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The Thermochemical Joy of Cooking 275

Posted by michael
from the crispy-on-the-outside dept.
daeley writes "Wired has a feature on Alton Brown, host of FoodNetwork's Good Eats and favorite chef of geek foodies everywhere: The Thermochemical Joy of Cooking. AB has his own website, of course, and his own blog, of course. (If you are familiar with Alton's distinctive delivery, you can hear his voice as you read. My only complaint is that he doesn't write anywhere near often enough.) He's also been interviewed on Slashdot. From the Wired article: 'Brown, 41, is a culinary hacker, the poster boy for a movement that's coming to a boil in kitchens across America. The essence: Cooking is a science, not an art, informed by chemistry, physics, and biology. "Everything in food is science," Brown says. "The only subjective part is when you eat it."'"
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The Thermochemical Joy of Cooking

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  • finally! (Score:4, Funny)

    by lawngnome (573912) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @12:51PM (#9304700)
    finally I can wear a labcoat and a chefs hat in the kitchen and not feel like a dork.
    • Re:finally! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Mateito (746185) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @01:05PM (#9304863) Homepage
      I advise you to wear something under that chefs hat and lab coat, especially if you are using sharp knives or hot oil.

      I love cooking.. always have.. and I don't believe that it can always be reduced to science.. at least not to practical science. (Think three body problem.) The chicken you buy today will not have exactly the same flavour as the chicken you buy next week. And every beef cut needs to be treated like the individual it is.

      I cook well, but have friend who are masters. I can taste what they taste, but can't say "okay, this needs a pinch of cumin and a little cardamon to make it perfect. These guys have the knowledge of what works with what, but also the honed taste abilites and experiences that tell you then what is needed.

      And, to all those who haven't yet discovered it, cooking will get you chicks. My fianceé fell first for my cooking :)
      • Re:finally! (Score:2, Informative)

        by lifebouy (115193)
        I agree. the processes behind cooking may be science, but the act of cooking is art, or at the very least talent and skill. Unless you are cooking only one dish at a time, there is considerable juggling and timing involved. Baking and Pastry are an art. Some chefs can just look at the dough and tell whether the cake will rise or fall. Others (most of them) are hoping with crossed fingers, no matter what they say. Knowing which spices to use, when, and how much is not science. It's art, like knowing how much
        • Re:finally! (Score:3, Insightful)

          by ePhil_One (634771)
          The processes behind cooking may be science, but the act of cooking is art, or at the very least talent and skill.

          But I think AB teaching the science behind cooking is the key to becoming and artist with food. By helping people understand what is happening, it helps them experiment in useful directions. Understanding why one quickbread recipe calls for baking soda and another does not frees me from discouraging failed experiments, thanks to AB I know its about pH balance. Good Eats encourages experimentat

      • Re:finally! (Score:3, Insightful)

        by N0decam (630188)
        I don't remember where I read it (probably fortune ;) but I remember reading somewhere "Cooking is an art, baking is a Science"

        I largely agree because the quality of ingredients in cooking can vary so wildly, but if you buy "brand X" flour, it's pretty consistent.

        Also, things like humidity can affect how your baking turns out, and knowing how to compensate is simply a matter of knowhow.

        I was very close to enrolling in a local chef school until I found out how poorly the average chef gets paid aroun
      • Re:finally! (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Z4rd0Z (211373)

        There's science behind everything, but I don't think cooking is a science. It's a skill that combines a bit of science, a bit of art, some trial and error, and lots of practice. For example, I've been trying for a while to create a decent phad thai. The science part might tell me not to let the noodles cook too long, but it's not going to tell me what the end result is going to taste like. Each time I make it, I modify the sauce to try to achieve what I want, but it will take me a few more tries, maybe

  • Forgot a credit (Score:5, Informative)

    by MrP- (45616) <rob@eliEULERtemrp.net minus math_god> on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @12:51PM (#9304712) Homepage
    Don't forget, he's also commentator for Iron Chef America: Battle of the Masters (and hopefully just Iron Chef America.. they better make new episodes!!)
    • Re:Forgot a credit (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Greyfox (87712) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @12:57PM (#9304774) Homepage Journal
      Yeah, the new Iron Chef America actually managed to get the ambience and feel of Iron Chef correct, unlike the one they did with William Shatner. That one just sucked. Alton's knowledge of the science of the ingredients being used (IE: Seaweed containing an MSG-like chemical which turns up the volume on flavor) also made his commentary very interesting.

      My only complaint with his show is that we're not getting enough new episodes. They should make Food Network the "All-Alton-Brown-All-The-Time network!" Well maybe not that much, but you get the idea :-)

      His hour-long salt episode which aired just recently was pretty cool too.

      • My only complaint to that was the floor reporter is a complete idiot. He had no idea what was going on, and didn't even seem to pay attention. There was more than one occasion that AB answered his own questions (on stuff like "what went into that blender?" Isn't that the whole point of the floor announcers job???).

        Oh, and that salt episode was pretty good. He finally explains his obsession with salt :-)
        • If you watched the show they did on the making of Iron Chef America, It's not just AB and the floor reporter. There are 2 spotters and at least one director who are putting information straight into AB's earpiece.
        • Well, the "floor reporter" is the host of Fine Living's _Thirsty Traveler_ which probably had a lot more to do with his placement than his food knowledge. While I like Traveler a LOT, it isn't a show about food and he seems to have only a moderate grasp of the cooking which IS done on the show.
    • by GPLDAN (732269) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @01:06PM (#9304878)
      It would be great if Alton went over and smacked Bobby Flay upside the head with a meat tenderizer. Repeatedly. Hard.
  • and I *hate* alton. yes, there is a lot of chemistry and science in cooking, and it is very interesting, and a lot of it can be boiled down to quantifiable, deterministic values - but ultimately, COOKING IS AN ART. if it wasn't, any regular joe could pick up a copy of the Joy of Cooking and be running a four-star restaurant in a week. i can't count how often something i've tried in the kitchen that chemically and scientifically should have worked fine, but in the end came out curdled, or tasteless, or falle
    • by FortKnox (169099) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @01:02PM (#9304835) Homepage Journal
      That's your snobby 'chef side' talking.

      Alton, himself, never calls himself a chef. In fact, he isn't trying to make you into one. He just perfects simplier dishes... and encourages people, especially geeks, to "play with their food" and understand whats going on when you do!

      A true physicist may not like "Bill Nye" or "Mr.Wizard" because they do silly experiments with children, but it encourages people to delve more into science even more... Alton is much like the Mr Wizard of cooking... encouraging 'us kids' to cook and understand what's going on when we do it. And just like how Mr.Wizard didn't teach you how to make a nuclear reacture our of kitchen supplies, AB doesn't teach you how to perfect a $500 cavier/froi gras dish.

      You hate AB, but anyone that DOES watch the show will easily put AB's infamous "French Chef" voice on when reading your entry. ;-)
    • COOKING IS AN ART. if it wasn't, any regular joe could pick up a copy of the Joy of Cooking and be running a four-star restaurant in a week.

      Hold on, I'll be getting my Nobel Prize for Chemistry in a week. And those grants are coming in already!

    • by troyml (122411) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @01:06PM (#9304885) Homepage
      I suppose you hate Shirley Corriher, Rose Levy Berenbaum, Harold McGee, etc... all authors who have helped me understand the science of food.

      Alton recognizes that cooking is an art... his show itself is art and imho good art. But understanding how the art works leads to better ability.

      Pottery is a science, heat, minerals, sand, clay, glass etc.... and darn near any fool can lump some clay together and stick it in a kiln. But the real artists either through experience or through study learn how the materials respond to pressure, heat, time etc.... use this type of clay, this composition of glaze, fire it to this level for this length of time... and voila get the desired result.

      Do I hate really good potters..... could say the same for many other mediums... paint, metalwork, etc.. etc.. etc.

      Don't be a culinary snob... your successes lie on the same principles and 'science' that anyone elses do and if you understand that all the better.

      I just finished perusing the CIA's (Culinary Institute of America) book 'The Professional Chef' and they certainly recognize that to suceed at the art of cooking one must come to terms with the science of it, and even the math, the business acumen, the labor and the grind that it can be as well.
    • by mrtrumbe (412155) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @01:13PM (#9304958) Homepage
      I love Alton. But I love him for precisly the same reason you hate him: cooking is an art.

      The concept you seem to be missing, maybe due to your existing knowledge as a chemist, is that knowing the processes behind why things curdle, are tasteless or fall is part of the art of cooking. Very few TV cooks tell you the "processes behind the meal," which are essential to understanding the art of cooking. Alton fills that gap.

      I certainly agree with you that it takes much more than science to get that omlette to come out just right, etc. It requires much skill and practice, the right tools and knowledge of how to use them. But I don't think Alton would disagree with you, either.

      Think about one of the examples you gave: curdling. If you knew the underlying cause of curdled milk, you can apply that knowledge to a wide variety of recipies, not just the one you were working on. Yet most TV chefs don't get to that level. Sure their recipe might show you how to avoid curdling throught a precise list of steps and procedures. But very few would tell you why those steps are necessary to prevent curdling. Alton does just that.

      Cooking is an art with many scientific principles behind it. Any cook who dismisses the artistry of cooking will undoubtedly never be a great chef. Any cook who ignores completely the science behind cooking will likewise never advance in his artistry.

      I will admit, however, that a great chef may not have the same type of scientific knowledge that Alton advances. It may be sufficient to know, for example, that acid + milk + heat = curdled milk. But I really don't see the harm in knowing what chemical reactions happen in such a scenario.

      Hey, you don't want to get to that level? Emeril airs a half hour after Good Eats. He's a fountain of enlightenment if I've ever seen one. :rolleyes:

      Taft

      • by caveat (26803) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @01:39PM (#9305302)
        That was where i first learned the limits of chemistry as applied to food. it was making a mock beurre blanc. after the vinegar, lemon juice and wine were reduced i was told to whisk in a quart of heavy cream. now, as you yourself pointed out, tossing cream on top of hot, concentrated citric and acetic acids (reduced lemon and vinegar) would result in an instant hideous clumpy mess. oh wait...look, it's really rather smooth...add a bit of butter and beat it well, and it turns into a nice, thick, almost perfect approximation of beurre blanc that can be cooled, frozen, reheated and boiled without breaking! as near as i can tell, the acid-induced protein polymerization (curdling) was distributed evenly throughout the sauce, thickening it, while the added fat from the butter stabilized and emulsified the sauce. Dunno though. Quite a nasty shock, i literally didn't believe it even after i saw it. it tempered my scientific arrogance quite a bit, and was the first in many lessons that taught me that to truly master cooking, one must embrace both the hard science and the soft artsy side of it.
        • Yes, but "soft artsy" doesn't mean "magic elves." There was still science going on, it's just that, as you said, the curdling was evenly distributed and the butter helped emulsify the sauce, (Or something.) so the science which was going on was a little bit more advanced than you expected.

          Science means, first and foremost, testing theories.
          • yes, there's always a scientific explanation for what goes on in the pan. my point is, from what i've watched of alton (admittedly not a horrible lot), he lays down the science as far as heat+acid+dairy=curdling, but doesnt then go into the varous ways that rxn can be stymied or manipulated to the cook's advantage. example besides the mock beurre, i make a wicked lemon cream sauce for lobster that involves taking rather a lot of butter and lemon juice, whisking in a bit of cornstarch, then adding cream and
    • There's no reason why you can't combine the two. For instance the 3-Michelin-starred Heston Blumenthal does this. See [fatduck.co.uk] his weekly Guardian columns [guardian.co.uk] for more info. BAcon and Egg ice cream, anyone ?
    • by idontgno (624372) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @01:15PM (#9304973) Journal
      Geez. It's both. Tell me great chefs don't at least intuitively understand the science. The greatest can work without a "canned scientific" knowledge of the science, but since science is just acute observation and theory-building, experienced chefs are scientists whether they acnowledge that or not.

      Yes, the most important parts of the creative decision process are artistic, informed by experience and critically directed by intuition. But the science is always there, waiting to make your creative fancies and stunning insights take shape. Or fail to, because physical reality imposes a harsh penalty if you try to oppose its inexorable truths. Witness many failed souffles, burnt sauces, and other culinary disasters caused by trying something that just can't work.

      By the way, haven't I seen the exact same arguments in another favorite geek arena?

      s/COOKING/PROGRAMMING/g
      Same-same, basically. No amount of creativity is going to overcome the fundamental science of your medium. The wise [cook|coder] learns how to push the science to the very edge of the envelope to accomodate brilliant new visions of [fppd|software].
      • Crap.
        $s/fppd/food/
        Why is the submit button so close to the preview button?
      • "By the way, haven't I seen the exact same arguments in another favorite geek arena?"

        Indeed, however it is worse in computer science. Those that don't know the "science" (read: fundamentals) behind their chosen professions are merely cookbook-style practitioners. In computer science (like cooking) the barrier to entry is low enough that any yahoo can claim to be a programmer. The main difference is that there is no easy way to deem software {wrong|broken|incorrect|etc} like you can do with food, buildings,
    • wow, fast results...i was a bit quick on the draw with that, let me clarify. i dont' have a as much of a problem with alton himself as people like the submitter, who do think that by reducing the culinary arts to the most empirical values, anybody can become an alain ducasse or a masaharu morimoto. like i said, home cookery can be broken down and still yield excellent results for a pot roast or coleslaw, but all the science in the world isn't going to help you make a better shabu-shabu, paella, or cassoulet
    • You Miss the Point (Score:3, Informative)

      by Greyfox (87712)
      Alton's show introduces you to some basic concepts of how stuff works in the kitchen. His show won't make you a three-star chef but it can free you from TV dinners every night. Even if you don't care to tinker, his canned recipes work right out of the box, although some of them do take some tinkering up here in Denver.

      If all his show does is make people think about their equipment and help them get over their fear of getting that ol' wok extra-freaky-hot, he's done more than any other TV chef I've ever se

    • I'm a regular Joe, I picked up some equipment and well I run a restraunt :). A chinese food restarunt but I also do gormet cooking. Takes a whiel to learn and many many many many unfortunate mistakes but cooking isn't as hard as say rocket science.

      Anecdote: One time I was making a batch of scalloped potatoes, I decided to add a bit of oregano. The cap came off and I added a bit too much. I removed what I could but the mixture already absorbed the oraganos flavor. Thus my scallop potatoes tasted like tree
    • Both science and "art" require skill, study and practice to perfect. The design of a bridge can be "broken down into pure numbers" but not everybody can grind them out.

      The reason I put art in quotes because the word is a little ambiguous here. On one hand, "art" is any skill learned after much study and practice; which is exactly the same as "science". On the other hand, "art" can be used only to the application of skill to realize creativity and self expression; this generally is not considered science, e
    • by Weaselmancer (533834) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @01:39PM (#9305301)

      I know how to cook. Somewhat. But when I watch Alton do what he does, it puts "another tool in the toolbox." I learn a new trick, or a reason why, or something that'll make my next attempt better. Hopefully.

      It's a lot like watching Bob Vila. He won't make anyone into a DIY guru. You won't be able to build a palace in your backyard just by watching him. But he'll show you a few new tricks, or how to use a tool properly, or something useful that you'll someday use.

      Having more tools won't make you an artist, true. But it might make a budding artist more able to express himself.

      Weaselmancer

    • Wow - A real Chemist and a Real Chef, but not a logician.

      Surely you don't think because Chemistry is a science that any regular Joe could pick up a copy of "Chemistry for Dummies" and be running a lab in a week ?

      Why should it be any different for the "science" of cooking?

      As for your "chemically and scientifically should have worked fine" dishes - did you cook them in a lab ? Did you measure the liquids in a pipette? Did you eliminate the influences of the environment ? did you time the process to the sec
    • Actually my wife (who is a pastry chef) always says that cooking is an art, and baking is a science.

      The difference is that in cooking, if you make a mistake adding ingredients, you can usually compensate by adding a different ingredient to counteract it.

      In baking if you screw up, you usually have completely destroyed the chemical reactions you need to have happen, and so you have to throw it all away and start over.

      (There is, of course, art in baking, too, but that usually comes into play in the finishin

    • by DeThude (738395)
      and I *like* Alton. The parent poster has missed the point of Good Eats. AB tries to give the viewer some idea of the underlying chemistry, microbiology, and thermodynamics involved in cooking so that the viewer can use those ideas to understand why ingredients and instructions in recipes are there.

      i can't count how often something i've tried in the kitchen that chemically and scientifically should have worked fine, but in the end came out curdled, or tasteless, or fallen.

      Don't blame science for

    • Just like any guy off the street can pick up a book on string theory and suddenly work out all the math required to make it work out... no, wait...
    • by GodHead (101109) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @01:54PM (#9305547) Homepage
      Cooking - making food - is not an art. It absolutly CAN be an art. Here's alton own words on it.

      ---

      It's kind of like, I'd love to own a Picasso. I like Picasso. If I could own a Picasso one day, that would be swell. But I don't want to paint like Picasso. It's like the really great chefs are artists and it's like, I'm going to go to the restaurants and enjoy it. I don't want to cook like that at home and I don't want them to publish books that tell me how because you know what? You can't! You can't. You can not do it. They can write that stuff down, you're still not going to be able to do it. That's why, I think Joseph? [sic, Thomas?] Heller, amazing chef, French Laundry, out in Napa, amazing guy. I can't cook any of the stuff in his book because it's not enough to have it written down. It isn't enough. No more than it would be enough for Picasso to have written How To Paint A Picasso book. That's what we're talking about.

      There's a level... It's like, I don't call myself a chef. I'm not a chef. I don't have the creative chops to call myself a chef. Can I hack out a decent meatloaf? Well, yeah, because I understand the meatloaf and yackety-yak. But I am I going to create a great dish? No? I'm not going to create a great dish. Those guys have that artistry and I wish they'd just do it and sell it and let those of us that want to eat it and enjoy it and stop writing cookbooks. Because I know more people that have given up on cooking because they couldn't make Charlie Trotter's friggin' Rabbit Reduction sauce. It's so intimidating. It infuriates me that those guys feel like they don't make enough money already that they have to make the rest of us feel bad with their cookbooks. So, I don't buy them. I don't buy those cookbooks. I very rarely buy cookbooks, to be frank.

      ---

    • Cooking is about thermodynamics and chemical reactions and anatomy. Good cooking is about knowing what goes well together. By knowing the science, you're free to experiment and learn what goes well together; what you can substitute; what you have on hand to make things that taste good together; what you can do to make foods healthier. Like substituting yogurt for sour cream in a recipe. Or brining dry meats so you can grill them without turning them into dry hunks of flesh. Or doing pantry raids and creatin
    • by raytracer (51035) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @02:29PM (#9306050)
      and I *hate* alton. yes, there is a lot of chemistry and science in cooking, and it is very interesting, and a lot of it can be boiled down to quantifiable, deterministic values - but ultimately, COOKING IS AN ART. if it wasn't, any regular joe could pick up a copy of the Joy of Cooking and be running a four-star restaurant in a week.

      My, aren't we impressed with ourselves?

      Your statement presumes that "regular joes" can't do art. They can and in fact do. You might argue that 99% of all the food people prepare in their homes is crap. But guess what: 95% of what I've eaten is restaurants is the same hum drum level.

      The reason that you can't pick up Joy of Cooking and run a four star restaurant (or even get palateable meals) is that the Joy of Cooking doesn't teach you what you need to know to make good meals. If you want to make a good flat iron steak, or some decent onion soup, or a decent cheesecake, there are a few things you need to get right, and if you get those few technical things right, you get MUCH better results. Is there some art beyond that? Of course, but most people just want their meals to taste better, they don't aspire to creating lasting works of art.

      Cooking is mostly a craft, and like most crafts, it is helped by learning proper technique and by practice. Alton Brown encourages both in a relatively accessable way. I thank him for the many tasty meals he's inspired in my kitchen.

  • by Jaywalk (94910) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @12:55PM (#9304751) Homepage
    "Everything in food is science," Brown says. "The only subjective part is when you eat it."
    True only if you never leave the cookbook. As with any art, a creative cook is trying to obtain an emotional experience; make the observer (i.e., diner) say "This is good." Since the buttons you're trying to push are deep within the brain's wiring, you're working with a complex system, so intuition often serves better than empirical knowledge. Will paprika work better here, or cinnamon? The answer is often not what would be expected by rational analysis.

    Understanding the science behind cookery does not eliminate the art. Computers can generate sonnets which are grammatically and syntactically perfect, but they're not worth reading. Painting can be reduced to a science as well, but only if you limit it to paint-by-numbers.

    • by Otto (17870) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @01:01PM (#9304816) Homepage Journal
      You're talking about cooking as a creative and expressive medium, and that's perfectly valid. If you're trying to create something new, something you haven't tried before, then yes, you're absolutely spot on.

      On the other hand, if you're cooking because you're hungry and you want to eat, then it's a bit of a different story.

      Cooking is the act of preparing something (as food), usually by the application of heat. Beyond that, any definition you read into it is your own. Cooking as art and cooking as a way to get rid of hunger are both acceptable uses of the word.

      Cooking as art is creative. Cooking as hunger-elimination is usually not. Day in and day out, I gotta eat, and I usually use the second definition. Once I know how to prepare a thing, I can prepare that thing the same way virtually every time (hey, I'm only human, I screw it up sometimes). If I want to create something different though, then I can do that as well. But I don't often have that kind of time.

    • OK, I already said this once...

      You are thinking of two things... a cook makes a meal (much like in Otters reply), a chef makes new dishes. Alton is NOT a chef, and he makes sure that he's pretty clear in his shows and books that he is NOT a chef. He shows how to cook something and gives you the scientific insight to know what is going on while doing it. This insight COULD give someone enough knowledge to make his/her own dishes (which some artistic thinking as well), but the insight, itself, is science
    • by gosand (234100) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @01:10PM (#9304927)
      True only if you never leave the cookbook. As with any art, a creative cook is trying to obtain an emotional experience; make the observer (i.e., diner) say "This is good." Since the buttons you're trying to push are deep within the brain's wiring, you're working with a complex system, so intuition often serves better than empirical knowledge. Will paprika work better here, or cinnamon? The answer is often not what would be expected by rational analysis.

      I agree, but isn't that what he is saying by the statement "The only subjective part is when you eat it."? I mean, taste is subjective, and that is where the chef really puts the paint to the canvas, so to speak. I mean, if you have art, but you don't know the science, then you are producing pretty stuff that doesn't taste good. Well, I guess technically you don't need to know the science, but if something works well, it is based on science.

      I love Alton's shows, because he tells the WHYs. I also love the book Cookwise for the same reasons. If you know why certain things work and why others don't, it gives you a building block for making better food. The chef really needs to be the gauge and the creator. They need to know their audience. They have to put all the "stuff" together in creative (or simple) ways. If you know why things work the way they do, even on a simple level, it helps. A lot. Sure, it may suffice to know things without knowing the science, but learning the WHYs is fun and interesting.

    • And that emotional experience occurs when you eat it. Knowing where to go, that's art. Knowing how to get there, that's science.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @12:55PM (#9304752)
    "The Endocrinological Joy Of Sex"
  • by darth_MALL (657218) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @12:55PM (#9304754)
    From the article:
    "What other chef writes a script in which he gets punched in the head by Boxing Nun puppets named Tender and Flaky, as they fight over whether the two textural qualities can coexist in one pie crust?" Truly an American Icon :-P
  • by Prince Vegeta SSJ4 (718736) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @12:56PM (#9304769)
    I don't know how they did it, But McDonalds [mcdonalds.com] has created the perfect food. It contains more calories per gram than any fuel on the planet, ask Morgan Spurlock [rottentomatoes.com], you can obtain it in a Jiffy [216.239.41.104].

    It is only edible by humans, I've never seen anything else touch my #2. And it never spoils (leave it out and it just gets hard, no mold, no green, no nothing!).

    Culinary perfection.

  • by bennomatic (691188) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @12:57PM (#9304780) Homepage
    ...that science is more of an art than a science.

    Obviously, there are certain guidelines to follow, or it's not science (or cooking), it's just messing around. But as long as you're within those guidelines--for both disciplines--it's important to be as creative as possible.

    But the main difference here with cooking is that you don't really need to know WHY something works, just that it work. If 10 minutes in the fridge makes my pie crust flakier, great! I don't care if it's about the dual-bond lipids remaining in a suspension long enough for the proteins to bond...

    • > But the main difference here with cooking is
      > that you don't really need to know WHY something
      > works, just that it work.

      You can say the same thing about chemistry.. you don't need to solve the shroedinger equation everytime you want to determine the outcome of a reaction.

      However, it does help to know some of the science behind cooking. Why, for example, can't you beat an egg white if there is even a drop of yolk in it? Knowing things like this means that your waffles don't turn into wavy panca
  • by Manassas (569545) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @12:57PM (#9304781)
    food, sex, food, sex, food, sex...
  • I was stuck with basic cable, but the cable guy accidentally left the Food network on. Nothing much to watch on basic at 3am, so Food network it was.

    That's when I met the stylings of AB - he got me to love to cook. Granted, I always liked to cook, but after watching his show I *love* to cook.
    For some reason his style just matches what I like - he talks about something and it sticks in your head. And because he shows the science behind the food, when you make a new dish, you can almost tell the outcome before you start - you know how eveything will react!

    Plus, I dig the dry humor, how he refers to the ingredient list as "hardware" and soft(wet)ware", the camera angles you don't see on a regular cooking show - even the corny acting I like hehe.
  • by snooo53 (663796) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @12:58PM (#9304789) Journal
    A similar book I have read and enjoyed is How to Read a French Fry (and other intriguing Kitchen Science) [amazon.com] by Russ Parsons.
  • by Kismet (13199) <pmccombs@[ ].org ['acm' in gap]> on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @12:58PM (#9304792) Homepage
    A good article on this is "Hackers and Painters" [paulgraham.com] by Paul Graham.

    My favorite part:


    I've never liked the term "computer science." The main reason I don't like it is that there's no such thing. Computer science is a grab bag of tenuously related areas thrown together by an accident of history, like Yugoslavia. At one end you have people who are really mathematicians, but call what they're doing computer science so they can get DARPA grants. In the middle you have people working on something like the natural history of computers-- studying the behavior of algorithms for routing data through networks, for example. And then at the other extreme you have the hackers, who are trying to write interesting software, and for whom computers are just a medium of expression, as concrete is for architects or paint for painters. It's as if mathematicians, physicists, and architects all had to be in the same department.


    I'd apply the same principles to cooking. Alton is a culinary chemist, maybe. A culinary hacker, never.
    • by KodaK (5477) <sakodak@nOSPAM.gmail.com> on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @01:29PM (#9305104) Homepage
      A culinary hacker, never.

      I disagree. The man added a tailpipe to his charcoal grill so he can blow air into the coals from a modified hair dryer and increase the overall temperature. That's a hardware hack if I've ever seen one.

      He's also cooked a roast in a clay flower pot, smoked bacon in a locker, smoked salmon in a cardboard box with a hot plate, among many other "food hacks."

      I'd say that stuff pretty well embraces the "hacker ethos" -- as pretentious a term as that may be.
      • Absolutely. And those things are art, not science. The nit I was picking is that the submission equated "culinary hacker" with science by claiming that the chef is a hacker because he approaches food scientifically.

        Hackers _usually_ don't approach from the direction of science. A hacker thinks of something neat, and then mayber there are scientific implications in that and maybe its just neat. Or sometimes there is an interesting science, and the hacker gets creative and tries a variation on it, or a creat
  • Cooking is an art (Score:3, Insightful)

    by teutonic_leech (596265) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @12:59PM (#9304798)
    There is more to cooking than just science. Think about it - how many variations of 'proteins, acids, amino acids, fats, carbohydrates' are out there? It's not in how those ingredients are being mixed, the magic lies in which ones you mix together. Of course discard the word 'magic' in the context of British recipes ;-)
    • Re:Cooking is an art (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Walrusss (750700)
      and mixing things together isn't science ?

      hmmm, have you ever did a titration ? Just adding drops of an acid substance into a solution which contains an indicator can make the solution turn let's say red with ONLY ONE DROP.

      That looks like magic to me ;-) And this kind of thing happens a lot (not magic, science, my drop thing) in cooking...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @01:00PM (#9304813)
    I wish there were more explanations of WHY certain ingredients go well together.
    eg: tuna & cheese, beef & tomatoes, carrots, onions & celery (aka "mirepoix"), etc.
    Is it the balance between bitter & sweet? Or is it just "magic"

    (ps: you should all try root beer & orange juice...now that's a mix that tastes great but looks awful)

    TDz.
  • After about 10 shots of vodka i decided to do some food hacking myself and made souptea. I had a cup of noodles and my girlfreind made some tea and i poered half of cup into my soup and taseted it curiusly it wasnt bad. First i tasted the soup then the tea with sugar. Perhaps lipton should make this stuff? a patent is in order!
  • by cemaco (665884) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @01:05PM (#9304870)
    Things like presentation or even knowing how to choose the right ingredients is not an exact science. Then there is variety. Do you want your food made the exact same way with no variety every time and everywhere, because someone is following a set script? Makes me think about food replicators with dread!
  • a thermodynamically challenged cook

    - cooking rice, pasta or potatoes in an uncovered recipient while the water is boiling feverishly and huge quantities of steam are generated;
    - adding enormous amounts of water to a preparation, only to boil it off later on;
    - baking meat in overheated and burnt oil that splatters all around;
    - continuously shifting pans on and off the heat source instead of it adjusting to a proper power level;
    - not turning down a slowly reacting heat source (like an electric plate) when th
    • cooking rice, pasta or potatoes in an uncovered recipient while the water is boiling feverishly and huge quantities of steam are generated

      Don't cover pasta - it'll boil over. The rest you want to leave covered.

      adding enormous amounts of water to a preparation, only to boil it off later on

      That's ok, so long as you're not losing anything else

      baking meat in overheated and burnt oil that splatters all around

      Cover in aluminum foil.

      continuously shifting pans on and off the heat source instead of it a
  • Alton's cause (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Woogiemonger (628172) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @01:11PM (#9304939)
    Well, Alton's certainly not training master artists that you'd find in a 4 star restaurant last I checked, but he knows what he's talking about in terms of food. To be a chef, from my experience.. I'm an amateur ... you first need to be a scientist. The art of cooking comes afterwards. If your bread doesn't rise, that's a piece of garbage, not your distinctive style of bread.

    Also, Alton knows a whole lot about how to make the cooking experience more enjoyable so you can worry about the art more than the science. The best way to thaw a chicken.. put it in a bowl with barely running cold water spilling into it, rather than having it sit in the oven. See, now I can worry more about what seasoning to choose instead!
    • What is appropriate for the master is not appropriate for the student. Once the building is complete, we tear down the scaffolding.
  • Heston Blumenthal [guardian.co.uk], the improbably named chef of the two-Michelin-star rated Fat Duck restaurant [fatduck.co.uk] in Bray, England. He has a show on the Discovery Channel in the UK called Kitchen Chemistry [discoverychannel.co.uk] where he discusses "the science behind cooking and how it affects the way that we perceive taste and flavour."

    I've only eaten at his brasserie, but the food was superb. This chap knows what he's doing.
  • by DrEldarion (114072) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @01:19PM (#9305010)
    Chances are, you'll also like "What Einstien Told His Cook" by Robert Wolke. It's a very scientific view of cooking, telling you exactly why things happen the way they do in cooking and going over the chemical process. It's a very fun read, and is not only informative but humorous as well.

    Great book. You can read reviwes and stuff about it here [tinyurl.com].
  • by Corvus (27991) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @01:24PM (#9305052) Homepage
    eGullet [egullet.com] hosted a great Q&A with Alton Brown recently [egullet.com].
  • so, can I call it "magneto-thermo-nuclear" cooking?
  • The octopus [8legged.com] or this guy?
  • (Don your pith helmet...)

    All art is perception. All perception is biology. All biology is science. All science (except math) is empiricism. All empiricism is creative. All creativity is art.

    When Alfredo di Lelio made fettucine Alfredo in the 1920s, it was art (bordering on genius). When I make it today, it's science (bordering on worship).

    • All art is perception. All perception is biology. All biology is science. All science (except math) is empiricism. All empiricism is creative. All creativity is art.

      Some broad connections there. Art is just perception is more. and perception isn't all biology. Do you mean the fact that by perceiving somethign I go through a biological proccess? what if my computer percives something? All sicence isn't just measurement. Sometimes it's gigantics leaps in logic.
  • Infinium Labs [infiniumlabs.com] is way ahead [pcworld.com] of Bill and Schwartz. But as we, all know the Phantom was built "By Gamers, For Gamers(c)", so this is not wholly unexpected. :)
  • "The only subjective part is when you eat it."

    There's plenty of science in cooking, but there's plenty of art, too. You can't create a great bronze statue without knowing (or working with someone who knows) a hell of a lot about the casting process, and about how bronze flows and how it cools and like that. But you also can't create a great bronze statue without an appreciation for form and design.

    Cooking is just the same. To cook well, you need to know what's going on, what happens when you do something
  • The most important point that everyone seems to have missed. IF I leave work at 5:00 and arrive home at 5:35, will my wife have enough time to prepare it, cook it, and for it to cool down to the right temp if she gets home at 5:00? For bonus points, does it take into account the delayed time factor that kids cause? You know having to stop to find out why the kids are fighting, screaming, or the worst being too quiet. Cooking is an art in time management. Does he take into consideration kids snacking on it
  • "Everything in food is science," Brown says. "The only subjective part is when you eat it."

    Of course science is involved in cooking. I don't think anyone has argued against that in the last century. Certainly not modern cooking periodicals like Cook's Illustrated [cooksillustrated.com].

    He's wrong, though. Most of cooking is art. Many of the techniques are scientific. However, ingredient selection and presentation are artistic.

  • Insipid (Score:4, Insightful)

    by M. Baranczak (726671) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @02:11PM (#9305796)
    I never saw the show, but the article was overall pretty insipid - the author doesn't understand the nature of either cooking or science. Take this paragraph:

    Brown's hyperrational approach defies conventional wisdom about food preparation. Cooks typically regard their culinary traditions as gospel, whether they learned them at the Sorbonne or from their great aunt Sibby. Tampering with recipes only leads to trouble.

    All the serious cooks I've ever met (I've been cooking professionally for several years, by the way) tamper with recipes every day. That's what serious cooks DO. Who wants to have a "perfect" chocolate mousse if it's indistinguishable from the one they're serving across the street? (Although chefs HAVE been known to get offended if I mess with their old family recipies.)

    By the way, the Sorbonne is a liberal arts university - just because they're French doesn't mean they teach cooking.

    The "art or science" question misses the point. Cooking is a synthesis of technical knowledge and aesthetic knowledge. The two are mutually dependent - if you ignore the first one, your food will be ruined half the time, if you ignore the second one, you'll wind up with mass-produced McFood.
  • He's a Mac user. I guess that kinda makes up for Rush using a Mac.
  • Thirst for knowledge (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Remlik (654872) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @02:21PM (#9305948) Homepage
    Art, science...bleh, I watch AP simply for the knowledge transfer high. When I was a kid watching Sesame Street I would drool every time the clip which shows how crayons are made came on. I love knowing how things work. AB does so much prep work to explain exactly why things are the way they are that I really don't even care what he is making half the time. I want to know why adding corn syrup to melted sugar prevents it from binding. I love to hear the ancient history of teas, how/where they are grown, selected and refined. On top of all that, he presents the information in a humerous and easy to digest manor. (Nothing like a bunch of human sized molecules doing the cooking dance of love to teach you some basic chemistry.)

    AB is about entertaining information, food and cooking just happen to be the subject. I would like to see more spinoffs with this style on discovery or TLC (Which should change its name to THRDC - The Home Repair and Decoration Chanel).

    I also highly recommend "Unwrapped" for those like me with the crayon making fetish.
  • by base_chakra (230686) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @02:42PM (#9306180)
    Alton Brown may be the quintessential hacker-chef, but he's a newcomer to the world of Western cuisine, and definitely not the pioneer when it comes to applying practical chemistry and microbiology to the culinary arts.

    For example, James Peterson (chef, author, and recipient of numerous James Beard awards) studied chemistry at Berkeley before engaging in culinary studies at Le Cordon Bleu, and that was more than thirty years ago. In his books and classes, he applies and encourages such topics as understanding of emulsification, the importance of pH balance, how to adjust yoghurt with microbes, the chemistry of caramelization, and so on. His cookbooks are a revelation for those serious about the culinary arts.

    I'm a fan of Alton Brown's emphasis on kitchen science, but in its portrayal of his work Wired demonstrates its typically superficial take on science and technology as seen through the pop-culture lens, and fails to put Brown's contribution into a relevant context.

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