Cooking for geeks; in the food lab

Three books. Three books designed particularly to appeal to the nerds out there.

And yes, that means they also flashed up the bright neon “buy me now” sign in my frontal-cortex. So, of course, I did.

They’re all designed for use on a tablet or laptop or even, at a pinch, a ‘phone (esp. those with Retina or other similar HD resolutions) — which makes reading access much easier in the kitchen. Just keep the device out of the hot fat, the meat grinder or running water and you’ll be good.

Accepting that there’s a huge amount of real science behind the “art” of cooking — even if the average cook isn’t necessarily aware of this although nor do they need to be — it means that this shit is seriously interesting to anyone who wonders why things happen or work the way that they do.

The very wonderful Val Littlewood, had earlier bought me a copy of Harold McGee’s classic “Keys to Good Cooking: A Guide to Making the Best of Foods and Recipes” — which is a sort of prequel to “On Food and Cooking” — in the hard-back edition.

It’s great for dipping into but not quite so good for actual recipes. However, for in-depth (and early undertaken) research into the science of food, it’s still hard to better. Highly recommended.

So, what’d I buy? In alphabetical order here are the ones I have sitting in the Kindle app (or in the case of the last one, by Myhrvold, its own app). Well, at least just these three, for the moment…

Cooking for Geeks: Real Science, Great Cooks, and Good Food by Jeff Potter

Fascinating and interesting, full of some really stylish illustrations and interviews with some real stars in the food arena. This page, for example, is the start of a deep dive into suitable cooking temperatures.


The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science by J. Kenji López-alt.

From the Amazon blurb


This as an example of the breadth and depth of information given in this book is a section on the science of ground meat


and finally there’s Modernist Cuisine; At Home by Nathan Myhrvold & Maxime Bilet

I don’t like Myhrvold as a person; he’s a huge patent troll in my view and that of a lot of other people and, quite frankly, he doesn’t need the money he & his company try to extort on morally dubious grounds, by taking people to court.

2016-03-13 at 14.26

But that said, the science behind this work is impeccable (whilst obviously hugely expensive). So it’s a much better way of spending the millions he made during his tenure as Chief Technology Officer at Microsoft. Patent trolling aside, his books are a delight to read. Visually as well, they’re fantastic. Take a look at this wonderfully posed photo of a cross-sectioned BBQ, in full working order, cooking patties over red hot coals.


He’s a chef as well, as is obvious when you read his enthusiasm for the art AND science of cooking


This is their combined take on the classic cheeseburger, filtered though the prism of their exhaustive work

IMG_0733 Modernist Cuisine at Home App Modernist Cuisine

And “one last thing”: I know, it’s already March, so this print, called “December Death” is a little late but hey, who cares? It’s a lovely, lovely hand-coloured print by Caspar Luyken, (1698 – 1702) showing the peasant about to butcher his hog, ready to break-down the carcase, curing, cooking & preserving everything, to have food available for he and his family to survive the coming winter months.


And at least some rot is stopping…

Another part of the various attempts to reduce waste was the Stop The Rot strand.

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This is an update on an agreement reached in the last 24 hours

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“Putting a stop to global food waste”: Gleaning & saving & working & employing…

This is great news.

I’ve mentioned The Gleaning Network from before in this piece on swill and food waste earlier on the blog and they’ve now teamed up with FoodCycle — with assistance from the Lottery Fund — to help train over 4,000 young people to reclaim surplus food through gleaning and then to cook this food for vulnerable people.

There’s more detail on this fantastic initiative below. Their website and Facebook page will also have more news in the next few weeks. If you’re aged 18-24, see how you can help.

The rest if you? Volunteer!

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Love it? Loath it?

Remember Liebig? I mentioned this “polymath for nerds” man quite recently. His “bouillon”, the subject of this poster, that I stumbled across recently at the framers

Bouillon oxo

mutated over the years to become (this variant is the XO, super tasty, super strong version), thanks to great English taste buds, this delight,

© Jacob Shepherd 2013


still the subject of heated arguments in England. In some parts of the globe it even provokes nausea or the gag reflex. The Australians have some piss-poor, weak as dish-water, variant called Vegemite. We can draw a veil over that abomination. Typical bloody Aussie.

Aged about 10 or 11, I remember competing with my cousin to see who could put the thickest layer of Marmite onto their breakfast toast (when staying with “Aunty” Val that is; if I’d have tried to attain this level of greed & stupidity at home, I’d have been, rightly, severely chastised by my mother). We managed to get to something that may have been over 1/2″ deep in the black gold. And if truth be told, even I found it a little too much to take. But I wasn’t going to admit that to David. So, swallowing deeply, we declared an honourable draw.

Marmite is deep, deep, deep in an umami flavour. And really is a “love it or loath” it, no middle ground, taste. I love it. As you might have guessed.

Picture this!

“Picture this, a sky full of thunder

Picture this, my telephone number

One and one is what I’m telling you

Get a pocket computer 

Try to do what you used to do, yeeeeeeeah”

via Blondie, all the way back in 1978. Took quite a while for us all to get that “pocket computer” she sang about, but pretty much everyone has one now.

I recently bought a great print of some pig artwork by the very talented Ian McDonnell courtesy of Tom Adams of Pitt Cue fame (often referenced in previous posts).

Tom agreed to sell me one of only five signed copies that had been made of this print. I’m very grateful to him; I loved the one that used to sit on the wall at the old Pitt Cue restaurant in Soho and had badgered him ever since for details of how I could get a copy. I think he finally agreed to sell it to me just to stop the continuous flow of begging emails I was sending him…

So, here it is, hanging on the wall above my desk at home. It took a little while to get it properly framed (hat tip here to Andy & Emma at “The Framery” for their fine work) but I finally got to bring it home today.

I’ve deliberately left all the artefacts in there (inc. a rather sinister shadow image of me) as they give an idea of the size of this piece. Much larger than his other works.


You can view some of Ian’s previous prints on this page and see where some of the ideas and images that he used in this Pitt Cue one originated. I love this one called “When We Had Pigs” using hot-foil techniques to highlight details.

IAN02 Ian Mcdonnell When We Had Pigs Yellow Wall Shot

The sections on both labelled ‘butchering tools’ will be a reference point for a new post on the breaking-down of a pig carcase that I’m planning to have out there shortly.

Oh, “one last thing”. Pitt Cue doesn’t open at the weekend anymore unfortunately (boooo!) despite what it still says on the website…


but here’s a couple of shots of their new place, nestled in old converted warehouses, behind Liverpool St Station. The first one is a view of the in-house brewery called

Alpha-Beta brewery

Alpha-Beta brewery

Whilst taking these shots I was asked “what I was doing hanging around outside” by a security guard as “it’s all closed”. Sheesh, education standards are falling daily aren’t they? It’s called “photography”, you dick-head, not “terrorism”. I was actually politer than that when pointing this out to him. I’m quite proud of myself.

The second is taken silhouetted against the Gherkin. A rather good accompaniment to meat…

Opening at the weekend Sir? Fuhgeddaboudit. Neither is Hotbox, located in Spitalfields. Come on people! Close on a Wednesday or something FFS! But I will still be going back there to check out some of their delicious sounding menu items:

Hotbox, Spitalfields

Hotbox, Spitalfields

Menu at Hotbox, Spitalfields

Menu at Hotbox, Spitalfields