Explaining Kitchen Mysteries with Herve This

Even though my blog is now over a year old (somehow I let the day pass without fanfare), I am still surprised and delighted when someone takes the time to write and ask my opinion about something involving food or cooking. Whether it is trying a new product or looking at a new cookbook, I am always flattered that my blog has become a resource for home cooks and others who love food and use it to bring family and friends together.

So I am sure you can imagine my excitement when I got an email from Columbia University Press asking if I would be interested in reviewing a new book, Kitchen Mysteries: Revealing the Science of Cooking by the father of molecular gastronomy Herve This. I jumped at the chance. I am intrigued by molecular gastronomy, and the idea of a book about the science of cooking really piqued my interest. While I waited for my copy of the book to arrive, I read about Herve This, the author. Hervé This (pictured right, with a young chef) is a physical chemist on the staff of the Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique in Paris. He is the author of Molecular Gastronomy and of several other books on food and cooking and is a monthly contributor to the French-language edition of Scientific American, called Pour la Science (Can I tell you how much "street cred" this gig is buying me at a nuclear physics lab full of scientists!?)

I read articles and interviews to better understand a scientist who is dedicated to food, and all the physical and physiological and chemical elements and processes that help us prepare food that will result in tastes that will delight the palate. I was intrigued by the link This was interested in making between science and the home cook, and whether the laws of science and old wive's tales and other food-related sayings related to the science and chemistry of cooking.

I also took the Kitchen Mysteries online quiz, that was quick to show me how much I really did not know about the science of food. It was a fun way to launch into the book once it arrived. Now I have to say that if you are expecting a book full of full-color plates or recipes, this book will not be what you expect. But if you are a home cook, striving to stretch your abilities, Kitchen Mysteries is an invaluable resource. A beginning cook follows a recipe, an intermediate cook knows how to alter a recipe or make changes, but an expert cook understands why foods combined, or prepared this way or that become either delicious or a disaster. That foundation provides the expert home cook with the knowledge that can take them to the next level.

This hooked me right away when he began by explaining why microwaving meat just doesn't work, but knowing how the microwave affects the meat of a duck breast, he develops a method and recipe for a duck breast you can cook in the microwave that will wow the most demanding guests! His book is fascinating, educational, challenging covering topics from how smell and taste interact, to why dough has to rest before baking (besides to give your arms a rest from kneading), and why boiling meat is not appetizing, but braising meat is. Want to know how to approach a bottle of wine, how long to steep tea? Herve This has the answer. While Kitchen Mysteries is not your average cookbook, I highly recommend it, because reading it will help make you more than just an average cook.

While I am not a chemist or physicist, or a world-renowned author, or the mother of a whole field of cooking, I felt a strong kinship to Herve This when I read in an interview in Wired about what he hopes will be his next project. This says that the next big idea he wants to tackle is the role that love — of the cook for the diners, the diners for the cook, and of everyone for each other — plays in determining tastes. "Cooking for someone is a way of telling them, 'I love you.' This has to be understood, of course," This says ...
now that's a molecular gastronomist after my own heart!
Herve This, Photo courtesy of AP


katiez said…
I love books like this. I have both of McGee's and the 'Einstein' pair... Now another one! Good, on to the wish list (which is going to overwhelm the Amazon computers any day now)
C'tina said…
How cool is that?! Congrats on your 'gig' :) I might have to get this book for my 10 year old son...for us to read together.
What a fantastic opportunity for you, and now for us, thanks to this post. I'm glad it's not your average book about food. It sounds more challenging and engaging, which is fine by me.
Deborah Dowd said…
Katiez- I have heard of the Einstein book and am going to tackle it!

C'tina- What's not to love- science and cooking!

Susan- I am glad that others will now seek out this book- a great break from the all-too-prevalent culinary fluff!
s'kat said…
Wow- consider it sold, sistah!

It really sounds like my kind of book. Now, I'm off to take that online quiz.
Kristen said…
Oh very cool!!
Lídia said…
Hi Deborah,
Many time passed since my last comment... Now I want to congratulate you for this great opportunity and for your blog!
Deborah Dowd said…
Shelly-I am sure you did better than I on the quiz- it was a challenge!

Kristen- It was fun, and I really expanded my culinary muscle- now if it was only as easy to work on my real muscles!

Ronnie- I was so excited... and so thrilled for the chance to share!

Lidia- Thanks for stopping by again and catching up!
concept_cuisine said…
Herve This is amazing.. im a chef from South Africa trying to learn as much as i can about food science. i just find his book flavours of science a little to complex. i dont know to much about the science but i do know food are there any other books out there to read maybe help me understand a little more???
Dazy said…
From my knowledge, I have gathered that, they are taking food to the next level; they are using science to make the perfect French fry, or using new equipment to cook a steak to a perfect medium rare every single time.
Molecular gastronomy is an interesting field, who knows where cookery will be in a decade! Is describing it as 'Molecular' strictly true though? Or is it just a scientific term applied to the method to reflect the detail in their work?

Thanks for sharing though!