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"On Food and Cooking" by Harold McGee

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#1 Harry Covére

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Posted 21 January 2004 - 11:28 AM

I heard the Mr. Wizard of the kitchen is coming out with a new book real soon. Anyone heard about this?

#2 suzilightning

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Posted 21 January 2004 - 04:45 PM

sorry - haven't seen anything in the professional reviewing or publishing things we get. just checked baker and taylor and the most current thing in from a few years ago. will keep my eyes peeled.
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#3 russ parsons

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Posted 21 January 2004 - 06:44 PM

i know he's been working on one for years. the first one is such a monumental work, i can't imagine facing updating it.

#4 Bux

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Posted 04 July 2004 - 04:17 AM

My understanding is that it will be out this fall. Expect a complete rewrite more than just an update.
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#5 scott123

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Posted 04 July 2004 - 07:50 AM

i know he's been working on one for years. the first one is such a monumental work, i can't imagine facing updating it.

When I corresponded with him briefly a few months ago he mentioned having thousands (!!!!) of pages of notes to sort through/compile. I get the feeling that this too will also be a monumental work.

I can't wait to see the fruits of his labors.

#6 Stone

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Posted 28 September 2004 - 04:04 PM

I'm reading On Food and Cooking now, copyright 1984. I noticed immediately how many time he writes "we don't know how/why this works/happens." I kept thinking that a revised edition highlighting what we've figured out in the past 20 years would be fascinating.

Edited by Stone, 28 September 2004 - 04:05 PM.


#7 jgarner53

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Posted 28 September 2004 - 04:39 PM

I'm reading OFaC now, too. Fascinating stuff, though after highlighting and post-it'ing my way through it, I can't imagine doing the same through a new/updated edition any time soon. :wacko:

Yeah, I'm a huge geek. So what? :rolleyes: What good is a reference if you can't find the information you want when you need it?
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#8 Really Nice!

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Posted 29 September 2004 - 09:00 AM

According to McGee's Web site, it's a fully revised and updated 20th anniversary edition of On Food and Cooking, The Science And Lore Of The Kitchen.

Coming in November from Scribner, a division of Simon & Schuster.

From his site:

...has rewritten the text almost completely, expanded it by two thirds, and commissioned over 100 new illustrations. Among the major themes now addressed throughout are:

× Traditional and modern methods of food production and their influences on food quality
× The great diversity of methods by which people in different places and times have prepared the same ingredients
× Tips for selecting the best ingredients and preparing them successfully
× The particular substances that give foods their flavors, and that give us pleasure
× Our evolving knowledge of the health benefits and risks of foods

You can order it from Amazon for $23.80.
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#9 bloviatrix

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Posted 29 September 2004 - 09:26 AM

I know what's going on the very top of my Chanukkah wish list. :biggrin:
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#10 Bicycle Lee

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Posted 29 September 2004 - 09:53 AM

man...and I just bought the old version...looks like I'm going to have to get the new one now.

Edited by Bicycle Lee, 29 September 2004 - 09:53 AM.

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#11 Mulcahy

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Posted 29 September 2004 - 10:33 AM

I'm reading On Food and Cooking now, copyright 1984.  I noticed immediately how many time he writes "we don't know how/why this works/happens."  I kept thinking that a revised edition highlighting what we've figured out in the past 20 years would be fascinating.

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I thought the same thing when he discusses how much more healthful margarine is than butter.


man...and I just bought the old version...looks like I'm going to have to get the new one now.

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Boo. I just got the old version for my birthday. Guess I will have to request the new version for Christmas.

#12 fifi

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Posted 29 September 2004 - 10:48 AM

Oh. My. Goodness. Expanded by two thirds? Will I need a crane to transport it from my coffee table to my lap? :biggrin: I wasn't able to get a new copy of the original in hard cover when I bought it years ago. I won't let this one get past me. I can't wait. :happy dancing smilie:
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#13 Dave the Cook

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Posted 29 September 2004 - 10:59 AM

Expanded by two thirds?

896 pages, in all.

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#14 Bux

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Posted 29 September 2004 - 11:13 AM

The new edition, and it's probably more accurate to refer to it as the new book, is still scheduled for early November or the end of October. That is to say, copies should be in bookshops by early November. "New Book," because a broader range of subjects is covered in greater depth in a text that's about two thirds greater in length. Even the material that has remained has been rewritten to reflect McGee's latest understandings.

I've been thumbing through an advance proof and what's interesting is that at first glance it seems the most definitive collection of information I've ever seen, but one soon realizes McGee is much too smart to believe he's got the final answer. I'm reluctant to quote from an uncorrected proof, but I think I'm safe in noting out that in his introduction, he quotes a French chef as saying "I know that I never know," at the first workshop of what has now become the International Workshop on Molecular Gastronomy 'N. Kurti.' I'd still bet that this book will settle a lot of bets.

I'm reading OFaC now, too. Fascinating stuff, though after highlighting and post-it'ing my way through it, I can't imagine doing the same through a new/updated edition any time soon. :wacko:

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I can only imagine the effort it took McGee to basically rewrite this book. I think of his editors with a certain amount of envy and pity. There was however, considerable justification for the new work. Twenty years ago predates the Molecular Gastronomy movement and the current acute interest in the science of food preparation. With that interest has also come the increased knowledge to satisfy the interest and who better than McGee to put it all together again.
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#15 fifi

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Posted 29 September 2004 - 07:51 PM

Bux... I can't begin to imagine the effort that this took. Does anyone know how long he worked on this?

I have visions of bouncing from the old book to the new book just to see what has changed. That is going to happily drive me nuts.

Let me add that, for such a deep and detailed subject, I found that his writing style was engaging and, at times, downright humorous. I came to the first book in happy anticipation of the information it contained. I was unexpectedly enchanted by his writing style and besides using it as a reference, I often reread some parts for the sheer joy of the language. I think of him as the Jan Morris of food science.
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#16 adoxograph

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Posted 29 September 2004 - 07:56 PM

Is that calendar mention of eGullet on McGee's website an upcoming event for this year?
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#17 Bux

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Posted 30 September 2004 - 08:48 AM

Is that calendar mention of eGullet on McGee's website an upcoming event for this year?

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In a word, "yes." I was about to ask if McGee wasn't one of the people everyone wouldn't most want to ask a question in my last post, but I didn't want to be too coy before we entered his name on the calendar. In the interest of full disclosure, I'll note that my daughter was his editor at Scribner. I trust no one would believe I'm doing her a favor by inviting the author of such an aniticipated book to participate here, and it should be obvious to all that we're the audience McGee or any other serious professional in the industry, wants to reach.
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#18 Bux

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Posted 06 October 2004 - 08:03 AM

I'm sorry, I neglected to add the starting day of the Q&A for those who don't want to check the calendar--November 8.
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#19 Michael Ruhlman

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Posted 06 October 2004 - 02:06 PM

When I first met McGee a year and a half ago, he told me he was revising his book, then he told me that he was really rewriting it from scratch. He was serious. The first book took him three years. The revision took ten. Whole chapters are new. What was four pages on fish is now a 30,000 word chapter. Gone is a lot of historical stuff replaced by practical stuff, like how to temper chocolate, how and why it works. It's an amazing piece of work.

I wrote about Harold in this month's Gourmet. He's an exquisite and humane individiual, with a poetic sense of the world and a deep understanding of the science of everyday life. He's a hero.

The book is due out from Scribner in Nov., but I know they're still hustling to finish up the index.

Edited by Michael Ruhlman, 06 October 2004 - 02:10 PM.


#20 Carlovski

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Posted 11 October 2004 - 06:06 AM

Sounds like a culinary equivalent of Roger Penrose's new book.
Sounds like I'll have to get a copy - been meaning to get the original for ages.
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#21 Stone

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Posted 11 October 2004 - 06:36 AM

Sounds like a culinary equivalent of Roger Penrose's new book.

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What did Penrose write? He's the "Emperor's New Mind" guy?

#22 Bux

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Posted 11 October 2004 - 11:43 AM

Sounds like a culinary equivalent of Roger Penrose's new book.
Sounds like I'll have to get a copy - been meaning to get the original for ages.

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I think not. Although I'm even less prepared to discuss Penrose than McGee, Penrose's work seems very theoretical and abstract, while MdGee set out to discover why what happens when we cook, happens and to make the connection to the basic workings of the natural world. While his curiosity was far beyond that of most cooks 20 years ago, his studies result in information that often has an immediate effect on how cooks think and prepare foods. They explain exactly why the results we see occur and sometimes explain why we've made the wrong attributions in the past between technique and results. While his thinking was outside that of conventional cooks then, his work, while still at the forefront of science in the kitchen, is known to most serious and professional cooks today. This is not to say that all of the book will be directly approachable and applicable to home cooking on a daily basis any more that we'd use all the words in the dictionary on a daily basis, but it should prove useful to anyone with a curiosity about the science of why things happen when we cook.

Nothing could be more welcome than a revised and expanded version of Harold McGee's ON FOOD AND COOKING. This big, immensely important work, with its breathtaking scope, is the basic resource for anyone who wants to understand the way we grow our food, harvest it, store it, cook it, consume, smell, taste, and even digest it. McGee's scientific writing is intelligent, lucid, and always to the point--helping both professionals and serious home cooks understand what happens when they work with food, enabling them to be more enlightened shoppers, cooks, and even eaters.

The first edition of ON FOOD AND COOKING has been the best selling book in the history of our bookstore.  A newer and larger ON FOOD AND COOKING  is a gift to all who want to know how food works.

--Nach Waxman, Owner, Kitchen Arts & Letters

I've got a dozen of those sort of blurbs, courtesy of the publisher. :biggrin:
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#23 andiesenji

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Posted 11 October 2004 - 12:29 PM

I have been awaiting it with great anticipation. My much-thumbed and dog-eared original, purchased at Brentano's book store long ago, is never very far out of reach.
Many of the pages have been taped where little tears threatened to cause the loss of an important passage.
One page that was torn out and into pieces has been pieced together and laminated and stuck back into the book.
Highlighter pens of various colors have been used liberally throughout the book with colored tabs glued onto the edges of pages with significant information.

I may be out of touch for a couple of days after I get my hands on the book as I plan to immerse myself in it to see if some of my favorite sections have been significantly altered.
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#24 Bux

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Posted 15 October 2004 - 01:53 PM

For those of you who can't wait any longer, you can at least start reading the revised and updated version of On Food and Cooking - The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. Harold McGee and Scribner have graciously agreed to allow us to publish the Introduction to the book here on eGullet.org.
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#25 docsconz

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Posted 18 October 2004 - 10:54 AM

I have a feeling that there is going to be a lull in the action on the eGullet Boards once this book comes out until his Q&A. :wink:
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#26 Guest_Mandy Davis_*

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Posted 19 October 2004 - 10:23 PM

Just finished reading the proof of the new edition (for review). I reread the first edition about three weeks ago to prepare myself.
His new book is WONDERFUL. I kept flipping back and forth between the two: McGee has rewritten every single part of the book -- it's even more conversational and delightful, lot's of exclamation points and asides. He covers a lot of the scientific aspects of flavor -- lists of different flavor chemicals and how things like parma ham and melons have the same chemical compounds in them -- unlocking the secrets of food pairings.
What I would love to see would be a chemical breakdown like this applied to the lists of foods in say, Culinary Artistry, or in wine-food pairings...
I suspect it's going to win some big awards -- the first edition was groundbreaking, and this is 10x better. Has anyone else had a chance to look it over?

#27 Michael Ruhlman

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Posted 20 October 2004 - 05:27 AM

I have--and I'm delighted to hear it from someone else. It's an astonishing piece of work that's going to be around for a long time.

#28 Bux

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Posted 20 October 2004 - 01:35 PM

It's an astonishing piece of work that's going to be around for a long time.

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Or at least until the next edition. Then again this "revision" was about ten years in the making. I can't imagine what sort of undertaking a third edition would be. I'm already overwhelmed by what's in this one.
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#29 Bux

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Posted 20 October 2004 - 02:12 PM

He covers a lot of the scientific aspects of flavor -- lists of different flavor chemicals and how things like parma ham and melons have the same chemical compounds in them -- unlocking the secrets of food pairings.

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When people think of science in the kitchen and hear terms such as molecular gastronomy, they often think of a laboratory and some sort of frankenstein food. Much of what McGee has done is to offer understandable analyses of why things we know work actually do work, so we're not limited to the uses of this information in the way past generations were. For a cook who's not a scientist, It would seem that the lists Mandy wants are the next step.

I was struck by how obvious some of the information in the book is, if only someone would have pointed it out to me before. Cooking grains in either milk or stock will result in a creamier milk or more concentrated sauce from the stock even if the pan is covered and there's no evaporation simply because the grains are absorbing the water.

One has to be a thinking cook to get a lot out of the book, but one's thinking doesn't have to be on the chemical or molecular level to be enriched and more enlightened. The net effect in my mind is not to separate the art and science, but pair them better.

On the other hand, it's thoroughly entertaining to just read the side bars with historical and anecdotal information. History is also an important part of the texts, getting no less attention than science. McGee uses a quotation from Boccaccio's Decameron to illustrate a point in the history of pasta.
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#30 alacarte

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Posted 22 October 2004 - 09:18 AM

Just as an aside, Nach Waxman, the proprietor of Kitchen Arts & Letters, says that the McGee book is currently his best seller.

(KA&L is a NY bookstore that sells only food and drink related books, including cookbooks. If you live anywhere NYC or are planning to visit, it's a great place to while away the afternoon and empty your wallet.)





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