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Format: Gebundene Ausgabe
`What Einstein Told His Cook 2, The Sequel' by retired chemistry professor and columnist, Robert Wolke is in the same format as the first volume, of which I said:
"This book of what science can tell us about working with food. It is one answer to my wish that every TV chef who is attempting to teach cooking to us foodies take a two semester course in chemistry. The book is not a rigorous approach to the chemistry of sugars, salt, fats, chemical leavenings, heat, acids, bases, and the like. Rather, it is a collection of enhanced answers to questions posed to the author in a regular newspaper column. This makes the book more interesting to read, if a little less available as a resource to applying its teachings to new situations."
This statement is equally true of the second volume. And, I must believe Professor Wolke has read this comment in my review or elsewhere. In his introduction he recognizes that his little columns are all answers to specific questions; however, science, by its nature, is `all tied together' in theories which enable its predictive and explanatory powers. Thus, Wolke says that in order to explain the answer to two related questions, we may find him repeating himself now and then, as he does over and over when he invokes how proteins denature by unwinding themselves and wrapping themselves into tight knots, leading to, for example, cooked eggs or tough cooked meat. I have absolutely no problem with that within the context of his format of question and answer.
On the other hand, this format does not lend itself to be used as a source for looking up specific answers to questions that were not asked by the people writing into Dr. Wolke at the Washington Post. This is a small but real problem, made all the more frustrating because buried in the answers to some questions are some real gems of wisdom such as Table 5 on page 222 which gives the best kinds of sauces for various shapes of hard pasta. As good as the battalions of Italian cookbook writers are in covering their field, none of them has, to my recollection, put things quite so succinctly. This illustrates that genius in writing about cooking is not so much in what science you use, but in how well you present the answer. And, with a few small reservations, it is in this talent where Professor Wolke is a champion. While I may still vote for Alton Brown as my favorite TV foodie, Wolke has mastered the connection between Science, English, Food, and his audience.
One of my favorite examples of how Wolke successfully addresses an issue is on the matter of cutting onions and tears. For starters, he corrects Alton Brown's error in attributing the tearing to sulfur trioxide dissolving in the moisture in your eyes, thus creating a weak sulfuric acid solution. In fact, if any sulfur oxide gas is involved, it is much more likely to be sulfur dioxide which, when dissolved in water, creates the much weaker sulfurous acid. Wolke goes on to say that the phenomena is due to a number of different causes, which makes absolute sense, because if there were a single cause, then the chances of finding relief would be much higher. Wolke goes on to show the problems with all the various remedies. He and Alton agree on the importance of a sharp knife, although I use an extremely sharp Japanese vegetable knife when dicing onions, and I tear like a two-year-old on a jag. Sticking with onions, Wolke gives an excellent explanation of the French vintner's notion of `terroir' and how it relates to the lower bite of Vidalia onions. And, he correctly points out that it is fewer nasty compounds rather than more sugars which make the Vidalia and its cousins milder.
There are three general areas where Wolke could stand some improvement. While I was a journeyman chemist, I was an expert on linguistics and linguistic philosophy so, first, I find Wolke is occasionally a bit inconsistent in his use of works such as alkali (the opposite of acid). Early in the book, he says that alkali should be reserved for the extremely strong bases such as sodium hydroxide and potassium hydroxide, yet I see him frequently using `alkali' for things that are just a tad over pH 7. The second quibble is that while science and the arts have long ago come to a détente and science and religion seem to be at an armed truce, Wolke constantly takes potshots at aspects of legal and political practice. It in incredibly easy for someone schooled in the doctrines of science to take pleasure at the apparent foibles of political practice, yet the people in the political world have problems of entirely different nature than either science or art, so cheap shots at food regulations, for example, are just that, cheap. The last problem I see is with Wolke's humor, especially in his little `Foodie's Fictionary' blurbs. I'm afraid I found not one of them very funny. Sorry. I think most of the humor in his main text is pretty basic and certainly welcome, but Alton Brown does not need to fear his position as the leading culinary class clown. The book would have been just a wee bit better with a good bibliography on food science references.
New in this sequel are sidebars on various scientific issues. Most of the really valuable reference stuff is in these sidebars. What you may wish to do is stick some of those cute little post it note tabs on the sidebarred pages and write a word describing the topic.
This is a really great book to take to your armchair and read from cover to cover. If you liked the first, you will definitely like this one as well or better. If you have read neither and you have an interest in food, buy both now!