The Food Lab is J Kenji Lopez-Alt’s fantastic book that documents the results of his culinary experiments. If you like to cook and are science-minded, this is a must-read.
J Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Chief Culinary Advisor for Serious Eats and the chef and co-owner of the restaurant Wursthall in San Mateo, California. He has science in his genes (both his father and maternal grandfather are scientists) and studied Architecture at no less than the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). I first ran across his work through Serious Eats several years ago and have been a follower ever since. Kenji makes frequent guest appearances in food podcasts such as Special Sauce and The Sporkful.
The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science
This is a very useful book for everyone with a serious interest in cooking. I bought the audiobook, which comes with a PDF containing all the charts and recipes. However, in this case I think the printed book might be better because of the amount of information it contains. Also, the audiobook is not narrated by the author, which is even more disappointing if you’re used to his voice.
Despite going deep into the physics and chemistry involved in cooking, Kenji manages to keep the book light and entertaining by telling stories of how his nerdiness in the kitchen irritates his wife.
In the introduction, the author narrates how he got interested in cooking and in the science of cooking. He explains how to apply the scientific method to food tasting. Other topics include the elements of cooking (heat vs temperature, density, types of heat, etc.), essential kitchen gear and pantry items.
The bulk of the book is divided in the following categories:
- Eggs, Dairy, and the Science of Breakfast
- Soups, Stews, and the Science of Stock
- Steaks, Chops, Chicken, Fish, and the Science of Fast-Cooking Foods
- Blanching, Searing, Braising, Glazing, Roasting, and the Science of Vegetables
- Balls, Loaves, Links, Burgers, and the Science of Ground Meat
- Chickens, Turkeys, Prime Rib, and the Science of Roasts
- Tomato Sauce, Macaroni, and the Science of Pasta
- Greens, Emulsions, and the Science of Salads
- Batter, Breadings, and the Science of Frying
In each of the chapter, Kenji goes deep into the best ways of cooking those foods, based on his experience as well as the chemistry and physics behind food transformation.
A good thing about Kenji is that, while obsessive, he is also practical. This means he will go for the quicker, simpler cooking or preparation method if there is not much to gain in terms of taste or texture.
The other thing that I like about Kenji is that he gets his inspiration from his multicultural environment (he is half-Japanese and his wife is Colombian).
To learn more about Kenji and his work, check out his website J Kenji Lopez-Alt. Also check out his Youtube cooking videos (sample below) and keep your ears perked for his podcasts guest appearances.