My Favorite Food Books, Days 14 and 15: What Einstein Told His Cook, Volumes 1 and 2
Author's Note: I recently built myself a new bookshelf in the kitchen, and in the process of reorganizing my ever-expanding book collection, I ended up blowing the dust off of more than a few majorly dog-eared pages. Old friends that carried me through college, my early days of faking it in fancy restaurants, my time as a test cook and writer, and some newer volumes as well. So, every weekday through the end of October, I'll be writing a short post featuring a food book that I really like. All of these books had a major influence either on my career or on my day-to-day cooking. They aren't necessarily the best or most essential cookbooks out there, but they are all worthy reads.
This short review ends with the word toilet. I tell you this only because I myself found it unusual for a review about a food science book to end up in the John. I promise it makes sense.
There are plenty of good books on food science for home cooks these days. I've talked about several of them in this series of book recommendations and heck, I may have even written a decent one myself. But I get it. Thumbing through Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking at the bookstore can make the subject seem a little daunting. There's just so much to know, and how the heck is this going to help me cook better anyway?
If you're on the fence about the usefulness of food science, or about how fun and interesting it can be, Robert Wolke's pair of books, What Einstein Told His Cook and the sequel What Einstein Told His Cook 2: The Sequel are a good first stop to dip your toes into the precisely-measured water.
Where some may say Russ Parson's How to Read a French Fry is too limited in its scope or On Food and Cooking it too erudite, Wolke's books keep it light and easy, despite covering a huge breadth of topics in a definitive manner.
The books are set up in a question and answer format that really appeals to me. In fact, these books are the reason why my book and our series of Complete Guides contain so many lengthy Q&A-based sections. Best of all, these are questions that people really ask. "Does blowing on hot food cool it?" "When I cook with wine or beer, does all the alcohol burn off, or does some remain?" "I know that a calorie is a unit of heat, but why does eating heat make me fat? What if I only ate cold foods?" and so on. Each question is answered in a manner that's at once personable and relatable, but also authoritative.
What I find really great about both books is their episodic, casual nature. Have a few spare minutes? Just flip to a page and find out what bones contribute to a good stock (collagen, baby!), or what freezer burn actually is (and find out that air-tight plastic wrap isn't actually so air tight after all). There are also recipes in it that accompany some of the principles they illustrate, though I admit I have not actually followed any of the recipes from the book.
Sure, it'd make a handy kitchen reference, but I see it as much more of an armchair book. If Alton Brown ever invites to his place for dinner (definitely not a hint), I can imagine walking into his bathroom and seeing a copy of this book on top of the toilet.