Review: Molecular Gastronomy

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Molecular Gastronomy: Exploring the Science of Flavor
By Hervé This
ISBN: 023113312X
Publisher: Columbia University Press
Publication date: Feb. 2006
Format: Cloth
List price: $29.95 (Canada, UK)
Type: Food Science
intended audience: novice advanced beginner good home cook gourmet professional
apparent goal: stocking stuffer sampler comprehensive Biblical stature coffee-table
layout: ick cluttered clean kind to cooks work of art
legibility: microscopic challenging adequate clear brilliant
production quality: cheesy questionable years of service gift-quality stunning
value: ouch! a little pricey on the money excellent worth splurging
overall rating: fair good above average excellent Ochef Top 100
Comments: Several years ago, a very kind person gave us a copy of Hervé This's Les Secrets de la Casserole (The Secrets of the Saucepan) in French. We muddled through it with our high-school French, and found all the parts we could understand fascinating. It was also surprisingly easy to read. This — one of the world's great food scientists, a physical chemist, and the only person with a doctorate in molecular gastronomy — clearly has a knack for explaining scientific issues in simple language.

We also noticed that the book had been translated into nine or ten languages — Polish, German, Spanish, etc. — but not English. We fired off a high-school-French email to his publisher, asking why, for heaven's sake, they would translate the book for the relatively small Polish market before approaching the huge English-speaking markets. (Sadly, we never received a reply, but surmised that our French was so bad they simply thought it was spam.)

In any event Columbia University Press has finally provided an English version of another This book, Casseroles et éprouvettes (Saucepans and Test Tubes), under the somewhat more sober title Molecular Gastronomy: Exploring the Science of Flavor.

It is a wonderful book, essentially a collection of 101 essays on the food science: how does chewing affect the taste of foods?, how do soufflés work?, what does yeast do?; and processes we attempt regularly: how to tenderize meats, mash potatoes, cook eggs, roast beef, and make jams. There are sections on foods we seldom see, such as 100-year-old eggs, truffles, and Sabayons. There are quite a few sections on wines and spirits, and cheese and chocolate, meat and potatoes, and fruits and vegetables are well represented. There are also numerous offbeat sections on cooking curiosity points.

Our one disappointment with the book is that after the simplicity and light tone of the French book we read, this one is quite a bit more scholarly in title, tone, and approach. Whether that is the work of the publisher, the translator, or whether the French book this is based on is a lot more scholarly than our first This book, we don't know. We loved how accessible he made food science in the earlier book. This one takes nearly as much work to read and comprehend in our mother tongue as the earlier one did in our muddled French.

But no matter; we are delighted finally to have some of the writings of Hervé This available in English, and Molecular Gastronomy will appeal to anyone with an interest in the science of cooking.