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What Einstein Told His Cook: Kitchen Science Explained Paperback – August 14, 2008
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“Wolke…is one of the great demystifiers of science information…wonderful at answering those vexing food questions you always wondered about but never got around to investigating yourself.”
“The author…breathes fun and fact into his work, making this book a good choice for any cook.”
- Chicago Tribune
About the Author
Robert L. Wolke, a professor emeritus of chemistry at the University of Pittsburgh, received his doctorate in chemistry from Cornell University. He lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with his wife, noted food writer Marlene Parrish.
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One way that the book really interested me was that it always connected back to chemistry in all of its points and explanations. Wolke tries his hardest to make this a book about both chemistry and cooking. This can be seen clearly in the chapter “The Salt of The Earth”. Wolke writes very clearly about what salt is besides white crystals that we put on our food. He spoke about how table salt is Sodium Chloride, and how there are many other types of things that are called “salts” in chemistry, which occur when an acid reacts with a base.
Another thing that I enjoyed about the book was that even though it was packed with information and facts, it never got too complicated. It was an enjoyable read, and at no point did it start throwing around complicated ions, chemical equations, gas laws, molecular formulas or anything else that gets thrown around more that enough in my Chemistry class.
What Einstein told his cook was a fun and interesting read that was written to educate people about the chemistry of cooking. Wolke never forgets to tie all of his cooking facts back to chemistry and he never forgets to leave his writing light, fun, and easy to read so that the average person can enjoy it. Overall the book was a pretty decent read and I would recommend it to most people.
The book is broken into nine chapters of diverse information, ranging from the molecules inside our food to the tools people use to cook. In each chapter, Wolke answers common questions that people may have about cooking. While answering the question in bold, Wolke slips in historical background about the question or answer, a few jokes and slight sarcasm, and even a recipe.
Rather than creating a bland narrative, Wolke adds interest to his scientific explanations. In an answer to a question about the differences between types of chocolate, Wolke gives background about how chocolate is made. In his response, Wolke says that “The dried beans are then shipped of to Willy Wonka at the chocolate factory…” (27). When Wolke references Willy Wonka, it is clear that he wants to give the book a touch of sarcasm and playfulness. This makes the book interesting to read, because it presents readers with information other than science. While talking about Dutch process Cocoa, Wolke gives readers historical background with a touch of sarcasm: “In the Dutch process, invented in 1828 by Conrad J. van Houten, in guess-what-country…” (31). Rather than providing readers with fact after fact, this sarcasm lightens up the density of material. It gives the book an edginess, and keeps things interesting for the reader.
Wolke relates food with historical events, which reminds readers that social and cultural factors influence what makes it to their plates. While Wolke describes the difference between cream of tartare and tartare sauce, he says that “‘Tartar’ or ‘tatar’ was the Persian name for Genghis Khan’s horde of Mongols who stormed through Asia and Eastern Europe in the Middle Ages” (102). Historical snippets such as this remind readers that war and culture influence cuisine and type of food eaten. It also adds diversity to the information in the book, which makes the book interesting. Diving deeper into the history of food, Wolke brings social awareness to readers. When describing food flavor enhancers, Wolke addresses a myth about Chinese restaurants from the past. He says that “Everyone has heard of Chinese Restaurant Syndrome or CRS, an unfortunate and politically incorrect label that was applied in 1968 to a diffuse collection of symptoms…” (107). Wolke is able to connect food to prominent factor in many people’s lives, racial stereotypes. The social awareness that Wolke provides continues to broaden the diversity of information presented in the book, and make it interesting.
Throughout What Einstein Told His Cook, questions that arise from cooking are answered using sarcasm and historical facts, which keep readers interested. Wolke uses sarcasm to spice up a bland scientific narrative, and provides readers with the history of food to broaden their perspectives and keep them engaged. What Einstein Told His Cook is the encyclopedia for all cooks and eaters who want to satisfy their appetite for understanding the many puzzling cooking phenomenas.
Throughout the book, he gives examples of chemistry within cooking. One can see this when he talks about the amount of acid within soda (Chapter 7). I found this very interesting, because I never knew how much acid was actually in soda until reading this book. Another fun example is when he talks about the molecular structure of food after microwaving (Chapter 8).
In conclusion, this book was a great read and an absolute must for cooking and chemistry fanatics. The reason I gave it 4/5, however, is because at some points, it could be a little bland. For the most part though, it was a great read.
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The book What Einstein Told His Cook is written by chemist Robert L. Wolke.Read more