What books discuss taste like a pro chef would?
February 28, 2012 8:39 AM   Subscribe

Please recommend good books that discuss the theory of food taste and design—analyzing flavors and textures, figuring out pairings, that sort of thing. Either savory or dessert-centered would be fine.

I’m looking for a gift for a very experienced home cook with a zillion cookbooks at home, and I thought an interesting next step might be a book that goes in greater depth into what I’ll call, for lack of a more precise term, the theory behind food enjoyment—for instance, what taste/texture components make various dishes work, how to tell whether flavors will work well or poorly together, how to tell what’s missing in any given dish or menu, etc. We’re talking basically the equivalent of color theory in quilting or crafting: not just “Here are some things that go together,” but “here’s the concept of why they go together, and here’s how to analyze/reproduce/expand upon it in your own work.”

I actually happened upon a cool dessert-y book along these lines on Amazon once, but have since mislaid the link. Anyone have any good recommendations—or, failing that, some appropriate keywords, beyond the vague "gastronomy," that I might use to google this sort of thing? Thanks so much!
posted by Bardolph to Food & Drink (11 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know what your budget is, but this.
posted by dfriedman at 8:41 AM on February 28, 2012

On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee.
posted by Wordwoman at 8:50 AM on February 28, 2012

Modernist Cuisine isn't really what they are looking for. Actually neither is "On Food or Cooking". Like at all - and I say that considering it be one of the essential books on food.

A chef's cookbook for the amateur that talks about these concepts a lot (in addition to having some really superb recipes) is Gray Kunz's Elements of Taste

Also many other cookbooks will spend 20-30 pages on a sort of chef's polemic - some of them are better than others.

Seeing as how I've given a very mediocre suggestion that is also out of print - let me also say you should call one of the great cookbook stores and ask them. I don't know where you are but if you are in the US I would call "Kitchen Arts and Letters" in NYC, if you are in the UK "Books for Cooks"
posted by JPD at 8:54 AM on February 28, 2012

I don't necessarily disagree JPD, but On Food and Cooking would certainly be helpful to the OP. It doesn't get into pairings and menu design quite as such, but discusses in depth the aromatic compounds that give food its flavors. Particularly fascinating is the way the same compounds show up in completely different foods, and that's vital information for designing a dish or a meal in the way the OP is interested in.

And Harold McGee is a pimp.
posted by werkzeuger at 8:59 AM on February 28, 2012

Sounds like you're looking for The Flavor Bible.
posted by kathryn at 9:05 AM on February 28, 2012 [9 favorites]

The Flavour Thesaurus is excellent.
posted by dowcrag at 9:59 AM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have both The Flavor Bible and The Flavor Thesaurus. I came to recommend Flavor Thesaurus to the OP.

Also, I have both On Food and Cooking and McGee's other, newer book Keys to Good Cooking, which is sort of a scaled down, easier to digest version of On Food and Cooking. Keys to Good Cooking may be more applicable to the OP.
posted by doomtop at 10:03 AM on February 28, 2012

You can go with some classic texts, such as anything by August Escoffier, more or less the father of food writing as we now know it, as well as one of the fathers of French cuisine as we now know it, having helped modernize the traditional techniques.

The other blockbuster classic text you may look at is the predecessor to Modernist Cuisine, "Larousse Gastronomique," which was republished relatively recently. It's cheaper than Myhrvold, but not dirt cheap.

There are a couple books about the chemistry and physics of cooking that're very readable and include recipes: Shirley O. Corriher 's books "CookWise: The Hows and Whys of Successful Cooking," and "BakeWise: The Hows and Whys of Successful Baking."
posted by Sunburnt at 10:35 AM on February 28, 2012

I don't know anything about this book beyond what is said in the review I'm about to link to, but you might want to check out Taste Buds and Molecules.
posted by crLLC at 11:04 AM on February 28, 2012

Ratio covers how to make recipes and what makes a recipe work. I think I have a similar, baking-specific book at home, but I can't remember the name. I'll check tonight.
posted by asphericalcow at 11:41 AM on February 28, 2012

I also came to recommend The Flavour Thesaurus because it is not densely scientific - in fact, it is quite good to read through and I have been inspired to "invent" new pairings through reading it.
posted by AnnaRat at 12:40 PM on February 28, 2012

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