Quarter Life Crisis

The world according to Sven-S. Porst

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Bill Bumgarner points to Cooking For Engineers, a site which features a geeky approach to cooking, complete with little tables summarising the steps in a recipe for you.

I’m generally not too much in favour of technicising things like cooking. No good meal will come from that. A geek won’t start making good dishes just because he’s got a nicely tabulated recipe. It’s the caring for the food and its taste that counts. But if that care is there  – those tables can help a good deal. Many recipes seem to be written in a way that doesn’t correspond to the order in which things have to be done. And while reading a nice text, or narrative even, for a recipe is enjoyable it may cause you to forget one thing or another in the recipe. Particularly if you are preparing several dishes at once. Having a handy table as a summary surely is a nice addition for that.

I am always scared that I simply forget things (when cooking and even more when packing or departing from somewhere). On the other hand, once you’ve got the hang of something, you won’t forget things or notice your mistake in time and know what to do.

This is particularly true for myself and cakes. I enjoy baking (and eating) cakes a lot. And it’s what got me started on the topic. Most of the classical recipes I got from my mum, many times quickly typed in an e-mail at the last minute. Due to those hurries I have an astonishing numbers of recipes which simply lack some ingredients (like flour) or other information (like temperature). This is very confusing – particularly the first time you encounter the situation.

With time, however, you just learn how to work around the missing information and you also stop seeing the necessity for precise measurements. Most of the time it’s pretty obvious when you’ve got the right amount of flour or so.

But back to more scientific grounds. If you’re into ‘geeky’ cooking, give the books of French chemist-gourmet Hervé This-Benckard a try. He has one book that just tells you about basic processes in the kitchen. What happens when whipping egg-white? Why can’t you heat butter to high temperatures? What’s the best way to make a sorbet? And why? It’s very informative.

But the other one, Révélations gastronomiques is much more fun. It contains many recipes and the scientific explanations are right within the recipes. This-Benckard’s – in my opinion good – reason for this being that often recipes don’t make clear why you have to do certain things they just tell you to do them. This lack of understanding makes remembering recipes and crisis management hard. Once you know what’s going on within the food, many steps you have to do become logical and obvious.

Oh, and the best way to make a sorbet is with liquid nitrogen of course.

September 9, 2004, 23:20

Tagged as food.


Comment by brian w: User icon

If there’s any way for you to watch Alton Brown’s tv show, Good Eats, it might be the kind of show you’re looking for. It’s all about the science and explanation behind particular dishes. Plus it’s quite funny and geeky.

Back to Cooking for Engineers: I’ve already mentioned on Bill’s site that a properly written recipe in the “standard” format is far superior to the diagrams on Cooking for Engineers—those diagrams actually take away metadata you get by reading a recipe as written, like preheating the oven temp or greasing a pan before starting other steps. A properly written cookbook (I’m thinking of people who really know their stuff, like Julia Child) is unbeatable in terms of being able to follow the narrative to recreate the dish properly. “Whip.” or “Mix.” are steps from the back of a cake mix box, not steps in a proper recipe. But that’s just my personal opinion.

September 10, 2004, 0:02

Comment by ssp: User icon

Good Eats sounds interesting. I’ll try to give my p2p app a spin for that to have a look. Never saw it on telly here.

I fully agree that tables shouldn’t be the whole recipe. But they can be a good addition to aid your memory. And I think that’s the way they’re used on the ‘for engineers’ website.

September 10, 2004, 8:46

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