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


Anonymous said...

Have followed you since way before your "taste" loss ... congratulations, what a terrific contribution to the food world.

Hannah said...

Congratulations Molly! And how interesting to have two book experiences, so alike and so different - one so intensely personal, one so academic. I imagine it must have felt very different working on them - even if your process was much the same. Thanks for sharing -- I will look forward to checking this one out.

Leciawp said...

I can't wait to get a copy! Congratulations to you, and all of you at Cook's!

Since I've known Alexi, with some regularity he's brought up a book his deceased uncle owned called The Chemistry of Cooking. It sounds, conceptually, like this new book of yours. He looks for it every time we go in a used bookstore - it's out of print now. Think I'll give him a copy of yours for Christmas.

Molly said...

Anonymous: Thank you -- for both your congrats and for following along for so long!

Hannah: These were two very, very different book experiences, yes. Writing versus editing. Personal science narrative versus a purely scientific view of food. Starting at square one versus having 20 years of recipe development and research behind me. I learned so much from each. I remind myself every day how lucky I've been to have these opportunities.

Lecia: Hurrah! The editors/chefs at Cook's are some of the smartest people I know. This book is definitely a testament to that. I love working with them all. And if Alexi is into The Chemistry of Cooking, he'll definitely like this one, too. I'm sure there's a great deal of overlap, if packaged in a different way. xo

Unknown said...

Amazing! Heard about this on NPR the other day, and I can't wait to read it!

Becca said...

Ahhhh! So excited and proud. You are amazing!!

Delicious Dishings said...

Congratulations!! So proud of you! I know how hard you've worked on this!!!

Rebecca said...

Hey Molly,

I finished reading your book and just wanted to let you know that I loved it. I literally read it in the space of 2 and a half days. Thank you for writing something that was so touching, riveting and interesting.


Payal Shah said...

Hi! I happened to read about The Science of Good Cooking earlier as featured on the Smithsonian food blog. And then I mozied on our to your blog to discover a familiar book! Reading about it first on Smithsonian I had a curiosity about the book, but now that I hear that you had a big part in the book, I may just have to check it out. I loved the book you wrote!

Molly said...

Colleen: awesome, thanks!

Becca: LOVE YOU.

Megan: YOU, TOO.

Rebecca: thank you, thank you! I'm so glad.

Payal: thank you to you, too! this science book is very different than my own book. but i'm very proud of them both, in very different ways. let me know what you think when you do check it out!

meigancam01 said...

I was thinking a lot regarding this topic, so thanks for bringing it up here. You certainly have a good writing style i like, so will be subscribing to your blog.

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