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A Taste Of Technology

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Geeks and nerds are known more for their pizza-cola-and-all-that's-junk diets than actually for poring through a cookbook and cooking up a storm. So you may be wondering what Jeff Potter wants to say in Cooking For Geeks. But this is no ordinary cookbook. Jeff Potter, a software engineer, takes what you normally see to be the innate intuitiveness of a chef — what spices to add, how long to cook and at what temperature — and breaks down the magic into fundamental food science and chemical reactions.

Potter takes a geek-friendly approach and plays on traits common to this crowd — a deep sense of intellectual curiosity, a scientific method of problem solving, and an eye for detail. And it starts right from the structure of the book — organised into a faux computer coder's framework — where Potter draws analogies between recipes and executable code, views ingredients as inputs and variables and cooking trials like test cases for software.

Potter covers an array of topics, right from introducing various elements of what you would expect to use in a kitchen to calibrating your kitchen equipment and the physiology and culture of taste and smell. It is fairly obvious that how you taste stuff has a lot to do with your upbringing and your family's sense of what a ‘balanced flavour' is. But did you know Americans in general tend to prefer sweeter food than Europeans, and that the Japanese favour a savoury taste? Using this book to know which enzyme produces which reaction can lead to a surprisingly palatable recipe. So while Potter recipes may seem incongruous to start with, the fact that they taste really good lends credence to the author knowing his science.

Potter even approaches traditionally tricky stuff like pH levels, which we left back in school along with our acids and bases, and reintroduces these concepts in a cooking context in an entirely accessible manner. But most interesting of them all are his secret tips and tricks. For example, Potter says one should always whisk egg whites in a copper bowl rather than in a stainless-steel bowl. Why so? To find that out, and more such superb tips grab your copy.