Monday, 20 June 2016

What got me cooking? Not Masterchef.

Shows such as Masterchef have been credited with starting a food revolution by showing what ordinary people can accomplish. While they have their entertainment value, they'd been around for a very long time before my interest. My interest started with a newer trend that's been picking up - demystification.

Cooking tends to be treated as some arcane craft, a ritual that will only succeed if the proper steps are followed.  How the transformation of raw material to final product occurs isn't important, we only need to know that it happens and no further investigation is given. That however is beginning to change.
  • Shokugeki no Soma 
  • Yakitate
  • The Modernist Cookbook
  • Good Eats
These are the four items that I would attribute my interest in food to. All of them serve well in demystifying cooking by discussing the processes that are going on when we cook things. Not only that but they all also apply that knowledge to produce items that are rather different from the conventional, showing what can be achieved if we use our imagination, and the base principles, rather than specific recipes, to create.

Shokugeki No Soma - Anime/Manga

I've discussed Shokugeki No Soma in a previous article, in which I argue that it should be classified as science fiction for all the cooking techniques and information it provides. This manga emphasizes the importance of experimentation, testing new knowledge, and the fact that developing something new takes time and will probably have (many) failures along the way - and that those failures may lead to completely different innovations.

This manga is incredibly popular at the moment, and I recommend it (and its associated anime, which doesn't seem to have an English dub yet) to anyone who has an interest in cooking. Like I mentioned in my other article, there's a bit of sexualization with the tasting, but it gets toned quite a lot after the first few episodes.

What I find particularly interesting about it is how many of the challenges, in the opposite fashion of Masterchef, are announced long before they're due to start. This gives the participants to try out strategies, and do research, and pick up any skills they might be lacking. I wish this would be taken up in reality cooking shows. Some may argue that it kills the pacing. I would argue that it better informs your audience and makes them more interested in the cooking stage.

Yakitate - Anime/Manga

Similar to Shokugeki, except following bakers. It got me to appreciate bread a lot more. There's a lot of emphasis on gluten formation and the generation of carbon dioxide by yeast. While I still can recommend this, I don't find it as good as Shokugeki as it invents things, such as the 'Solar Hands', or renames them to make it seem more profound, has a lot of puns that get lost in translation, and has a habit of them skipping preparation by having the main character previously having done a bread like that before.

The Modernist Cookbook

I stumbled across this in a TAFE library, and highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in the science of cooking. This multi-volume text goes over ingredients, techniques and equipment. This reading gave me a lot of ideas and made me incredibly frustrated at how difficult it is to obtain a pressure cooker over here. 

It also made me more comfortable with the idea of deep frying by explaining how the bubbling that occurs is the evaporation of water and how foods become overly oily if fried too long - the channels created by the water loss take in oil through capillary action.

Good Eats

I love Alton Brown and everything I've seen him in. He's a commentator on Iron Chef America, the host of Cutthroat Kitchen (highly recommended) and of course Good Eats, which is currently shown on the SBS Food Channel. Each episode covers a specific technique, food or cuisine and goes into great detail about what goes into getting the best out of it. The greatest point of this show for me so far would be breaking down the important elements of Hollandaise sauce and the methods that can be used to make it.


I would recommend these four to anyone who are interested knowing more about their food, not just those who enjoy cooking.

If you know anything else that gives a good inside into foods and cooking, be sure to leave a comment.

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