251 of 269 people found the following review helpful
on December 12, 2006
If you're thinking about buying this book, you are interested in the chemistry of food and have probably read Robert Wolke's "What Einstein Told his Cook" or Joe Schwarcz's "That's the way the Cookie Crumbles" or perhaps even the paragon of English-language food chemistry: Harold McGee's "On Food and Cooking". If you haven't, I recommend you start with one of those first ("Einstein" would be my #1 choice).
Why? Because those books are better written and about topics that are of more general interest to a North American audience. Molecular Gastronomy is unabashedly FRENCH - which is an excellent thing, but surprising if you're not expecting it. The foods it focuses on are French foods, the research it cites is French research, and I suspect even the translator has French as his first language. So, for example, this book discusses the "Perfect Sabayon" - a lovely culinary question, however one that many Americans (even "foodie" Americans) might find less interesting than the question of cookies going stale (as covered in Schwarcz). The translation is odd.... it is clear, in reading it, that it wasn't originally written in English. Some particularly French phrasing persists in the translation and I am also not convinced that the translator had as extensive a chemical vocabulary as was called for (for example, the phrase "vitreous transition temperature" is used, where "glass transition temperature" is the term used in most materials science texts).
As other reviewers have commented, the vignettes themselves may leave something to be desired. Each chapter is quite brief (Schwartcz's work is similar), so may not have the text to go into the depth a reader might desire. However, the real strength of this work is that it addresses interesting food/chemical questions that aren't being covered by the North American writers.... there's a lot of wine, cheese, and emulsified sauce in this book that you don't see anywhere else.
59 of 63 people found the following review helpful
on January 24, 2007
Craftsmanship looks impressive, until you try to read it. The italic "g" and several accented characters are simply not in the typeface used and are replaced by spaces leaving you guessing at what they might be, and the translator didn't fully understand the usage of "I" vs. "me".
I think some have been dazzled by scientific words they didn't understand and afraid to call it fluff. There's not near enough science to satisfy a scientist but way more than enough undefined organic chemical names to glaze the eyes of even a highly educated cook.
I can get you a really great deal on a disulfide bridge - you want phenylthiocarbamide with that?
The chapters are mercifully short, but it's quite difficult to extract any practical information from a great many of them. They often end with questions - some clearly state unknowns, which is fine, but others leave you wondering if they are questions or answers. Taking a whole chapter to explain the choice of title would have been fair warning had I not already purchased the book.
For the record, I have read two much larger science/cooking volumes by Harold McGee (On Food and Cooking, The Curious Cook), end to end with great interest and I recommend them highly.
51 of 55 people found the following review helpful
on August 19, 2009
I had very high hopes for this book. I thought it was going to be a great read for someone who is well versed in science and wants to learn more about cooking methods. I was wrong.
I have a not insignificant number of problems with the book, which I'll go through rather quickly. First, I could tell as early as the introduction that something was off about the writing. I don't know how the book read in its original French, but this is one of the most awkward translations I've ever seen. Nothing screams out at you - there aren't typos, grammatical errors, or incomplete sentences. It's the style. This book completely lacks a writer's style. I suspect it may have been translated rather literally by a person who was not an established English writer, but by someone who could indeed write in English. There is absolutely no flow - not only from chapter to chapter (it is important to note that there are 100 chapters in this book, for an average of 3 pages per chapter), but also not from the beginning of one chapter to the end of it, nor even from the beginning of some paragraphs to their ends. All of the words are on the page and all of the thoughts are there, but they are not strung together well at all. While I wouldn't describe it as 'incoherent,' it is painful to follow. There is rarely, if ever, any coherence from one chapter to another for more than two or [if ever] three at a time. The progression is not at all natural and seems entirely arbitrary. Each chapter barely covers anything - as I said, they are only two to three pages each. How much can you say in so little space, especially when the chapter following it is on a different topic entirely?
The other thing that bothers me is the science. It should be said that I am a scientist by trade and training, and a lover of food and writing by hobby. As someone who reads and produces scientific research, I can say that the author of this book is not such a person. What he appears to have done is found 100 'interesting' articles about food and cooking, and then summarized each article in its own three page chapter. The original research is at best only mentioned vaguely, though the end of the book does have a 9 page 'Further Reading' section (in alphabetical order) which I suspect is actually his 'References' section (I do not care enough to check, especially since it is not even broken up into the 'four parts' of the book). It is very apparent by the summaries of the research that the author (or, perhaps the translator - I don't know how one could tell the difference) did not really understand what he was reading. One particular blurb about 'the alpha subunit of G proteins' strongly reeked of someone who was parroting words he didn't understand (because G-Protein Coupled Receptors are something I do I understand by nature of my work). In almost all of these summaries, the author will throw out terms and phrases such as "a truncated form of a neuronal protein known as a metabotropic glutamate receptor, or mGluR4" (page 98 for the curious) and will absolutely avoid explaining what any of that means, including why a truncated protein is significant, why the protein is 'neuronal,' or what a metabotropic receptor is. If he were a scientist, he would display some sort of adeptness with the terms, and the scientific audience would know what he is talking about. He isn't, though, and phrases like that leave me a bit puzzled even though I know exactly what the fancy words mean. He has therefore completely missed the mark on his audience, the layman. In the rare occasion where he does try to define a scientific term like that, he will use something resembling a textbook definition. The problem with this lies in that the description has you looking up more terms than the original point in question did. The appropriate method for description of these terms is analogy, not denotation. Analogies would help the audience understand what is important and why it is important. Unfortunately, the book has none of these, and is comparable to a magician distracting you with his left hand while he prepares the next magic trick in his right (see what I did there? Analogy).
Finally, for a book about food and cooking, it MUST be said that there are ZERO recipes in the book. There are not even SUGGESTIONS of recipes. There is plenty of 'proteins denature at X temperature,' but there is absolutely no incentive to cook. Science is a wonderful thing, really. But why write a book about cooking without actually doing anything about it? If you want science in your kitchen, read Robert Wolke's Einstein books. They didn't blow my mind, but they are more interesting, better written, more practical, and they even manage to squeeze some recipes in regarding the science in the book! Barham's Science of Cooking, though bland, is better than this book and again at least it has both SCIENCE and COOKING. If you are interested in baking, Reinhart's Bread Baker's Apprentice has much to teach you about bread, enzymes, etc. (though it is not strictly a science book). And finally, Alton Brown is always more accessible and more interesting than this book could ever hope to be, even though his stuff is a little goofy sometimes.
I think that covers most of my problems with the book. Cliff's Notes: It was not scientific, it didn't make me want to cook, didn't go in depth on any topics, didn't display mastery or even comprehension of most topics covered, was hard to follow, and was not unified in theme.
When I find a really good book on science and cooking, I'll let you know.
50 of 56 people found the following review helpful
on March 4, 2006
Cooking, which has certainly been around for a long time, has been treated more as an art than a science. The recipies and techniques that we follow are handed cown from parent to child, or since writing was invented from chef to student.
But do many of these procedures make sense. Why do we have such traditional ideas of cooking that seem almost cast in stone with little or no evidence that this is indeed the best way to do things.
In this book M. This states a principle, but carrying it further he researches where this principle originated, and then conducts carefully measured experiments to see if this is true. For instance in making beef stock, the rule says put the meat into cold water and increase the temperature gradually. What happens if you put the meat into boiling water? Or what is the difference in Cheeses that are made from milk from cows that had south facing fields when compared to cows on fields that faced a northern slope. What about if the cow was fed silage (wet grass stored in silow where it ferments)? And what's the best way to test whiskey?
That's the idea, here is the analysis of cooking taken to a scientific level. It's a fascinating book for one interested in more than just the mechanics of cooking. I was reminded of Russ Parson's book 'How to Read a French Fry.'
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on May 23, 2006
Mr. This has written a well-developed group of essays, really scientific reports, on aspects of cuisine. This is neither a consideration of cooking artistry or technique, but rather varied explorations of the scientific principles behind the transformation of materials in food science. I found many of the essays interesting although some have less relevance to my kitchen than others. Some essays are clearly written for other food industry professionals--the discussion of vinaigrette includes the xanthan gum, et al, which home cooks generally don't use to stabilize their vinaigrettes. Where Mr. This gets really interesting is in his multi-essay development of emulsions (mayonnaise, vinaigrette, flan, quiche, cream, etc.), gels, and the chemistry behind them. I am already excited to try his suggestions for a chocolate 'dispersion'. In fact, I would recommend to Mr. This, should he write another book for a more general audience, to focus on the emulsion and the gel as central concepts of his cuisine, which have opened up new potential worlds of innovation. Throughout the book he strikes a good balance between respect for tradition (as a source of preliminary hypotheses to be tested) and innovation--his discussion of potential new two-phase cooking techniques from a complete matrix was quite French in its precision and dream of new potentials. Not to be missed, once you have made it through the book, is his witty and worthy glossary.
The writing is quite scientific and usually, but not always, well translated from French. In places this irritated me, such as an appositive "Mr. X, he who does such and such, walked..." (not the exact quote), the 'he who does such and such' being a word-for-word translation of the French "celui qui fait...". However this was an irritation and not an impediment.
I do strongly recommend this book although it is NOT the best for a general foodie-science geek who wants only to understand the principles behind most common household cooking techniques. That is done much better by Alton Brown, et al and this book presupposes such knowledge, and more. It is a more advanced text and a look into the new world of 'molecular gastronomy' as a science and the brave new world it is ushering in.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
This book is one of many that points to the relationship between science and the culinary arts: to the physical and chemical magician behind the curtain of delight. A book that attempts to do that has certain responsibilities and the greatest of these may be accuracy. I lost count of the mistakes, but some of the simplest are the temperature conversions from celcius to fahrenheit. The cook attempting any of the procedures in the book should double-check the temperatures recommended and the fahrenheit-based cook should just beware.
The other important duty of such a book is clarity. Molecular Gastronomy isn't so much translated from the French as it transcribed by machine. Very often it's impossible to figure out through the haze of translation what the author is actually recommending.
On a lesser level, one could ask for a bit of originality and this book does have a bit. The level of ambition is also lamentably low: does anyone really think that putting a spoon in a champagne bottle delays the decarbonation? Are blowing and stirring the only methods of cooling over-hot coffee? How concerned are you that the yolk of your hard-boiled egg be centered in the white?
For most readers, Harold McGee's splendid On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen is vastly superior.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on June 18, 2007
Herve This is a genius and should be respected simply for the fact that he approaches cuisine with something other than blind awe of traditions that regarded as fact but are little more than a step up from superstitions and old wives' tales. Already a bit on the dry academic side and then translated from French to English, it can occassionally be a difficult read, but the unique nature of the subject makes sure it says a fascinating read. The book is broken up into sections each a few pages long asking if and why a preconceived notion regarding food is true (Does the juices of meat really contract to the center when you cook it?, Does it matter if you slowly heat your stock or use hot water from the beginning?), the nature of flavor (how salt affects sweet and bitter flavors), just what goes on with the food before we eat it (What causes cheeses to taste the way they do tracing it all the way back to the diet of the cow), and theoretical ideas to make the culinary field better (Developing new cooking techniques involving technology such as artificial vacuums and electrical fields). While the book uses specific examples, it's easy to take This's basic technique and apply it to anything food related, which you could imagine is his goal, having founded the field sharing its name with the book.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on December 30, 2008
As a chef with an interest in the science of cooking, I was eager to read this book. But I found it impossible. The translation from French is awkward and makes the reading slow-going. Then the topics This chooses to cover are often very peculiar and usually explained in a too-technical manner. This book is intended to explain the science of food to people who are not scientists, but it fails to put things sufficiently in laymen (or even in chef) terms.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on November 25, 2010
I had wrong expectations when I bought the book. In French there is a bid difference between "cuisine moléculaire" or molecular cooking and "gastronomie moléculaire" or molecular gastronomy. In English we use molecular gastronomy for both the science and its applications in kitchens...
For those who want to do spheres, nouveau genre spaghettis or airs, this is the place to go:
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Ever wonder why secrets in the kitchen passed from generation to generation seem to be performed without any real reason - 'that it just the way it's done'? If the reasons for these culinary myths mystify you, then this book will by not only entertaining to read but also explain why certain rules are valid while others are complete misconceptions. It makes cooking (and eating) not only more interesting but gives scientific rational for the things we do by habit.
'Molecular gastronomy is a discipline practiced by both scientists and food professionals that studies the physical and chemical processes that occur while cooking. It is also the use of such studied processes in many professional kitchens and labs. It seeks to investigate and explain the chemical reasons behind the transformation of ingredients, as well as the social, artistic and technical components of culinary and gastronomic phenomena in general.' And so writers, both scientists, Kurti and This spread the real word. Here are the times that specific vegetables should be cooked in a microwave, how to handle vegetables in cooking on the stove, and how to manage the preparation of meat, etc. In addition to adding to the intellectual matrix of cooking there are included in this book many recipes that show us how to build a proper meal. The book works on many levels, and is a handy guide to keep on the kitchen counter for those doubters of traditional handling and preparation of food. Myths are dispelled, and scientific proof is put into place. Grady Harp, March 11