of a recipe inspired by food expert Kitty Morse is at www.foodgal.com/2009/01/meyer-lemons-the-salty/ .

It takes a few weeks for the lemons to completely break down, which is part of the fun: you get to “watch your lemons” day-by-day.

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Probing Fish

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I really should put a talk together of the strange things I’ve done in the kitchen… Sometimes it’s just easier to gather empirical data than do the theoretical model.

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Book Club – Nov 12th, 2009

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This is a guest post by Jed Shireman

On Thursday, Mackenzie Cowell, Andrew Shalit, and I were united by one amazing and educational culinary experience: dinner at the home of the ever curious and insightful Jeff Potter. It was an evening of yummy food, little known facts, and generous portions of geeky puns. If the night was just a taste of the knowledge and humor found in Jeff’s soon to be published book, Cooking for Geeks, then I will be one happy boy when I finally get my hands on it.

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Book Club – Nov 5th, 2009

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The following is a guest post by Steve Hershman.

I’ve been fortunate enough to be invited (and to my surprise invited back) to several book clubs so I usually know what to expect. When I got an email Wednesday night that mentioned the possibility of having us “*shudder* order pizza” I was quite surprised. Of course Jeff never did order that pizza, yet this was still no ordinary book club.

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Test Club – Nov 2nd, 2009

This is a guest post by Josh Vickery. Joining Josh for this dinner were Earl Wagner, Michael Betancourt, and Lee Butterman.

Cooking with Jeff Potter presented a delightful mix of the familiar and the ultra geeky. The menu, printed from Jeff’s pending book, was presented to the would-be cooks for the evening and set the tone for the night.

  • Chicken: Roasted, but what’s a spatchcock and why would we want it?
  • Asparagus: Steamed, but in the microwave and in a sealed container (this sounded dangerous to me)
  • Potatoes: Boiled then pan fried, but why care about the starch content of our (starchy) potatoes?
  • Chocolate mousse: I thought agar was something reserved for weird jelly candies.

It sounded pretty darn geeky, but also delicious.

Continue reading Test Club – Nov 2nd, 2009