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Kitchen Mysteries: Revealing the Science of Cooking (Arts and Traditions of the Table: Perspectives on Culinary History) Hardcover – November 15, 2007


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Kitchen Mysteries: Revealing the Science of Cooking (Arts and Traditions of the Table: Perspectives on Culinary History) + On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen
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Product Details

  • Series: Arts and Traditions of the Table: Perspectives on Culinary History
  • Hardcover: 232 pages
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press (November 15, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 023114170X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0231141703
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 6.3 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #835,217 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Fans of Curious Cook Harold McGee will relish the latest from This (Molecular Gastronomy), a French chemist and foodie hero who has helped to usher in the current restaurant world vogue for turning the kitchen into a laboratory. This uses simple questions and observations about food (Does hot pepper burn a hole in the stomach?; Why must infants not be fed sausages?) as springboards for delightful explorations into culinary scientific principles. In brief, confident chapters, he moves through assorted ingredients (milk, vegetables, cheese), cooking methods (steaming, roasting, deep-frying) and whole categories of food and drink (bread, cake, sauces, salad) in his quest to explain kitchen phenomena. The book is more practical than theoretical, as This often breezes over much of the science, focusing not on the experiments and equations that answered his questions but rather on what they mean for the cook: how to ripen tomatoes properly, why to cook a roux for a long time, and so on. He distances himself even further from typical scientific writing with his charmingly enthusiastic tone, which keeps his prose from sounding dry even when he goes into more details about enzyme properties or protein varieties, so that even those who might be turned off by the thought of food chemistry will quickly be drawn in by his obvious love of food and eagerness to apply his research to helping people cook better. (Dec.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Review

Fans of 'Curious Cook' Harold McGee will relish the latest from This ( Molecular Gastronomy), a French chemist and foodie hero who has helped to usher in the current restaurant world vogue for turning the kitchen into a laboratory.... Even those who might be turned off by the thought of food chemistry will quickly be drawn in by his obvious love of food and eagerness to apply his research to helping people cook better.

(Publishers Weekly)

This has made invisible processes visible, revealed the mysteries, and the bread has risen, baked, and been enjoyed.

(Claudia Kousoulas Appetite for Books)

Cooks who want to learn more about the chemistry and physics that make their efforts possible will discover useful things here.

(Booklist)

This's molecular gastronomy is garnished with the author's own rich philosophy of food and flavor.

(Peter Barham Nature 1900-01-00)

An exuberant paean for the role of science in cooking... This's book performs a great service.

(Len Fisher Times Higher Education Supplement)

This book should be in every kitchen.

(Christine Sismondo Toronto Star)

[An] eye-opening book.

(Kate Colquhoun Portsmouth Herald)

Witty and humorous... [readers] whose eyes glaze over at the very mention of electrons may find themselves becoming entranced by This' graceful descriptions of essential chemical reactions.

(Lynn Harnett Seacoast Sunday)

Well crafted, sprinkled with insight, and containing a menagerie of information, Kitchen Mysteries is a wonderful trip down a stellar buffet line.

(J. Edward Sumerau Metro Spirit)

Kitchen Mysteries is another tour de force for the French scientific chef... Highly Recommended.

(Choice)

This's book offers expert explanations that give the reader a better understanding of both cooking and cuisine. As such, it is enticing.

(Pierre Laszlo Chemical Heritage 1900-01-00)

More About the Author

Hervé This is a physical chemist of the Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique in Paris. One of the two founders of the science called molecular gastronomy, he is the author of Columbia's Kitchen Mysteries: Revealing the Science of Cooking and of several other books on food and cooking. He is a monthly contributor to Pour la Science, the French-language edition of Scientific American.

Customer Reviews

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Overall, this book is fun to read and full of interesting information.
Amazon Customer
When one understands the science behind the cooking process it is much easier to remember how to do it.
Rodica Hida
Whether or not you like this book probably depends on your personality.
A. Friedman

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

33 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on January 20, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
You know those "precious metals cleaning plates" sold at ridiculous prices in airline catalogs? Well, Hervé This tells you how to cobble together your own from foil and salt (p. 192). I tried it with a couple of sterling silver pieces--and it worked wonderfully!

In the first couple of chapters of this new translation from the 1993 original in French (Secrets de la Casserole), This introduces some basics of cooking and discusses the sensations of eating, debunking the 90-year-old four-tastes theory. Afterward, this book can be dipped into at any point. It has chapters on basic ingredients (milk, eggs, etc.), on cooking methods (steaming, braising, etc.), on souffles, pastries, and breads--everywhere (not surprisingly) emphasizing French cooking. The second-to-last chapter on kitchen utensils is also essential reading, and the last chapter highlights kitchen mysteries yet unsolved.

For someone with some scientific background, this book occasionally comes across as patronizing. I liked, though, his explanation of evaporational cooling: to summarize, the water molecules that escape (i.e., evaporate) from the surface of the liquid must have a lot of energy--more energy than the typical molecules left behind--leaving behind liquid that has a lower temperature.

There are a couple of minor scientific mistakes: limonene, and not the mirror image, is in fact the relevant molecule in lemons (p. 28); and the record-holding temperature that the physicist Nicholas Kurti achieved was a millionth of a degree above, not below, absolute zero (p. 95). The translation from French may also be faulty on page 30, where he says that "we see a smoke, not vapor" above a soup--"fog" or "mist" probably being intended rather than "smoke.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Lynn Harnett VINE VOICE on April 20, 2008
Format: Hardcover
The first things French chemist and gastronomist This clarifies are the terms gourmand and gourmet. A gourmand is not a glutton. A gourmand is a gourmet. A gourmet is actually a connoisseur of wine. Got that? Good. Cause it doesn't get any easier.

This' eye-opening book is all about molecules and atoms in motion and what things like heat, moisture, acid and fat do to transform them into succulent meals - or into fallen soufflés, tasteless pot roasts, and rubbery eggs.

After a brief overview concerning the physiology of taste and the basics of saucepan chemistry, This concentrates on various common ingredients and techniques - milk, eggs, sugar, wine, steaming, braising, frying, sauces, salads, pastry - to name a few. We know that oil and water do not mix, and that microwaved beef is gray and unappetizing. This explains why.

He then goes on to show us how to whip up the perfect hollandaise or mayonnaise, and how to keep the succulence in beef. While the microwave plays no part in this last, This is enthusiastic about this appliance and shows us how to use it properly for making caramel, reheating vegetables and - producing a Cointreau-infused duck a l'orange!

This is witty and humorous and sprinkles his clear and effervescent prose with bons mots from such brilliants as Escoffier, Harold McGee and the great Brillat-Savarin. Readers (like me) whose eyes glaze over at the very mention of electrons may find themselves becoming entranced by This' graceful descriptions of essential chemical reactions.

He explains when and why to salt and answers numerous questions, i.e., why soup cools when you blow on it, why babies shouldn't eat sausage, why use so much oil for deep-frying.
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful By A. Friedman on February 3, 2010
Format: Hardcover
There's definitely some interesting parts and useful suggestions herein, but I preferred two other books. Wolke's "What Einstein Told His Chef" was arguably somewhat clearer, if less thorough. The clear winner is McGee's classic "On Food and Cooking," 2nd ed. Even Herve This references and praises McGee's book, and that is where your time and money are best spent.

Whether or not you like this book probably depends on your personality. As a detail-oriented engineer, I found myself frequently frustrated by his incomplete and ambiguous explanations that often followed glowing promises to reveal treasured secrets.

Just for example, his section titled "How Can We Not Spill the Tea When Pouring It?" explained the phenomena of dribbling spouts with a mediocre desription of the Bernoulli effect causing a decrease of pressure on the underside of the spout. (That's what gives lift to an airplane wing, isn't it?) He doesn't say anything about choosing a spout of a particular shape nor my grandmother's trick of wiping a smear of butter under the spout. More to the point, he never answers the question he posed!

Little incoherencies like the above example drove me crazy, but another reader of different temperment might just sail on by and enjoy the illusion of having learned something useful.

He does give some practical cooking advice, and his scientific explanations hint at the reasons. It just seems like there is some slight disconnect between them, and I wondered whether it related to the translation from French (which sometimes shows trivial irritants like wrong verb tenses).

I don't disagree with any of the reviews, even the 5 stars, but I'm glad I borrowed this from the library and will put my money on buying a copy of McGee instead.
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