Cookbook Battles: “Ideas in Food” vs. “Cooking for Geeks”

The idea behind cookbook battles is as simple as it sounds: two enter, only one leaves triumphant. Judging is based on the most important five categories when choosing a cookbook: the sex appeal, the recipes, how useful the tips & tricks outside of the recipes are, the level of inspiration and how approachable the cookbook is for the ‘average’ cook.

I picked these two books as my first “cookbook battle” post because they are probably the two in my collection that have revolutionized the way I cook and understand food the most.They both have the same premise: by understanding better why things work the way they do on a scientific level we will have a better chance of replicating success instead of failure in the kitchen.

They are both strong contenders, it’s going to be a tough battle. Here we go!

The Contenders:

Cookbook Battles!

Ideas in Food vs. Cooking For Geeks

  1. Ideas in Food by Aki Kamozawa and Alexander H. Talbot
    $18.15 on Amazon
    This book is written by a couple who are professional chefs and food consultants, and write a food blog, and now a book, where they demystify the science of food. The book walks you through some of the basic science for each type of food, share incredibly brilliant tips to kick your cooking up to the next notch and then a few recipes where the ideas covered in the chapter are applied in a practical way.
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  3. Cooking for Geeks by Jeff Potter
    $23.16 on Amazon
    This book reads more like a cooking science textbook than a cookbook. It is 432 large pages full of hardcore food science. Each section breaks down a particular idea into individual ideas, explains the premise, the science, and much like a school textbook includes interviews with people using science in food and has projects (including recipes and experiments) to test the ideas on your own.

Round 1: Sex Appeal

We all know that food-porn is a main reason we buy cookbooks – let’s be honest here. In this round both of these are completely lacking in any full-colour pictures so are pretty evenly matched.

Ideas in Food is just text – explanatory sciency stuff, followed by related recipes. The layout is good, and the type setting is pretty nice and the format makes it easy to read.  Cooking for Geeks is mostly text, and dense text at that so it’s a bit of a hard slog all the way through. However, there are some black and white photographs as well as incredibly sexy graphs and charts that I have printed off and stuck on the fridge for quick reference while cooking.

Winner: Cooking for Geeks

Round 2: Recipes

Ideas in Food is the clear winner in this category. Although Cooking for Geeks has some recipes included, the quantity and quality of the recipies in Ideas in Food is far better. I found myself squeeing in excitement every few pages, wishing I had some little sticky notes to put on the pages to remind myself which ones I want to try in future. Pickled Spanish Chorizo! No-knead brioche! Onion Glass! Potato Chip Pasta! Oh, I’m hungry just thinking about it…

Winner: Ideas in Food

Round 3: Useful Tips & Tricks

This one is a hard call.

I feel the sheer amount of knowledge about food and the actual understanding I gained about the application of science to food in Cooking for Geeks was better. The information was presented in a more accessible way, and I could see better how one idea was connected to another because of the helpful use of charts, graphs and clear explanations. I learned valuable lessons I think about every time I cook meat about the denaturization of proteins, the temperature at which food browns and really, really important things about food safety. There are also lots of cool random facts, such as using a copper bowl will make it much easier to whip egg whites.

That being said, I really think the tips in Ideas in Food are incredibly useful. Things like par-cooking your starches to strengthen the molecular structure and prevent slushy rice or potato and vaccuum sealing your fresh pasta prior to rolling it to force the moisture into the flour? Brilliance that will change the way I cook forever. These are things that the two chefs have come up with on their own, so you won’t find most of this information in just any cook book!

Winner: Cooking for Geeks

Round 4: Inspiration

Again, another tough call! They both have caused me to think about new things to try and experiment with when I’m cooking. However, the recipes in Ideas in Food were just so incredible sounding I came away with more recipes I want to try than I have from a cook book in a long time, where as Cooking for Geeks was more about pumping up my confidence level in the kitchen, which was equally important but I’m certainly going to be more creative after reading Ideas in Food where as Cooking for Geeks was more practical.

Winner: Ideas in Food

Round 5: Approachability

Both books clearly work really hard to be approachable. I found the descriptions of the science in Ideas in Food to be a bit more confusing than those in Cooking for Geeks and I’m not entirely sure why, since I think their language is pretty plain. In some ways I think it was just all so condensed into too few paragraphs, where as Cooking for Geeks often covers the same topics over whole chapters allowing for more explanation and clarity.

The ideas in Ideas in Food are really exciting, but most of them are extremely time consuming or require a lot of lead time (hours, if not days) in order to be effective. Your mileage may vary, but I am not someone who plans meals too far in advance. Whenever I have done things that require day-before steps it ultimately results in wasted food because I never got back to the project. The ideas presented in Cooking for Geeks were much more easy to apply to my everyday cooking.

Cooking for Geeks works at the very basic level of things, so the ingredients and tools are mostly pretty easy to find and readily accessible in kitchens around North America. Ideas in Food gets a bit fancy – especially towards the end of the book in the section targeted at professionals. Even in the   sections some (not most) of the ingredients are a bit more obscure, the tools involved were pretty complex (most average chefs don’t have smokers and vacuum sealers in their kitchens) and the concepts would be more useful for the hardcore food enthusiast looking to take their food to the next level than the beginner cook.

Winner: Cooking for Geeks

Ultimate Winner:

Cooking for Geeks (3/5)

I love both of these books, but Cooking for Geeks is a better book overall. Personally, I would suggest you buy both – start with Cooking for Geeks and once you’ve mastered the basics, move on to Ideas in Food for the advanced lesson!

Jen

About 

Victoria, British Columbia

Born and raised in Victoria, BC Jen has recently-discovered an all-consuming geeky thirst for knowledge & a mandate to share Good Food with the world. She writes the Victorian Food, a blog dedicated to local food reviews found in and around Victoria, and is the founder of Tastebud Guides, an eBook food guide publishing platform.

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