Monday, June 6, 2011

"Good Cooks are Artists"

As the daughter of an industrial food chemist, and as an artist myself, I beg to differ with this statement. I really think cooking is mostly about science, and to this end, I just finished reading this book:

Now, I really like to cook, and I really like to understand why food chemistry works as it does. I find all kinds of things about the science of cooking fascinating, and so I was thrilled to see that there is an entire chapter devoted to foams in food! (No, not the fashionable froth that chefs are serving nowadays, but traditional dishes such as souffl├ęs.) Barham also tells us the difference between sauces and gravies, and many other useful tidbits.

While I have not yet had a chance to put his experiments to test in the kitchen (at present I am reducing an infusion of chocolate mint to make mint chocolate chip ice cream later on), I am intrigued by some of his techniques. His techniques for making souffl├ęs differ so radically from the traditional French methods that I learned, that I can't wait for cooler weather to put some of his advice to the test in my own kitchen, if only because I can't wait to tell people, "Yes, I'm an artist, but really, it has nothing whatsoever to do with my cooking."
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Okay, that's not really true. Yes, there is a certain amount of artistry in combining flavours and colours to build a great recipe, and certainly an artistry in conveying those techniques and amounts of ingredients to other people. But what I do in the kitchen has very little to do with creativity and inspiration, and more with understanding how flavours interact, even on the molecular level. (For example, did you know that oranges and black pepper have astoundingly similar molecules, and that you can actually learn to smell how different foods are similar or different at the molecular level? More on that later!)

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