Cooking for Geeks
Real Science, Great Hacks, and Good Food
Publisher: O'Reilly Media
Final Release Date: July 2010
Pages: 432

Are you the innovative type, the cook who marches to a different drummer -- used to expressing your creativity instead of just following recipes? Are you interested in the science behind what happens to food while it's cooking? Do you want to learn what makes a recipe work so you can improvise and create your own unique dish?

More than just a cookbook, Cooking for Geeks applies your curiosity to discovery, inspiration, and invention in the kitchen. Why is medium-rare steak so popular? Why do we bake some things at 350° F/175° C and others at 375° F/190° C? And how quickly does a pizza cook if we overclock an oven to 1,000° F/540° C? Author and cooking geek Jeff Potter provides the answers and offers a unique take on recipes -- from the sweet (a "mean" chocolate chip cookie) to the savory (duck confit sugo).

This book is an excellent and intriguing resource for anyone who wants to experiment with cooking, even if you don't consider yourself a geek.

  • Initialize your kitchen and calibrate your tools
  • Learn about the important reactions in cooking, such as protein denaturation, Maillard reactions, and caramelization, and how they impact the foods we cook
  • Play with your food using hydrocolloids and sous vide cooking
  • Gain firsthand insights from interviews with researchers, food scientists, knife experts, chefs, writers, and more, including author Harold McGee, TV personality Adam Savage, chemist Herv&eacute This, and xkcd

"My own session with the book made me feel a lot more confident in my cooking."

--Monica Racic,The New Yorker

"I LOVE this book. It's inspiring, invigorating, and damned fun to spend time inside the mind of 'big picture' cooking. I'm Hungry!"

--Adam Savage, co-host of Discovery Channel's MythBusters

"In his enchanting, funny, and informative book, Cooking for Geeks (O'Reilly), Jeff Potter tells us why things work in the kitchen and why they don't."

-- Barbara Hanson, NewYork Daily News

Table of Contents
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About the Author
Recommended for You
Customer Reviews

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O'Reilly MediaCooking for Geeks
 
4.3

(based on 12 reviews)

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100%

of respondents would recommend this to a friend.

Pros

  • Well-written (9)
  • Accurate (7)
  • Helpful examples (7)
  • Easy to understand (6)

Cons

    Best Uses

    • Intermediate (9)
    • Novice (8)
    • Student (7)
    • Expert (5)

    Reviewed by 12 customers

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    4.0

    Leftovers Go Where None Have Gone Before

    By D Pat

    from DC

    About Me Artist And Techie

    Pros

    • Concise
    • Easy to understand
    • Entertaining Reading
    • Helpful examples
    • Well-written

    Cons

      Best Uses

      • Expert
      • Intermediate
      • Novice
      • Student

      Comments about O'Reilly Media Cooking for Geeks:

      Is your lab set up to make brownies? 60 minute boiled eggs? Or do you make leftovers go where no one else dared? No matter why you pick up "Cooking for Geeks", you will find your initial anxiety nullified just as mine was.

      Jeff Potter writes humorously and enthusiastically. The recipes are proven. 60 minute boiled eggs? I said, what? Well, held at a constant 145 F, they were done, and to my surprise deliciously soft and tasty. The book's design makes good use of visual tags. Then up front with the table of contents, you'll find the individual index of interviews separate from that for the recipes. That's smart and respects that some folks, like me, are explorers; and others who may just want to hit the recipe for Squid Bruschetta. I can't wait to do breakfast with Buttermilk Pancakes and Oaxacan Drinking Chocolate.

      "Cooking for Geeks" makes a great gift for your budding chef or junior engineer, or the artist in you. It's chock full of history, science and the fun of cooking.

      (Nothing but honest reviews: O'REILLY Reader Review Program participant)

       
      4.0

      True to the title

      By Konrad Garus

      from Krakow, PL

      Verified Reviewer

      Pros

      • Accurate
      • Helpful examples
      • Well-written

      Cons

        Best Uses

        • Intermediate

        Comments about O'Reilly Media Cooking for Geeks:

        This book is true to its title – it explains the principles of cooking in a slightly different way. It explains the tastes and some basic ideas of balancing and composition. It talks a lot about food consistency and "doneness" in terms of chemical reactions between various components and in response to temperature over time. It shows how the basic principles of cooking and baking work from such perspective. Finally, it has some great points on hardware and foot safety.

        All this narrative is interleaved with recipes, placed right after related material. Sauces in taste composition, pizza, bread and cakes in chapters on baking, and so on. They are pretty exceptional – often discussing a few ways to approach a problem, or things to pay attention to, why they matter and what depends on them. Finally, there are some interviews with chefs, geeks and cooking passionates.

        It's very light language, though sometimes quite information-dense and a bit too abstract. I learned a ton from it. A lot of very basic stuff that every homegrown cook does intuitivelly, but you never know why it works this way. Some things may have been too advanced or too abstract, though. I wish there were more of those recipes, which really do a great job of explaining things on real examples. Sometimes I felt it's a bit too abstract for me, and at the same time it was probably too basic for experts.

        All in all, I think it was worth the read. Entertaining and enlightening at the same time, even if not all content is immediately interesting to everyone.

        Paper edition could be a bit better. It looks beautiful, and you could keep it handy and even make annotations in it.

         
        4.0

        great cooking tips & food science facts

        By mvark

        from India

        Pros

        • Well-written

        Cons

          Best Uses

          • Intermediate
          • Novice
          • Student

          Comments about O'Reilly Media Cooking for Geeks:

          My Wife and I share a love for good, healthy food and cooking. We analyze (mostly vegetarian) recipes we find online, on TV or in print. Not only that, we occasionally hang out in the Seasoned Advice forum, a Q & A discussion board in the StackExchange family, to learn about what people around the world are cooking. This kind of fascination for cooking, made us jump at the idea of reviewing "Cooking for Geeks" when I spotted it in the O'Reilly Blogger Review Program's list of books. We enjoyed it during the first reading and will keep going back to it.

          The author Jeff Potter's mixes science and cooking to dish out an educational and entertaining book that helps you "understand cooking". Cooking for Geeks has numerous tips, food science facts, recipes and interviews with cooking experts and aficionados, all mashed-up into 7 chapters that will keep you engaged all through out. Among the passionate people he has interviewed are Maureen Evans (Twitter handle - @cookbook) who posts recipes as a single tweet of 140 characters (Hummus:soak cdry chickpea8h.replace h2o;simmer3h@low.drain. Puree/season to taste+1/3ctahini&lem&olvoil/½t garlic&salt/cayenne. Chill.) and Nathan Myhrvold, a former CTO of Microsoft who took a sabbatical to go to cooking school in France.

          Though this book is presumably written for an American audience and predominantly focuses on Western cuisine, it touches at least briefly all the popular cuisines (Chinese, French, Greek, Indian, Italian, Japanese, Latin American, Southeast Asian). Readers who are not interested in varied cuisines or have special requirements (vegan, vegetarian) will have to skip a lot of pages. I found it bizarre that the author informs Quinine ("Quinine in anything other than minute quantities is poisonous"), liquid nitrogen and dry ice, are dangerous and then proceeds to show uses for them in cooking.

          Overall, I rate this book 4.5 out of 5. The author discourages giving kitchen tools as gifts but you can very well gift this book to anyone even remotely interested in cooking and they will get hooked to cooking.

          (3 of 3 customers found this review helpful)

           
          5.0

          Geeky even if you don't cook

          By Mariia

          from Ukraine

          About Me Developer, Maker

          Verified Reviewer

          Pros

          • Accurate
          • Inspiring
          • Mouth-watering
          • Well-written

          Cons

          • Bit too technical

          Best Uses

            Comments about O'Reilly Media Cooking for Geeks:

            I'm totally a geek, and nowhere near a cook. All of my life I concentrate on what the author called "survival food" - something that keeps me well-fed and healthy but doesn't require a lot of time and effort (including mental, which is the hardest of efforts). When I enter the kitchen, I prefer to grab something and exit it as soon as possible, or at least think about something different while I'm in - not exactly the mindset for cooking. And yet I've found "Cooking for Geeks" a good reading, even if not immediately useful in the kitchen.

            This book is not a book of recipes, though there are some scattered over the pages; this is a book about cooking as seen by the geek and explained to other geeks. Intriguing? Certainly.

            A lot of things in this book are not applicable to my daily life - like salad bars in grocery stores (don't think I've ever seen one), or setting the temperature in the oven (only my microwave can do this), or throwing away a failed dish and ordering a pizza. Must be something about cultural difference between USA and Ukraine, I think. Some of the hardware setup like dishwasher and oven or three distinct work surfaces are very understandable and I wish I could have them, but my kitchen had simply no room for them. "Initializing the Kitchen" chapter sent me to check unknown foods and tools in Wikipedia more than once, and parts of it still left me puzzled - 3 frying pans? Thermometers? Spatulas and whisks? Are you serious? Well, maybe one day I'll get to this, but certainly not right now.

            Other things, like cooking and eating from the same dish for the sake of laziness, I've invented myself ages ago and use on a regular basis. And I must confess I haven't tried a single recipe from this book yet (though there are a few very promising ones).

            But I read books not to derive immediate use from them (well, unless they are professional), I read for pleasure. And in this aspect Cooking for Geeks is all I could desire from a book about food and cooking. It has interesting facts and stories, like that of "miracle berries", and interviews which introduce the reader to the life of people who work with food (a bit different from my day). Some scientific facts as well, but I'm not much into science, so I can't really appreciate this part. And the most important - plenty of images and descriptions which make my mouth water at the mere thought of them - I stopped reading and went to the kitchen to forage for some food more than once while reading the most inspiring chapters.

            Conclusion? This book certainly gives the reader more value than the time spent reading it, even if you spend a year reading it, like I did :-)

            (2 of 2 customers found this review helpful)

             
            5.0

            Wonderful!

            By Greg the Librarian

            from West Linn, OR

            Verified Reviewer

            Pros

            • Accurate
            • Easy to understand
            • Helpful examples
            • Well-written

            Cons

              Best Uses

              • Intermediate
              • Novice
              • Student

              Comments about O'Reilly Media Cooking for Geeks:

              You know those outstanding programming books? The ones where writer's style is clear, informative, and engaging? Where the scope of coverage is neither too narrow nor too broad? Where you can just sense that the author is a talented and enthusiastic expert in his/her field? Where you just get caught up in the learning process, and hate to put the book down?

              I never thought I'd have a similar experience reading a cooking book. Happily, Jeff Potter's "Cooking for Geeks" gave me the exact same experience.

              The whole "geek" approach has made cooking accessible and interesting to me in a way that other books just haven't been able to do. I particulalrly enjoyed the "Initializing the Kitchen" section, in particular; in the past, I've felt overwhelmed by the sheer variety and unfamiliarity of the seemingly-infinite number of kicthen tools and utensils available. The book provides a systematic, logical examination of the tools you'll need, what their benefits/uses are, and recommendations on solid, relaible brands.

              As the reader progresses to actual cooking, Potter does an excellent job of presenting the "why" along with the "how". How do taste and smell work, and how does that influence recipes and cooking techniques? What are the chemical reactions involved in cooking, and how do we harness them to create yummy concoctions?

              Now, my brain is "geek-wired", and Potter's approach neatly meshes with my information processing style, but I'm confident in predicting that *anyone* interested in learning their way around the kitchen will find this book extremely enjoyable and useful.

              Note: O' Reilly was kind enough to provide a review copy of this title as part of their blogger review program.

              (2 of 2 customers found this review helpful)

               
              4.0

              Something for Foodies and Geeks

              By Great Lakes Geek

              from Cleveland, OH

              Verified Reviewer

              Pros

              • Helpful examples
              • Well-written

              Cons

                Best Uses

                  Comments about O'Reilly Media Cooking for Geeks:

                  Disclaimer: I am not a cook or chef. Nor do I aspire to be one. I love to eat and have been intrigued by the Food Network but I'd rather stop in at Iron Chef Michael Symon's Lola for lunch than try and recreate his menu.

                  That said, I am a Geek and there is a significant amount of science and tech in the world of cooking. The author mixes in a lot of science with the recipes and cooking techniques. Foodies may skip the science and techies may skip the recipes but that would be a mistake. Both parts are important.

                  I like the numerous interviews that are strewn throughout the book. For example, Potter interviews Cornell prof Brian Wansink about why and what we eat. Did you know that, according to Wansink, the "nutritional gatekeeper" (the person in the home who buys and makes the food) controls about 72% of the food their family eats? Or that people tend to pour 32% more into a short wide glass than a tall skinny glass? There are a lot of interesting tidbits like that throughout the book.

                  Even former Microsoft CTO Nathan Myhrvold shares his cooking philosophy and techniques.

                  The book covers all the basics which is important for non-foodie geeks like me. Potter treats the kitchen and its tools as any other laboratory with instruments. You want the best, most accurate, most precise instruments in your lab – and in your kitchen.

                  He then covers the ingredients with sections on taste (what the heck is savory?) and how Flavor = Smell + Taste (Geeks like equations!)
                  Some parts are like Chemistry lessons with detailed info on heat transfer methods and times for various foods and the reactions of salt, sugar, acids and bases and alcohol.

                  Every techie book has to include something on gadgets and this book has a Fun with Hardware section. Of course the hardware is not microprocessors and hard drives but some of the tools and gadgets available for your cooking. I don't think I will ever use his Cooking in a Dishwasher technique but I might give the Bake a Brownie in an Orange method a try.

                  As a mathematician, I liked Meg Hourihan's (the co-founder of Blogger.com) attempt at the perfect chocolate chip cookie. She took about 40 chocolate cookie recipes and averaged the ingredients and instructions. Some results were weird – 2.04 cups of flour, 0.79 teaspoons of salt and so on. Her "Mean Chocolate Cookie" (pun intended) turned out "pretty good" she said.

                  Another fun part for me was the algorithm to cut a cake for N people. Those of us with siblings faced this situation often while growing up.

                  The book is 400 pages that will interest foodies and techies alike. And if you happen to be both – this book is really for you.

                  As for me…Will I make my own Mozzarella Cheese? Probably not. But it was interesting to read how I could if I wanted to. I think I need a snack.

                  (1 of 1 customers found this review helpful)

                   
                  5.0

                  Chemistry Lessons in the Kitchen

                  By maguay

                  from USA

                  About Me Writer

                  Verified Reviewer

                  Pros

                  • Accurate
                  • Easy to understand

                  Cons

                    Best Uses

                    • Expert
                    • Intermediate
                    • Novice
                    • Student

                    Comments about O'Reilly Media Cooking for Geeks:

                    When's the last time you did a chemistry experiment? Truth is, most of us do chemistry experiments more often than we imagine. Every time you try tweaking a recipe or try to cook something new, you're doing a chemistry experiment. Best thing is, you can use the basic properties of food to make new dishes and recreate your favorite foods.

                    This can be difficult to do on your own, though, and most cookbooks are designed to just help you make individual recipes and don't overly teach you how to design new ones. Cooking for Geeks is a great book that does exactly that. Author Jeff Potter guides you through the basic ways foods work so you'll understand how everything from eggs to high temperature cooking works. It includes tons of recipes, but best of all, it'll leave you with an understanding of what made that recipe tick and how you can use the ideas from it on your own. You'll even learn better ways to make boiled eggs, of all things!

                    Whether you're cooking on your own or using it with a school group to teach, Cooking for Geeks empowers you to take your cooking to the next level. Sure, cooking is not a technology centric thing, but this book makes cooking appeal to those of us who enjoy hacking and tweaking. Plus, when's the last time you saw the Mac vs. PC debate mentioned in a cookbook? My family and I have found this book very educational and enjoyable, and if you find cooking any bit interesting, I believe you'll be fascinated by this book, too.

                    (2 of 2 customers found this review helpful)

                     
                    4.0

                    Cooking for the Geek in all of us

                    By Tom

                    from Racine, Wisconsin

                    About Me Maker, Sys Admin

                    Verified Reviewer

                    Pros

                    • Easy to understand
                    • Helpful examples

                    Cons

                      Best Uses

                      • Expert
                      • Intermediate
                      • Novice

                      Comments about O'Reilly Media Cooking for Geeks:

                      Cooking for Geeks is the cooking book for the rest of us. It is the book that was written for those of us who do not naturally feel comfortable in the kitchen. It is the book that was written for those of us who want to know; Why does that happen? and Why do I need to do that in a certain order?

                      Jeff takes the reader through the science of cooking, through theory and plenty of examples in the forms of recipes, ranging from simple to complex. While the book focuses on the scientific reasoning behind what happens in the kitchen, Jeff does in an amusing and non-threatening manner.

                      Each chapter is organized in straightforward manner. Jeff starts off the book by talking about what equipment you should have in your kitchen, then about taste and smell, what happens when food is cooked, baking and gluten to ending talking about commercial and modern cooking methods. In each case, he does it in a manner that exposes the reader to new concepts in an easy to understand method with examples and the science behind the concept.

                      Along with the science behind kitchen concepts, Jeff provides enough recipes for the reader to utilize in their everyday life, ranging in complexity from simple cooking of eggs to a more complex example of Seared Mussels. This to me is one of the selling points to the book. Too many times, cooking books focus on either the simple or complex and do not make it seem as though a kitchen novice would not be able to handle something more complex than making cereal and toast. This is not the case here, with each recipe explained in a straightforward manner that would allow even the kitchen novice to feel comfortable doing something more complex in the kitchen.

                      Along with a multitude of recipes and scientific explanations, Jeff interviews famous people about their experiences in the kitchen. These experts range from Adam Savage of Mythbusters fame to pastry chef Dave Lebovitz from Berkley. This adds to the rich content of the book by giving an outside perspective on cooking and kitchen science/cooking.

                      Overall, I recommend this book to novice and experienced home cooks. Jeff has tips and tricks that can be utilized by all level of home cooks without insulting or frustrating either group.

                      (5 of 5 customers found this review helpful)

                       
                      3.0

                      Great content, painful eBook

                      By Threefour

                      from New York, NY

                      Comments about O'Reilly Media Cooking for Geeks:

                      I agree with the other reviewers on the content. But the eBook is painful to use (particularly for a tech-savvy publisher like O'Reilly). Some links don't work, the layout is awkward, and the organization is odd. In my case, I'm using the ePub on the iPhone; your results might differ.

                      (8 of 8 customers found this review helpful)

                       
                      5.0

                      ... and maybe others

                      By Paul

                      from Stockton, CA

                      About Me Educated American Mutt

                      Verified Reviewer

                      Pros

                      • Accurate
                      • Helpful examples
                      • Well-written

                      Cons

                        Best Uses

                        • Expert
                        • Intermediate
                        • Novice
                        • Student

                        Comments about O'Reilly Media Cooking for Geeks:

                        Jerry Pournelle has already given this a "book of the month" award in his "Chaos Manor Reviews," which is always a good recommendation. I'm going to be embarrassed if I find that he actually finished reading the whole book that much sooner than I did, as there are more words in the book than I expected. Some of those words refer to an earlier publication (among many references) by Hervé This, Molecular Gastronomy, Exploring the Science of Flavor, that I have also read. Potter's explanations are much easier to follow and his text flows better; plus there are some random bits of humor thrown in, all the better for being unexpected.

                        Once you get the concepts under your belt Potter encourages experimentation and provides a scattering of examples to try. A few of the suggestions seemed enough of a stretch that I began to question my level of geekness, but I will survive. He includes a wide variety of sources for additional information including a number of internet references. I like references a lot, although I'm a bit concerned whether the links provided will remain viable for the length of time that I now intend to keep this book on my shelf.

                        I enjoyed the book quite a lot, but it was on page 367 that I found some really pertinent information about mushrooms that, for me, is nearly worth the price of the book - you'll have to see for yourself what that is.

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