The Kitchen as a Laboratory: Reflections on the Science of Food and Cooking (essays)

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Although I am an amateur home cook that struggles to enjoy the daily “what’s for dinner?” question and I also am far from a scientific thinker, I still enjoyed reading some essays about the scientific aspects of the cooking process. The Kitchen as a Laboratory: Reflections on the Science of Food and Cooking (to be published January 2012 by Columbia University Press) is a collection of essays edited by Cesar Vega, Job Ubbink, and Erik van der Linden. As with other anthologies, I found some essays worked for me and others did not. I skipped about five of the 33 essays, but of the others many were particularly memorable.

I particularly enjoyed the essays on how all of the senses work together when one eats food. Fresh on the heals of my read of Season to Taste, these essays reminded me once again the need to learn how to present food for the best enjoyment. Cooking dinner should not just be about following a recipe: it’s a delightful experience of the senses. Essay 2 (“Sound Appeal”) talked about crunchy apples and celery; essay 21 (“Playing with Sound: Crispy Crusts”) focused on pizza crusts; and Essay 30 (“Eating is Believing”) described eating in an unlighted restaurant. These stood out but others also emphasized the entire eating process.

Other essays focused on new ways (using new technology) of preparing common foods. Others focused on the technical science side of why foods cook well in a particular way, such as the first essay which explained why certain kinds of cheese work well on grilled cheese sandwiches, while others do not (it’s all in the ph). While many of the new technology essays and chemical details in other essays were (I admit) far beyond my limited understanding of chemistry, in general, it didn’t matter to me: I still enjoyed reading the essays (with few exceptions).

The Kitchen as a Laboratory is written for serious foodies that do want to understand the chemical processes. It’s not really a “light” look at the science of the kitchen. In some places, it reminded me of Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking (which I own but have only read as I’ve been curious: certainly not cover to cover) in it’s serious approach to the processes of cooking food. Yet, The Kitchen as a Laboratory also had a lighter tone throughout even the most scientific essays, and that’s because it is written by cooks who seriously love seeing what happens when they begin cooking, and they obviously want to figure out why. They are playing with their food and sharing what they’ve found with the rest of us. It’s quite fun in that respect.

I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher for review via

Reviewed on December 17, 2011

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

  • This sounds like it would appeal to people who like America’s Test Kitchen – like me! I love watching their little scientific explanations of why something does or doesn’t happen in the cooking process.Very fascinating – and it sounds like this book is too!

    • Anbolyn » I’ve never seen that show. This book is quite scientific in places and those places went over my head, but of course one need not read every essay or every part of every essay.

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