I have a confession to make. I have a secret crush. His name is Harold. We first met a couple of years ago, when I was still back in culinary school, and he quickly became an important part of my life.
It was love at first sight. Suddenly, because of him, it all (well, a lot) made sense to me. He enlightened me on so many levels, I can’t think of living without him anymore. Every time I have a problem, he knows the answer. And usually, it’s actually pretty simple..
Good for you, dear readers, he doesn’t believe in exclusivity. Not, that he ever told me so, but for some reason I still know, that he wouldn’t want me to keep our relationship a secret any longer. I mean, look at him. Can these eyes lie?! So, ladies and gents, with no further ado, may I introduce you to Harold McGee.
Ok, let’s get real here. Harold McGee is awesome. And I’m by far not the only one who thinks so. Thomas Keller, Mario Batali and a Daniel Boulud consult him as well (Great minds think alike, is all I can say to that) and the New York Times called him “indispensable”. In my opinion, his book “On Food and Cooking. The science and lore of the kitchen” is essential for every serious cook. But not only will it explain the world to you (far beyond the walls of your own little kitchen), it will truly become a friend who you’ll soon refer to as “the McGee”.
“Like everything on earth, foods are mixtures of different chemicals, and the qualities that we aim to influence in the kitchen – taste, aroma, texture, color, nutritiousness – are all manifestations of chemical properties.” (McGee, p.3)
In cooking and baking you sometimes simply have to follow certain rules to end up with the desired result. That doesn’t mean it’s rocket science, but it involves a lot of science. In the end, it doesn’t really matter if you understand or know about the underlying physical and chemical principles, as long as you play along with them and the outcome is satisfying. However, if you are like me, you want to know about them anyway. At least partly.
That’s when Harold McGee comes into play. “On Food and Cooking” is THE reference book for all things cooking and although it was first published in 1984, it’s a truly timeless classic. WTF, you think?! Why is she talking about a book that’s almost 30 years old? Aaaand, why is she talking about a book at all in times of internet? Well, there are a few reasons:
1) Books are beautiful and I love them. They look great on a shelf or on a coffee table.
2) Left there, this book will leave a lasting impression on guests. It make you (look) smart. Think about how nerdy-cool and serious you will seem to your dinner date!
3) Have you ever tried to look up something on the internet while you were in the middle of cooking, your hands covered up to your elbows in batter, the thermometer alarmingly piping, the oil about to go up in flames while your tender spring peas turn into mush? You don’t want your computer or ipad to turn all smudgy and nasty while you’re desperately trying to figure out the right search terms that will give you ten million different answers to one simple question. What you want is a friend who’s immediately there for you and after only a few hints and pages turned has a clear, axiomatic answer. Someone who’ll honor the stains you might have left and will proudly carry them on turning them into a great story for see 2)
McGee blends science with history without ever being boring, fuzzy or verbose. He writes clear and accurate about ingredients, methods and preparations covering every food group and solves almost every common question (and with it problem) from thickening sauces to tempering chocolate. If you consider yourself as a serious cook, you should get this book. PRONTO!