Cooking for Geeks by Jeff Potter

If you’re a geek who likes cooking then I’ve got just the book for you! As you may have gathered if you’ve read my earlier posts, I like experimenting with cooking/baking, more than I do making something that I’ve already perfected.

Imagine my delight at coming across Jeff Potter in the September 3, 2010 Science Talk podcast. He’s written a book called Cooking For Geeks in which he explains not only why certain things happen when you cook e.g. the “significant temperatures” of cooking like the temperature at which food (whether it’s toast or meat) starts to brown (the Maillard reaction for you geeky types!), but how to cut corners e.g. cooking a delicious pizza in 45 seconds.

I was told that one should brown meat going into a stew or soup, to “seal” the meat i.e. prevent the juices from escaping. But this doesn’t really make sense when you think about meat which is going to be cooked for hours anyway. The “real” reason is that browning also changes the taste of the meat – gives it a richer flavour. Which I already knew – just hadn’t thought about. As far as cooking pizza in 45 seconds . . . well Jeff Potter does explain that you have keep open the door of a self-cleaning oven (he explains how in the podcast), and bring the temperature up to 900F /482C. This to simulate the temperatures in a wood-fire oven. Which will probably ruin your oven . . . but it’s all in the name of “science”!

He tells of other significant temperatures e.g. the melting point of chocolate. It has to be high enough not to melt in your hand (at least not too much), but low enough to melt easily on your tongue. So how does one keep chocolate in a very hot climate from melting at room temperature? Well, one just coats it with sugar (which has a much higher melting point). Think M&M’s or Smarties.

The book is part textbook, part cookbook, giving the scientific reasons behind why good cooks do the things they do. Although I found his explanations fascinating, I don’t think I’ll go so far as to get hold of a infra-red thermometer to make sure that my toast is done “just right”, or liquid nitrogen to instantly freeze my blanched vegetables (to stop them from going mushy).

[If you go to podcast link above you can find out how to download the podcast – there is no transcript available yet.]

Tags: , , , , , ,

Categories: Books/Book Reviews, Food/Cooking


I live on the Southern coast of South Africa, and write about the things that interest, amuse or inspire me. You can find me at and (my photoblog)


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