Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Science of Good Cooking

I’ve written a little about my job here on this blog. A bit here. A bit there. But not too much. I’ve never really given you the details. And this month, the details came together into something big, something concrete, something about which I’m quite proud.

I began working at America’s Test Kitchen a few months before my own book came out. I was hired to edit a cookbook. An exciting cookbook. One that was published on October 1: Cook’s Illustrated’s The Science of Good Cooking.

If I learned anything in the last couple years it’s that there really isn’t any thrill quite like the thrill of holding a book that you toiled over—wordsmithed over, wrote and edited and rewrote and reedited for so many, many months—in your hands. You may not see my name on the cover of this particular book, as is the Cook's Illustrated way, but I’m in there. I was in charge of every word on every page of this scientific tome. And, damn, I’m proud. The thrill of holding this book was a different kind of thrill than the one I had holding my own book for that first time, breathing in its new-ink aroma, feeling the concrete reality of its spine. But a thrill nonetheless.

The Science of Good Cooking is organized into 50 basic concepts of food science—simple concepts, ones that every cook should know. Gentle Heat Retains Moisture. High Heat Develops Flavor. Salty Marinades Work Best. Sugar Changes Sweetness and Texture. There are recipes, 400 of them, all culled from the last 20 years of Cook’s Illustrated magazine. There are scientific experiments to bring these concepts to light, performed by a talented test cook in the kitchen that sprawls across the first floor of our office building. (I've been writing a bit about them a bit, here.)

The best part about editing this book? It taught me to cook with more confidence. Many years of my life were spent tied to recipes, tied to instructions, unsure of how dishes would change if I were to cook by instinct rather than rule. But learning about the hows and whys, the way food actually work on a molecular level has drastically changed the way I cook, the way I think about cooking, the way I move at the stove. Check it out