I get asked a lot what books are useful to me in what I do the answers are varied but probably the most useful book I have found over the past few years is a book written by Harold McGee called “ On Food and Cooking, The science and Love of the Kitchen”. It is quite simply a book that looks at culinary love and the science behind it.
The book really is a great read; even the bits that are not applicable to liquid or alcohol; you find yourself wandering into those parts anyway as they are just incredibly interesting. McGee’s questioning of what we take for granted is infectious, you end up asking yourself questions about the everyday things. It is full of great historical references i.e. the invention of the thermometer, a lot of very easy to read science bits i.e. how sugar works, some not so easy science bits although you can (after a few reads) get through them, some great anecdotal stuff; but best of all it has a whole section on Alcohol (Chapter 9). The chapter covers everything; wine, beer, spirits, distillation, the history of alcohol, even what a hang over is!
In addition to alcohol, you also have a section on fruit; which can be a real eye opener and an extremely useful section on sugars.
Overall, I cannot praise this book enough as it really does open up the gateway to the sometimes, baffling world of science, and instead introduces you to a universe of comprehensible ideas which can be used to improve, and inform, your craft. Finally, the best thing about it is, it inserts the question in you; why does that do that?
This can head towards, why don’t I try that? and that’s when the fun begins!!
Other great books are Kitchen Mysteries: Revealing the Science of Cooking or Molecular Gastronomy (exploring the science of flavour) both by Herve This, these books are quite dense and difficult to understand for the layman although well worth working through if you have the patience.
There are some great chapters especially the ones 77/78 on Champagne which are a really fascinating and gives you a great insight to Herve This’s thinking!
And just before we get all to serious I thought I would throw in a fantastic book called Hellraisers that is on the drinking stories of Richard Burton, Peter O’Toole, Oliver Reed and Richard Harris some of the biggest hellraisers of the last century which is full of some of the funniest drinking stories I have ever read….