cover image Kitchen Mysteries

Kitchen Mysteries

Herve This, Author, Jody Gladding, Translator , trans. from the French by Jody Gladding. Columbia Univ. $22.95 (220p) ISBN 978-0-231-14170-3

Fans of “Curious Cook” Harold McGee will relish the latest from This (Molecular Gastronomy ), a French chemist and foodie hero who has helped to usher in the current restaurant world vogue for turning the kitchen into a laboratory. This uses simple questions and observations about food (“Does hot pepper burn a hole in the stomach?”; “Why must infants not be fed sausages?”) as springboards for delightful explorations into culinary scientific principles. In brief, confident chapters, he moves through assorted ingredients (milk, vegetables, cheese), cooking methods (steaming, roasting, deep-frying) and whole categories of food and drink (bread, cake, sauces, salad) in his quest to explain kitchen phenomena. The book is more practical than theoretical, as This often breezes over much of the science, focusing not on the experiments and equations that answered his questions but rather on what they mean for the cook: how to ripen tomatoes properly, why to cook a roux for a long time, and so on. He distances himself even further from typical scientific writing with his charmingly enthusiastic tone, which keeps his prose from sounding dry even when he goes into more details about enzyme properties or protein varieties, so that even those who might be turned off by the thought of food chemistry will quickly be drawn in by his obvious love of food and eagerness to apply his research to helping people cook better. (Dec.)