Robert L. Wolke – What Einstein Told His Cook: Kitchen Science Explained
A book-length series of bite-size vignettes on food science; fans of the celebrity chef Alton Brown will find much to like here. For example, if Teflon doesn’t stick to anything, how does it stick to a non-stick pan? The pan surface is roughened at a micro-level by either blasting it with tiny droplets of molten metal (stainless steel pans) or DuPont’s Autograph process (aluminum pans), and these tiny rough teeth hold onto the Teflon molecules and keep them in place.
Why is water boiled in a microwave not as hot as water boiled in a tea kettle? Because the microwaves only penetrate about an inch into the water, while a tea kettle takes better advantage of convection to heat the entire body of water more evenly. Heated water rises, pushing cooler water to the bottom. It then itself gets heated, and then rises up, and so on. Bubbles also aid the convection process.
Wolke, a chemist, also goes into nutrition science, explaining at a molecular level the different types of fats, sugars, and oils. He explains what makes some foods tasty, how they can be ruined, and why fish doesn’t have to smell fishy—they actually have a neutral odor while alive, but begin to decay extremely quickly in air, so they gain that fishy smell just a few hours after being caught. At this point they are not toxic, just smelly, so don’t worry about it too much while grocery shopping.
Though I enjoy foodie-style culinary experiences, I’m not exactly a food sophisticate. Material like this makes me a better cook even for everyday meals because knowing why something works means I’ll remember it far better than rote memorization of the what, without greater context. In that sense, Wolke’s book is not just entertaining, but useful.