Kitchen on Fire: Mastering the Art of Cooking in 12 Weeks

Oliver Said and Chef MikeC. Da Capo, $35 (400p) ISBN 978-0-7382-1453-5

Kitchen on Fire is a popular cooking school in Berkeley that promotes its classes by declaring, “If these two clowns can cook, so can you.” The bozos in question, Said and MikeC, actually have extensive West Coast culinary credits, a strong visual sensibility and an impressive knowledge of the science behind their art. Here, they attempt to expand their fan base by committing their 12-week basics of cooking course to paper. It is a step-by-step guide for those who learn best by reading, and safe harbor for those who prefer not to be taught knife skills in person from a guy without a surname. With hundreds of photos and illustrations for guidance, the book is divided into 15 chapters, focusing on classic techniques such as sautéing, roasting, and grilling; and everyday foodstuffs like soups, sauces, and breads. Most chapters conclude with a handful of recipes offered up as student exercises. The section on frying, for example, ends with entrees like pan-fried bistro steak and beer batter–fried fish. There is an entire chapter given to “The Incredible Egg,” exploring its molecular components, its reaction to heat and liquids, and how to use it in a savory custard. And a fascinating section on cooking chemistry explores everything from the polarity of water to the properties of starch. (Nov.)