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About Harold McGee

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Please join Harold McGee, for an eGullet Q&A the week of November 8, 2004.

Harold McGee writes about the chemistry of food and cooking. He fixed on this peculiar vocation after training in two more conventional subjects: physics and astronomy at the California Institute of Technology, and English literature at Yale University, where he wrote a thesis titled “Keats and the Progress of Taste.” After teaching literature and writing for several years at Yale, he decided to practice what he’d been preaching to his students and write a book on the science of everyday life.

The result was the publication—five years later—of On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, a 680-page compendium which won the Andre Simon Memorial Fund Book Award and brought feature articles in Time and People magazines and many newspapers. The timing couldn’t have been better: America was just awakening to the diversity of world cuisines, and the book helped satisfy the growing hunger for information about the origins and nature of ingredients and techniques. Along the way, McGee fell in love with the subject, so he was no longer a science writer: he was a food writer.

Six years after OFAC, in 1990, he published The Curious Cook: More Kitchen Science and Lore, a slimmer narrative volume detailing his efforts to solve kitchen puzzles (How much oil can you emulsify into a mayonnaise with one egg yolk? [gallons]; Why does frying spatter end up on the inside surface of the cook’s spectacles? [gravity]), and make sense of the modern and ever-changing scientific evidence linking diet and the major scourges of later life, heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease.

Along the way McGee contributed original research to the scientific journal Nature (“Why whip egg whites in copper bowls?” in vol. 308, 1984, p. 667; “Recipe for safer sauces” in vol. 347, 1990, p. 717), and has written articles and reviews for many publications, including The New York Times, The World Book Encyclopedia, Food & Wine, Fine Cooking, and Health. He has lectured on food chemistry at an unusual range of venues, including the Culinary Institute of America and other professional schools, the Canadian Federation of Chefs and Cooks, the Guild of Food Writers, at universities, the Oxford Symposia on Food, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Denver Natural History Museum and the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. He has appeared on CNN and on National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered,” “Fresh Air,” and “Science Friday,” and was a regular guest on Los Angeles public radio station KCRW-FM. In 1995 he was named to the James Beard Foundation's Who's Who in American Food.

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A vastly revised and enlarged second edition of On Food and Cooking has just been published by Scribner.

You may read the Introduction to the new book here.

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ON FOOD AND COOKING: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen

ISBN: 0-684-80001-2

Pub Month Year: November 2004

Author: Harold McGee

Scribner / $35

More praise for this upcoming title:

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

"A goldmine of information about every ingredient and cooking process, answering all the questions you will ever have about food. Without a single 'recipe' in it, I think it's one of the most important food books ever written."

--Jamie Oliver, author of The Naked Chef

"Having the pleasure of working with Harold McGee at The French Laundry kitchen was a dream come true. On Food and Cooking continues to be the most accurate source of information for generations of chefs. A charismatic teacher, Harold is a veritable fountain of information and without peer in our industry. His books are the most worn and dog-eared of my entire collection."

--Thomas Keller, chef-owner of The French Laundry and Per Se

"Harold McGee's book is simply a monumental journey merging food and science...and a marvelous read."

--Paula Wolfert, author of Mediterranean Cooking

"Without an understanding of basic food science and practical cooking technique, there can ultimately be no true creativity in the kitchen! Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking is the definitive treatise on this subject that both the professional and home cook will absolutely require to move their cooking forward."

--Charlie Trotter, chef-owner of Charlie Trotter's

"A must-have resource for any student of the stove, On Food and Cooking synthesizes details from a wide variety of scientific disciplines and gastronomic traditions, sparking the reader's culinary imagination with every turn of the page. Harold McGee possesses that most rare combination: a scientist's skill and a cook's heart."

--Rick Bayless, author of Rick Bayless's Mexican Kitchen and Mexico One Plate at a Time

"Prepare to be awed! Harold McGee changed our lives with his original On Food and Cooking. While we knew that many things in cooking worked or didn't work, McGee showed us why. This new edition is the most complete book on food that I have ever seen, and it is easy to read-an inconceivable amount of information made incredibly accessible. On Food and Cooking is unique, engrossing reading and a major contribution to great culinary literature."

--Shirley O. Corriher, author of CookWise

"Harold McGee has once again done the work and research for us all. Any culinary question is now easily answered in On Food and Cooking. It's virtually the 'tell me why' for adults in the kitchen."

--Bobby Flay, chef-co-owner of Mesa Grill and Bolo and author of Bobby Flay's Boy Gets Grill

"Without a doubt, the best existing documentation of the very important and oh so fascinating role played by science in our kitchens and in human nutrition."

--Madeleine Kamman, author of The Making of A Cook

"McGee's immeasurable knowledge and infinite wisdom have hugely influenced the state of gastronomy. I constantly refer to On Food and Cooking and I am thrilled there's more yet to learn from the master of food and science."

--Mario Batali, chef-owner of Babbo and Otto

"In his past two tomes Hal McGee's profound scientific knowledge, fueled by intensely focused curiosity, gave us the tools to create new recipes. In this masterful revision he has gone beyond the specifics of how ingredients work to the very nature of the ingredient itself, inspiring us to still greater culinary heights. McGee is indeed our philosopher king of cooking."

--Rose Levy Beranbaum, author of The Pie and Pastry Bible

"I have used Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking for the last two decades whenever I've had questions on the chemistry of food or to understand some aspect of the cooking process. This extraordinary, new, expanded edition will occupy a place of prominence on my bookshelf."

--Jacques Pépin, author of Jacques and Julia Cooking at Home and The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen

"On Food and Cooking is the classic that weaves together history, science, and practical advice in mesmerizing (really) discussion of every conceivable topic of interest in the kitchen...Everyone who eats can use this book. It belongs in every home."

--Cheryl Mendelson, author of Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House

"I don't think that Harold McGee missed a single detail in this absolutely fascinating anthology of the hows, whys, and wherefores of cooking. This book is a treasure trove of useful facts and unusual information and a must for every cook who possesses an inquiring mind."

--Daniel Boulud, chef-owner of Daniel and Café Boulud

"A truly engaging blend of the science and history of food, with thousands of tips for culinary success."

--Ethan Becker, author of Joy of Cooking

"We've been referring to Harold McGee's treasure, On Food and Cooking, since we were prep cooks decades ago and it's recommended reading for anyone who comes to work in our kitchens. We're thrilled to have this update packed with even more 'aha' moments."

--Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken, chefs-owners of Border Grills and Ciudad Restaurant

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