Even the best food could use a dash of ones and zeros. Geek out with us as we explore the intersection of food and technology this month.
We may be all about technology right now, but even we like to put down the iPad and pick up a good, old-fashioned book, like the ones below, which combine the best of science and cooking. Some will teach you how to perfect the squishy, confusing art of spherification, while others will simply explain why water boils, but all are tools that are as indispensable as your on-the-go coffee brewer. Earn your white coat (your lab coat, that is) with these nine food science and technology books.
The Science of Good Cooking, by the Editors of Cook's Illustrated (Cook's Illustrated, $40)
Each of the 500-plus pages of this book is devoted to answering one question: Why? Literally, as each recipe is followed by a "Why This Recipe Works" section. Modifiers like foolproof and perfect rightfully precede the recipes for crucial basics like scrambled eggs and pie dough—so you won't only learn why they're perfect, but how to achieve them as well.
On Food and Cooking, by Harold McGee (Scribner, $40)
If any cooking book could be called a Bible, this is undoubtedly the one. It's the ultimate reference book, with deep exploration into every ingredient you can imagine, as well as cooking methods and the basics of food molecules, chemistry primer included. Its pages should really be laminated due to how much use it's bound to get.
Liquid Intelligence, by Dave Arnold (W. W. Norton & Company, $35)
If the name sounds familiar, that's because Arnold is the science-minded founder and president of the Museum of Food and Drink. But he's known for the lab-like drinking den Booker and Dax, where among other chemistry class-inspired techniques, the bartenders chill glasses with liquid nitrogen and spin ingredients in an ultra-high-speed centrifuge. Use this book to learn up, then drink up everything you need to be a better mixologist.
The Food Lab, by J. Kenji López-Alt (W. W. Norton & Company, $50)
Jumping off the success of his Serious Eats column, López-Alt published this nearly 1,000-page tome without missing a beat. You won't feel lame about geeking out over it when you wow your friends with peerless steaks and super-flaky biscuits, and the endearing dad jokes make him the Bill Nye of the kitchen.
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What Einstein Told His Cook, by Robert L. Wolke (W. W. Norton & Company, $16)
Are smoked foods cooked? What's so special about sea salt? This lighthearted, informational book answers those questions and more. You know, the type that you could ask Google but would be overwhelmed by varying responses. But it's not just straight prose: A recipe for game hen shows brining in action, and sweet, crunchy "marshmallow zaps" prove there's no shame in microwave cooking. There's even a sequel for the truly curious cook.
Alinea, by Grant Achatz (10 Speed Press, $60)
Achatz set out to "capture the essence, the spirit" of his groundbreaking Chicago restaurant of the same name and came back with a beautifully photographed collection of 100 multifaceted dishes. Don't write it off as a coffee-table book: Even if you don't make each recipe to completion, the individual components can become staple ingredients. And in true marriage of cooking and technology, you get free access to a website with video tutorials, a discussion forum and more when you purchase the book.
Kitchen Mysteries, by Hervé This (Columbia University Press, $17)
Molecular gastronomy has its naysayers, but at its essence, it's pure science, of which This is the founding father. He dives into chemical reactions and foreign-sounding compounds, but lest you start thinking it'll read like a textbook, check out the first entry in the glossary: "Aaah: The cry of delight guests utter when the first dish arrives. . . . [It] cannot be explained in terms of physical chemistry."
A Day at elBulli, by Ferran Adrià, Albert Adrià and Juli Soler (Phaidon Press, $40)
The now-closed legendary Spanish restaurant elBulli was a true dynasty, earning the title of best restaurant in the world three years in a row. Recipes are sparse, therefore pushing it into coffee-table territory—but with the brilliant, dreamy photographs and insider feel (thanks to the diary-entry structure), good luck ever getting off your couch.
Arzak Secrets, by Juan Mari Arzak (Grub Street Cookery, $60)
Between Arzak and his daughter, Elena, culinary mentors include Paul Bocuse, Ferran Adrìa and Alain Ducasse—which should be your first sign that this book is something special. The recipes are almost poetic (Necklace for a Mandarin, The Squid Circle) and admittedly technical, but with a free weekend and some commitment, you can get them done.