I didn’t know exactly what to expect from this book, but I was initially struck by how different this was from Harold McGee’s _On Food and Cooking_. Hervé This is a renown scientist and one of the acknowledged leaders of the Molecular Gastronomy movement. I expected something in line with McGee’s book, which is a veritable tome of densely packed information, well organized and indexed out the wazoo... obviously intended to be a reference. This’s book is more of a narrative – short chapter by short chapter, explaining one issue at a time. It is certainly full of great information – but it almost reads like an Alton Brown script, rather than a scientific work.
This may be a controversial thing to say, but it may be entirely due to the audience (originally written in French, obviously for the French audience) – and I’m not referring to any scientific or literary intellectual differences, but to the long history of food writing that France has.
So many of his chapters start off with assertions made by legendary food writers and held to be true for hundreds of years – he either proves or disproves them, with carefully controlled and repeatable experiments (which certainly reflects his science background).
In one chapter, he challenges the traditional way of making stock, which since the writing of Brillat-Savarin in 1833 and Joules Gouffé in 1867, has been done by gradually heating the liquid. This warning has been reprinted in numerous French cooking tomes. He experiments with putting the meat in cold water and putting it in already boiling water, and shows that in all cases, there is no difference in what the meat has given up (in terms of what it weighs) after a certain amount of time. He further runs blind tastings and finds the broths indistinguishable.
The narrative style does make this a very readable book. And not all chapters are about debunking myths. He has a short chapter about the finding of umami and the 5th taste receptor, for example. The book is indexed quite well, and it certainly can be used as a reference – but it is not anywhere as comprehensive as McGee’s work. Nevertheless, it’s a great read – a much better bedside book than McGee’s.